Haskell has made the decision to suspend football for 2015 with the possibility of additional athletic program cuts down to 6 programs according to an announcement from President, Venida Chenault.
“Today I am announcing that the university will suspend the football program for the upcoming season and we will review the remaining sports programs with an anticipated reduction to six (athletic programs). The future of the football program will be dependent upon long-term and viable external funding that ensures the health and safety of student athletes as the first priority,” stated President, Chenault.
The announcement began with Chenault highlighting Haskell’s responsibility to meet the needs of tribes through education and the importance of the mission and vision statements as powerful reminders that “define our priorities and responsibilities as a university.”
“Today I am announcing that Haskell will begin the process of scaling back our intercollegiate athletic programs in order to prioritize funding to support our new and existing academic programs and central student services,” she continued.
Chenault pointed out that the issue had been discussed by past Presidents but that the decision was always deferred. The fate of the athletic programs was discussed at the Haskell Board of Regents meeting held within the three days prior to Haskell graduation when the decision was collectively made.
According to a comment on The Indian Leader Facebook page by Board of Regents member, Brandon Stevens, “As a member of the National Haskell Board of Regents for the Midwest it was a very difficult decision but needed. It gives us time to figure out a long-term plan for the program as well as seek donations through the Haskell Foundation. As you may know many athletic program are supported by Boosters which supplement funding and we are hoping to see efforts among the Alumni to revitalize the program. This is short-term solution to the bigger problem of limited resources, something had to give and unfortunately the football program was it, for the time being.”
During the meeting this afternoon, Chenault said the Bachelor of Business Administration program is facing tough challenges due to an increased demand of students for the program but funding to support new faculty remains the same. Chenault referred to one faculty member who described the program as being on the verge of collapse unless changes are made.
Voicing safety concerns associated with the football program specifically, Chenault said the football field is in need of repairs as well as Haskell stadium with a price tag totaling $3 million dollars. Chenault stressed her commitment to student safety saying, ““If we are going to do this, we are going to do it right.”
Questions and comments following the announcement revealed concerns about the timeliness of the announcement. Haskell Senior, Norman Hubbell questioned how football players would be notified of the decision since the majority of players were not on campus. Chenault said players would be notified and that the university would support students recruited for the football program or students who are currently enrolled in their transfer efforts.
Hubbell is not a football player but sympathizes with his friends who are part of the program. “I found it very disappointing in how the administration chose to announce the suspension of the football program. I also found it very unfortunate that some of the students who happen to be football athletes were in attendance and walked out of the announcement. I just find it odd that they chose to announce it now when there was a little under 20% of the student population in attendance instead of announcing it earlier,” said Hubbell.
Hubbell added, “It is the duty of every collegiate athletic program to be in communication and good terms with every donor, booster, and alumni. It is their responsibility as an athletic program to reach out and to raise funding and awareness in order to prevent things like this from happening.”
Marissa Mendoza, Executive Director of the Haskell Foundation, commented during the meeting and encouraged everyone to connect their tribes and alumni with giving opportunities through the Haskell Foundation.
Haskell has been struggling to operate under annual budget cuts that continue to impact every department in addition to athletics. According to an interview with Dean of Professional Schools, Cheryl Chuckluck conducted in the Spring 2014 semester, about $1 million dollars was allocated to athletics versus about 4.1 million budgeted for academics.
Recent Haskell graduate, Steven Whitfield looks forward to an improved program as a result of the decision. “Until they can put in place proper leadership this is a great decision. The football program has been a horrible point of shame the past decade. Their record on the field is irrelevant but I’d at least like to see a program that fielded star student athletes and lose every game than still lose every game yet have a police record worse than their winning percentage. This is spectacular news for anyone who truly wants the program to improve. I can’t wait for an amazing football program being reinstated in the years to come!!!.”
Leroy Kelly, Haskell Alumni and maintenance employee for over 20 years, supports the decision he believes should have been made years ago. Kelly said that the decision was never made in the past due to a lack of leadership at Haskell and the absence of leaders who had the best interest of the school in mind.
“Now we have a President and she needs all the support that everyone on campus can give her; staff and students, because we are in trouble—big trouble. In order for the school to continue on, everyone needs to step up…people need to wake up and say, ‘am I doing all that I can for the school,’” said Kelly.
Kelly said he had begun to emphasis years ago, after the departure of President Warner, that Haskell needs support, “I’ve said before, if we don’t step up to the plate now, down the road when coming onto this campus, it won’t be students greeting you, it will be a tour guide because all that will be left is historic buildings.”