The decision comes in the wake of Gov. Robert Bentley’s recent declaration of a 3 percent proration in the Education Trust Fund.
The announcement sent shockwaves through the athletic program and has left parents and students exasperated.
On Monday, officials with the college met to discuss the effects of the cuts in the school’s budget and ways to ensure the school’s academic ability continued to function efficiently.
With a cut of $500,000 brought on by proration, the school decided to close all of its athletic programs following the end of the academic year.
“It is now incumbent on the Bevill State administration to make budgetary decisions that allow us to maintain our mission,” said Anne McNutt, president of Bevill State. “After careful evaluation of the college’s current financial situation, the decision has been made to close all existing athletic programs effective with the close of the 2010-11 academic year.”
Bevill State’s basketball team, which has concluded their season, is now effectively shut down, while the baseball, softball and track teams will be allowed to finish their seasons before the programs are closed. All members of the teams will have their scholarships honored through the next school year and no scholarships for the 2011-2012 seasons in any sports have been issued.
On Tuesday afternoon, four parents who have daughters currently on the school’s softball team met with Dean of Students Kim Innis and Athletic Director Russell Howton.
Terri Morrison, who has two daughters playing for Bevill, expressed her shock and outrage at the decision and wanted the chance to raise money to keep the softball team afloat.
“We were under the impression that we still stood a chance at having a softball team this season,” Morrison said. “Our children have been working extremely hard and they want to play softball. There are high school teams I know of who have raised $30,000 to $40,000. I simply don’t understand why we can’t have the opportunity to raise the money to keep our girls playing softball. These girls had such high hopes — they wanted to be academic all-Americans and represent Bevill.”
Lisa Altman, with one daughter currently on the team and a daughter who was a former player, said she felt blindsided by the decision and thinks that a big mistake has been made.
“The problem is that the decision was made yesterday and we've had no time to prepare for it” Altman said. “People have made plans and now they are left out in the cold. We have 10 girls who are waiting to sign for Coach Rickey Howell — good, strong players that could have gone anywhere, but made their decision to come here and play for him. Coach Howell was the reason why we chose Bevill. We could have went many places. That’s not the correct way to run any program. We raise our children to become outstanding adults and athletics are a large part of that. Now they’re not going to have that at Bevill.”
“I think one of the things that’s hurting our feelings the most is how unimportant athletics are being viewed. It feels like a slap in the face that they’ve waited until now to do this. If I was Coach Howell, I would feel so betrayed. What do we tell our children?”
The closure of the four sports follows a cut to the school’s volleyball program that was made in 2009. Innis explained that by cutting all athletic sports, $400,000 can be saved by the school, but said the decision was tough to make.
“We're cutting approximately $400,000 when we cut our athletic programs out of our institution, which include scholarships,” Innis said. “The community colleges are funded by the Alabama Legislature — that’s where we get our budgets. When Gov. Bentley declared proration, we had to decide as a institution what you can do to maintain your core mission of your school. That core mission here for us is teaching in the classroom, health sciences, adult education and transfer programs — and that’s what you have to keep an eye on through tough economic times. There were several options on the table, but many of them involved cutting into the classroom and there is where you start losing instructors and the faculty to teach 4,200 students.”
Innis also says that possible added proration in the coming years could force more cuts to the school’s budget.
“We're even hearing now that it’s possible in the near future that we may see a 10 percent cut, and if that happens, we're going to have to figure out how to cut other things. We know that this year we're going to be losing $500,000 from our budget and next year we’re already going to be out $500,000 more. We've also lost another $2 million for the past two years from federal stimulus money being cut. This wasn’t an easy decision to make — we're passionate about athletics here at Bevill and love our teams — but it was one that had to be made to keep our school running in the best way it can be ran.”
Howton estimates that the athletic program currently has 90 student athletes on teams including scholarship and walk-on players. One of those student athletes and member of the softball team, Marissa Estes, said she is disappointed she would not be playing at Bevill next season.
“It’s awful — we’ve been playing our whole lives and to just not have a team hurts,” Estes said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”