St. Thomas University has decided to cancel its varsity men’s hockey program.
In an email sent out to all students Monday afternoon, Dawn Russell, president of the university, said the cut was due to the operating costs of the program being, “unsustainable.”
“With this decision, we have chosen to remain focused on our core education mission,” Russell wrote. “That does not make the situation any easier as the men’s hockey coaches, staff, and the student athletes have worked hard and represented STU well on the ice and in the community.”
In the email Russell estimated the university would save $245,000 annually from operating costs, athletic financial awards and staffing from cutting the program.
Russell also wrote an email to all student athletes and coaches separately.
“We have had a private meeting with the men’s hockey student athletes and explained the reasons for the decision,” she wrote in that email. “The timing of the announcement does allow current and prospective student athletes to make decisions for the coming season. As well, athletic financial award commitments to a men’s hockey player will be honoured if the player continues his education at STU.”
According to Russell, the teams attract approximately 180 students across 12 other varsity teams, including three other sports at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level.
“The regional and national profile you bring to STU is recognized and well appreciated,” Russell wrote. “With this decision, we have chosen to remain focused on our core education mission and we are committed to our varsity athletics’ program and the value it brings to the university.”
Mike Eagles, director of athletics, also sent an email to STU’s sports community.
“For those of you who know me, you will understand how difficult this news is, for me to share,” wrote Eagles.
Jeffrey Carleton, director of communications, said funding men’s hockey “is of a different magnitude” than any other STU sports team.
“We have limited financial resources,” said Carleton. “We’ve got important priorities in academics and student services areas and the cost to operate the men’s hockey program is now simply beyond our financial means.”
Carleton said the reason the university has cancelled the program instead of reducing the funding is because, “you create the circumstance that you can’t succeed.”
“If you cut to a certain point you’re not giving the player and the team a chance to be successful,” Carleton said.
He said not enough quality players, not enough coaches, not enough ice time all lead to failure.
In early March, The University of New Brunswick was ordered to reinstate its women’s varsity team by the New Brunswick Labour and Employment Board after a seven-year-long legal battle. When asked if St. Thomas University was concerned about any similar lawsuits Carleton said it wasn’t.
“It’s a totally different circumstance,” said Carleton. “We also had a legal opinion on the situation and the fact circumstance between UNB women’s hockey and St. Thomas men’s hockey are totally different.”
He said the university follows the policy on gender equity of Atlantic University Sport, which says a school’s sports should be self-sufficient economically, have gender balance and relative opportunity for success.
“We feel, making this decision, we’ve met the criteria,” said Carleton.
This news comes only four days after the university had a town hall meeting to discuss how the school is considering saving money.
In that meeting it was brought up that some ways the university was considering tackling its deficit was facilitating staff retirement, considering wage restraints, and decreasing expenditures, specifically in the Athletics Department.
Men’s hockey was not specifically mentioned.
Megan Thomson, president of the St. Thomas Students’ Union, said she’s not surprised by the announcement of cuts to the Athletics Department generally, but, “the cuts to the men’s hockey program was not something STUSU was aware of.”
“We, along with many students, are disappointed we can’t attend or play men’s hockey,” Thomson said.
While the students’ union was not consulted on the decision, Thomson said the union would have suggested to reduce funding to the men’s hockey team instead of an outright cut.
“Perhaps matching the women’s hockey team,” Thomson said. “But we do understand it was a difficult choice.”