By Joe Friesen
Ryerson’s swim team could be left high and dry if a proposed re-organization of inter-university sport is adopted by the school’s athletic department.
The swim team, accustomed to full funding as a varsity-level sport, could sink down to club status. If that happens, swimmers would be forced to pay their own way to competitions.
“We have to be more efficient in how we operate,” said Ryerson Athletic and Recreation Director Dave Dubois. “They’re still going to be able to compete, but their whole thing is not going to be paid for.”
This year there were 15 men and women on the Ryerson swim team, but the athletic department said it can no longer afford the $22,000 annual budget to send them to swim meets. Their paid expenses include car rental, gasoline, and lodging.
“I came to this university thinking there would be a varsity swim team,” said second-year swimmer Rachel Zylka. “That’s why these changes have hit me hardest.”
If the plan is approved by the president’s Academic Council on Athletics and Recreation next month, only men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball and soccer, as well as men’s hockey would receive full funding.
Badminton, fencing, squash, figure skating, and possibly swimming would be considered “competitive sports” and receive partial funding, although swimming’s status is still a subject of debate.
According to a draft discussion paper, the recommended status changes are based on the following criteria: student interest, facility standards, marketability, gender equity, competitive success, alumni support, revenue potential, and affiliation with a governing body.
“The bottom line is the athletic department is looking at ensuring they are more cost-effective,” said swim team coach Victor Delac. “Varsity swimming, from their perspective, is not marketable.”
Unlike basketball, volleyball and hockey, swimming has been unable to generate revenue from ticket sales or fan interest among students.
“Certain sports cater more to campus life because students can come watch and participate,” said Delac.
Delac, 31, is an elementary school teacher who dedicates more than 20 hours a week to the swim team’s practice schedule and administrative duties. He receives an honorarium from the school, but if the team’s status is downgraded, he expects the pay will drop as well.
“I love the job, I love coaching,” he said. “It’s not a money-making thing but I’m giving back to a sport that I got a lot from.”
Delac said the athletic department should reconsider downgrading the swimming program because it is one of the most equitable and accessible sports on campus.
“Of all the sports at Ryerson, swimming is the only one open to both genders as well as disabled and able-bodied athletes.
The swim team has not been particularly successful at the national level. It finished 23rd out of 25 at this year’s Canadian championships.
“The swim team is definitely going in the right direction,” said men’s captain David Quane. “I think it’s a shame it has to come to this.”
Quane said the proposed change in status will hurt the team’s ability to recruit new talent, which is doubly disappointing with the double-cohort arriving next fall.
But it appears a compromise may be reached to allow partial funding for certain championship events.
“What they’re looking at doing is lowering it to a level where we get full funding for the Ontario university championships and there would be full funding for any swimmer who goes to nationals,” said Delac.
One reason behind the athletic department’s financial difficulties is that Ryerson students pay some of the lowest ancillary fees in Canada.
Dubois said Ryerson’s pool is in need of repairs if it is to meet the necessary standard for hosting a competition. At the moment, there’s no money to pay for those repairs.
“We’re doing a survey in the next couple of weeks,” said Dubois. “But at the moment there’s no plans [to ask students for more funding].”