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Old Posted Jan 25, 2008, 8:47 PM
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UBC Athletic Director, AMS President-elect disagree on NCAA future

Courtside comment: Athletic Director, AMS President-elect disagree on future of UBC Athletics

by Justin McElroy

Friday, January 25th, 2008

When UBC Athletics Director Bob Philip finds out about the AMS election results today, he will receive some good news, and some bad news. The good news is that for the next 12 months, he will be dealing with an AMS president who is passionate about athletics and recreation, and committed to expanding the role and importance of those activities on campus.

The bad news? They disagree on how to get there.

Indeed, the election of Michael Duncan as AMS President signals that, for the first time in many years, Philip’s vision of how to grow athletics at UBC is about to be seriously challenged by a student body that, when it comes to the hefty athletic fee that students pay, just might start putting it’s foot down.

“I think it’s absurd, Vancouver being one of the most active cities in the world, that we don’t have a free gym for the university,” he says to me as we discuss his concerns about the direction of athletics at UBC. “You pay about two hundred dollars to Athletics and Rec, and you get almost none of that money back.”

And it’s that complaint, shared by the silent majority of students on campus, that just happens to be at the top of his platform when you go to his campaign website. To him, athletics at UBC is about recreation and access first, and varsity sports second.

Reduced fees, free gyms, and expanded access; these aren’t phrases you’ll find if you search through the athletic section of the UBC budget summary for this year. Instead, you’ll find pledges to “finalize access understanding for University Town residents,” “present plan to build two artificial fields,” and of course, Philip’s Holy Grail, “prepare and present a plan to have varsity teams play in the NCAA leagues if invitation is extended.” In layman’s terms, UBC Athletics wants to keep building facilities, switch to NCAA play, and only then focus on reducing fees and increasing access.

This division shouldn’t really surprise anyone. It’s part of a healthy argument, and the truth is, the debate between expansion and profit vs. access and affordability is one that goes on between administrators and students in universities worldwide.

But what may push this debate to the forefront in the coming months is the looming specter of the NCAA coming to UBC. For those of you keeping track of the never-ending dance, last week it was announced that Canadian schools could apply for Division II membership in the NCAA starting immediately. Meaning that, as soon as the 2009-2010 school year, UBC could be waving goodbye to CIS play, and saying hello to fellow Division 2 schools Northwest Nazarene University and Western Oregon University, among others.

However, that would only happen if UBC applies for membership by the June 1st deadline—and that isn’t a given. As Philip has said, the announcement “is just the start of a process that needs to be thoroughly discussed on our campus.” One can assume that process will involve proposing an increased budget for varsity sports. And while the department has claimed that there are eager donors waiting to fund UBC Athletics should it make the leap to NCAA, any shortfall would have to be covered by students. And that’s where things come to a head.

“It would be irresponsible of us to put more money into varsity when we have so little money going to the vast majority of students,” Duncan says, adding that, while he likes the idea of the NCAA in theory, “you can’t just jump into the NCAA, and expect students to come…we need to get students more engaged, and then we’re in the position where we can make the jump.” In other words, a compromise.

In order for that to happen however, Duncan believes that UBC Athletics is going to have to see student interest in athletics rise above the apathetic level it normally resides at. “We need to show Athletics how much students care,” Duncan states, alluding to the decision to keep open the Aquatic Centre gym after student protests as an example of the department listening to students. “Bob Philip understands this. He just doesn’t often see it from the students.”

In the meantime however, you can be sure that the new AMS president will be pushing for cheaper access to facilities for students. And you can be sure that UBC Athletics is preparing to tell the campus community what a switch to the NCAA would entail. All of which means that the next time Bob Philip goes to an AMS Council meeting, it will be assuredly be a most interesting visit.
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Old Posted Jan 26, 2008, 1:51 AM
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there's an AMS election? there's an actual student president? i never knew that.
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Old Posted Jan 26, 2008, 2:50 AM
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That's why I voted for Michael Duncan. The Birdcoop (gym at SRC) costs more per month than many private, for-profit gyms around town. At that's on top of $200 of student Sports and Recreation fees paid every year. Ideally, they'd axe the fees, and just raise the prices, so the people using it can pay for it.
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Old Posted Jan 26, 2008, 5:11 AM
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Those fees are significantly higher than SFU's $61.86 per semester, $30.97 in summer. For that you get unlimited access to:

Fitness Centre (weight room and cardio equipment)
Swimming Drop-In
Sports Drop-In opportunities
Rec Sports (Intramural) Leagues
Squash and Racquetball Court Booking

Plus we have a brand new gym in addition to the existing Terry Fox atheletics complex.

Good on the AMS, put their foot down.
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