Pacific athletics director Ted Leland is the first to admit he has not been a popular person on campus during the last two weeks.
The fate of Pacific men’s volleyball team remains in limbo since Leland and the athletics department announced in early September a recommendation to drop the program as part of a campus-wide budget reduction initiative.
Off the Block conducted an interview with Leland during the weekend to discuss his decision to recommend Pacific cuts men’s volleyball and what factors led to him submitting this cost-cutting proposal to the university’s president.
Check out the interview below with Leland and Off the Block editor Vinnie Lopes.
Off the Block: Obviously this is a situation no athletics director wants to be in when they’re having to cut programs. What led to your decision to recommend Pacific eliminate its men’s volleyball program?
Ted Leland, Pacific athletics director: The University of the Pacific is going through a planning process. We are trying to identify some new funds to put into some new strategic academic initiatives. As a result, the president and the board of regents has asked all the units on campus to look at the possibility of cutting 5 to 7 percent of our budget. Looking at programs that we think we might be able to, in a worst case scenario, do without. That’s what precipitated this.
OTB: What has the reaction been among the Pacific fans and the Pacific community since the announcement?
TL: We’ve got a lot of complaints, I guess you could say. We’ve gotten a lot of concerns. We’ve met with the team a couple of times. We’ve met the parents — a number of parents. We had an all-campus meeting where I think about 600 people attended. People showed up all to voice their displeasure with my recommendation. … Initially my recommendation was to drop the sport of men’s volleyball at the end of the ’13-’14 season. I’ve now amended that and resubmitted it to say I recommend that we drop the sport at the end of the ’13-’14 season, unless it can be privately funded. That recommendation hasn’t been accepted. We won’t know if it’s been accepted until October.
OTB: From the sense that you’ve gotten, what do you think is the likelihood that this team could privately fund themselves?
TL: I think if they are given the opportunity to fund themselves, I think that they can do it. I think there is enough interest. I think that people like this program enough that there will be an ability to fund it, but we need to get permission to do that from the board of regents.
OTB: Just to ask you about this process, in terms of making the decision to propose the cut initially what led to that decision to cut men’s volleyball as opposed to making the recommendation to cut 5 percent across the board with every team?
TL: The first response is I had to make lots of budget cuts before, but I’ve never had to drop a team. I believe that the only way to truly cut your budget is to reduce your staffing or stop activities that you are already doing. I think the idea that we could permanently cut your budget just by everyone shaving 5 percent of their costs doesn’t work for me in the long run. I think that is a fool’s errand to think we’ll 5 percent of our electricity by turning the lights off more often. There is no fat in the athletics department budget. Everyone is spending as efficiently as they can. So I made the choice that I’d rather do fewer things well than do lots of things poorly. So I think it’s reasonable for people to disagree with that. That’s just sort of my philosophy. … We had to look at a sport. We used the following criteria. The first criteria: is it a West Coast Conference sport. We ended up with about seven of our sports at Pacific that are not West Coast Conference sports. We have to keep our West Coast Conference sports. We are at the minimum requirement for the West Coast Conference so we couldn’t cut any of those and still stay in the league. The second thing was we leaned towards a men’s program, not a women’s, simply to fulfill our commitment to gender equity. The third level is how much money would we save. We looked at the expense. The last thing we did was look at the tradition and the win-loss record — kind of how this program has done. Effectively if you go through those steps you end up at Pacific with three sports being considered: one is water polo for men, one is swimming for men and one is men’s volleyball. Men’s volleyball ended up being the most expensive of those three sports and the least competitive and had the shortest tradition. That was the way we worked our through it. If there was another way to do it, I’d love to hear it, but that’s the way we did it.
OTB: Building off that, these cuts come at a little bit of an interesting time for the department because less than a year ago you added three new sports — women’s sand volleyball, men’s soccer and women’s track and field. Have you received any backlash for the decision to cut a program when less than a year ago you added three teams?
TL: Yes, but let me go back to that. First we added soccer for men, which had to add to become a member of the West Coast Conference. That was part of our entry agreement. We added track and field women and sand volleyball for women, but that is basically the same athletes and the same coaches coaching their sport a little bit longer. And the cost is almost negligible — not for soccer, but we had to add that to be in the West Coast Conference. Sand volleyball and track and field we are anticipating each of those separately would cost $12,000 to $13,000 a piece. We think by canceling men’s volleyball we are going save about a $186,000. The order of the magnitude of the dollars is completely difficult.
OTB: You’ve had a lot of people come out and voice concern or want to discuss this decision. What do you think it says about the fan-base you have built with Pacific and in North California?
TL: Volleyball is an important sport. One of the ironies and a sad irony of this is I have been on the board of USA Volleyball the last five years. So I’m a big volleyball fan. I was the athletics director here at Pacific in 1990 when we started men’s volleyball so I added it as a sport. I have a great deal of affection for the community of volleyball and the sport of volleyball. I’m afraid that made my decision only harder.
OTB: You’re in the interesting situation because no matter what recommendation goes through, I’m sure there are people on the men’s volleyball team who are not thrilled with you at the moment. How do you go about trying to reconcile some of those relationships with some of the players, coaches or fans moving forward?
TL: It just has to take time. I’m not sure there is anything I can do that would sort of pander to the interest of these people. If Pacific ends up dropping the sport, I’m sure I’ll make a lot of enemies with people who disagree with this decision. I’m trying to be as fair as I can. I can’t worry about the popularity of a decision. I have to do what I think is right.