MCTC slates basketball funding for the chopping block

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The Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) men’s basketball team finished 2009 NJCAA national runners-up in March. Almost two months after completion of one of its most successful seasons, the program now is slated for elimination after the 2009-10 season.

The school’s Student Senate and its Student Life Budget Committee (SLBC) recommendations to cut funding on several on-campus programs, including the men’s and women’s basketball programs in the fiscal year 2010 budget, was accepted by MCTC President Phil Davis.

According to a May 21 report, Davis said that the SLBC received over $1 million in funding requests, but only $921,000 is available to allocate for the upcoming 2010 fiscal year. The report added that basketball represents approximately 14 percent — or $118,000 annually — of the entire student life budget. As a result, the SLBC chose funding such activities as student health services over “a high-cost program that served a limited number of students.”

All MCTC students pay five dollars per credit with these fees going into the student life budget, explained student Rochelle James of Minneapolis. “The Student Senate is supposed to be the voice for the student population,” she said, adding that she believed that the group’s leadership began “planting seeds” of discussing the possibility of eliminating sports as early as 2007.

The basketball program’s budget for next season was slashed by $44,000, and all assistant coaching positions were eliminated. Funding for next year will come from a combination of budget reductions and a one-time use of college funds.

Private funds must be raised if the program continues beyond 2009-10. Unless $118,000 is raised by March 1, 2010, the basketball program will be terminated, Davis pointed out. Furthermore, he also ruled that no college funds or student-life funds will be used to fund the program after 2010, even if the Student Senate reverses its decision.

“This one-year extension is intended to avoid disruption,” wrote Davis.

Some are suggesting that the decision to eliminate sports may be racially motivated, especially since the eight-member Student Senate only has two persons of color as members — both voted against dropping sports in a 6-2 vote.

“I’m on the Student Senate and also on the Student Life Budget Committee,” confirmed MCTC student Char Coal. “Two people voted for the funding of the basketball team, and six people voted not to fund it.”

Coal said she openly complained about the lack of diversity during one senate meeting earlier this year. “I said that the people on the Student Life Budget Committee are White males, and they are making the decision about basketball. There are no African American males here. If you have African Americans on this committee, some of them may feel that basketball is important. If you had Somalis on the committee, some of them may feel cultural events [are important].

“Afterwards, two people said to me that I was stereotyping,” Coal continued.

“But if you [presently] have these White males in there, they could care less about basketball.”

Davis cited that the SLBC used three years of student surveys, which claimed that students who responded rated athletics last among the 10 most important student services. However, both Coal and James argued that these surveys did not truly represent students’ interests. Supposedly, just over 300 students who responded to the latest survey that came out last fall said sports was last on their list of priorities. MCTC student population is approximately 12,000.

Davis said, nonetheless, that the students’ decision “are based on good data and sound analysis” and “represent the interests of current and future students…[and] the college as a whole.” The MCTC president also criticized opponents of the decision, claiming that “they quickly summoned external constituents to lobby in opposition to the students’ recommendations.”

MSR obtained a copy of a petition sent to Davis from the Minneapolis chapter of the Minnesota State College Faculty (MSCF), asking him to reconsider his decision. “At a time when a college has made a professed effort to recruit and retain students of color, it seems counter-intuitive to close one of the most successful programs on campus,” the petition stated.

Local MSCF Union President Tom Eland, also a MCTC faculty member, also sent a letter to Davis, dated May 22. “The faculty is disappointed in the recommendation from the Student Life Budget Committee, but the students have every right to make their decision,” he noted. However, Eland added that he also disagreed with Davis’ stance against funding sports even after the state budget crisis is over.

President Davis agreed to speak with the MSR May 26. Excerpts from the interview are scheduled to be featured in next week’s edition.

Several community members also voiced their opposition, and disappointment, with the school’s decision to eliminate the basketball program:

“I don’t understand why you have the student body involved, when at a two-year institution, you have a different student body turnover every two or three years,” said Rene Pulley, a longtime MCTC supporter. Davis and the students seemingly didn’t take into account the school’s basketball program’s unique and historic presence, especially in the city’s Black community, he added.

“It’s a mainstay in the community,” said Pulley.

“I think the MCTC administration should have been more inclusive and included people from the community [and] leaders of the community to engage in some kind of talk about [eliminating sports] before engaging in making that kind of decision,” said Minneapolis Roosevelt High School Athletic Director Al Frost, who helped start the basketball program in 1975.

“I was an associate dean there, and the president of the college wanted a basketball program,” he recalled. “He gave me that as one of my assignments. I literally got kids from the intramural program… We had seven kids. We won two or three games. After that year, the program was continued.”

Over its storied history, MCTC men’s basketball has demonstrated both on-court and classroom success. Since 1990, two out of every three MCTC men’s basketball players go on to a 4-year college or university — two out of three graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

Now, after over three decades, it appears that the MCTC men’s basketball team will play its last season in 2009-10. MCTC is more than just a basketball school, many stressed. At least 50 local kids “who had no other alternative, no other chance in life to go to college,” have come through MCTC’s program, Pulley added.

It “has been pride for our city,” South High Boys Basketball Coach Joe Hyser added. “I am a graduate of [MCTC] and played there for a year. If it wasn’t for the staff and coaches, I wouldn’t be where I am at now, which is being a teacher and a coach.”

The men’s basketball program may survive at MCTC after next season despite Davis’ decision, Hyser believes. “I would be glad to contribute monies to help that program keep going, and I know other people feel the same way.”

“This is far more important than he [Davis] realizes,” concludes Pulley. “It affects a whole lot more people than he realizes.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com

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