MOSCOW, Idaho — The University of Idaho is facing a budget dilemma that could result in cutting three of its athletic programs.

Vandals soccer captain and senior defender Kelly Dopke, who also is the student-athlete advisory committee president, was in a meeting last Wednesday with President Chuck Staben when she learned the potential for the school to cut the programs: women’s soccer, swimming and diving, and men’s golf.

Soccer coach Derek Pittman, Dopke and the rest of the team are reaching out to Idaho Board of Education members via letters, emails and phone calls, urging them to consider the university’s plan to change the way the financial impact of athletics is determined.

That plan would allow Idaho to save all three sports.

“We mobilized our team and we’re attacking this head-on like we do everything,” Pittman said.

The first step to saving the three sports requires the board to give Idaho a waiver from the board’s policy of eliminating athletics deficits within two years. The school asked the board last year to allow it to pay off about a $1 million deficit last year, and the deficit is expected to be similar this year. That should be decided at the April 18-19 meeting in Moscow, the Idaho Statesman reported.

Without the waiver, Staben said, he must start cutting expenses immediately.

The second step, which likely will take months, involves Staben lobbying the board to consider the financial impact athletes have on universities through tuition, fees, books, room and board when deciding the acceptable level of spending on athletics. That potentially would allow Idaho to add several low-cost, limited-scholarship sports — men’s swimming, women’s triathlon and co-ed rifle are proposed — that would add students to a campus with declining enrollment.

Swimming and diving and men’s golf were likely targets for elimination because they aren’t among the 13 core sports required by the Big Sky Conference. But women’s soccer, Pittman said, was never part of the discussion.

The university asked the Big Sky for a waiver from its sports requirements in March and that was denied, Staben said, which left soccer as the only other sport that could be cut. It’s not a core sport because Montana State doesn’t have it.

The Vandals soccer program won back-to-back Big Sky championships in 2015-16, placed 11 players on the dean’s list last fall and won three straight community service awards. The University of Idaho does not have a men’s soccer program.

“We believe we should be supported on our performances … but not only that, as a successful program, we deserve investment,” Pittman said. “That’s our aim. We will be doing everything we can to make sure that happens for 2018 and the years to come.”

Men’s golf posted a 3.13 GPA last fall.

Women’s swimming and diving had 20 Academic All-Western Athletic Conference honorees this year.

A change.org petition started by former Vandals soccer player Madison Moore has attracted thousands of supporters in defense of the three sports.


Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com