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Saint Mary's Huskies goalie Jillian MacIsaac (left) and Jocelyn Campbell react after losing the bronze medal game of the CIS 2010 Womens Hockey Championship at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. on March 14, 2010. Women's hockey has fallen victim to a funding crunch at Saint Mary's University in Halifax and the varsity program will be discontinued. (Mike Dembeck)
Saint Mary's Huskies goalie Jillian MacIsaac (left) and Jocelyn Campbell react after losing the bronze medal game of the CIS 2010 Womens Hockey Championship at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. on March 14, 2010. Women's hockey has fallen victim to a funding crunch at Saint Mary's University in Halifax and the varsity program will be discontinued. (Mike Dembeck)

St. Mary's cutting women's hockey Add to ...

Women's hockey is being eliminated in budget cuts at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, and team members are angry they didn't get a chance to discuss solutions before getting the boot.

The athletic department made the announcement Friday morning, two hours after breaking the news to its players and its coach of 13 years. The department said the decision comes after a detailed financial review of all of the school's sports programs.

Cutting the team will save SMU $120,000 a year. Women's hockey was the school's third priciest varsity team to operate behind men's hockey and football, but the review found a stronger business case for those two programs since they generate more revenue and spectators.

"I regard this as losing a member of our family," said Steve Sarty, director of athletics and recreation. "We had a great team and a very established head coach, this was purely a financial decision."

SMU's athletic department considered reducing budgets for all teams, but concluded that would hurt them competitively. The department also considered options to keep women's hockey, but team members were never consulted.

"We were completely blown away, and now we're all left to decide where to play and go to school," captain Kyla Therston said. "Girls were really angry about how it was told to us. We were asking questions and trying to pose solutions, and we feel like they delivered the news and were emotionless."

Players say they got an e-mail from Sarty on Thursday requesting a Friday meeting, so many sent text messages to coach Lisa Jordan to ask what it was about. Jordan had no idea what they were talking about. She later received a separate e-mail about an earlier Friday meeting and was told she would learn what it was about when she arrived.

Jordan was given the news in a brief meeting with Sarty and two superiors and given the option to attend as they told her players.

"I'm obviously feeling surprised and blind-sided," said Jordan, who was told her contract is up March 31. "I understand that funding a hockey team is not easy and that it's hard to trim from an athletics budget, but these meetings were very final, and we aren't being given an opportunity to discuss it."

The athletic department said the fiscal budget deadline is fast approaching, Jordan had been out of town, and there was no easy way to deliver the news efficiently in this day of social media. The school says it will help players who want to transfer to another university.

"We don't like to see any program leave the CIS, especially one that is doing so well like women's hockey is in Canada right now," said Marg McGregor, chief executive officer of Canadian Interuniversity Sport. She said the CIS gender-equity policy mandates a minimum of two men's and two women's varsity sports.

"But we understand that schools have limited budgets and have to make hard decisions," McGregor added.

Jordan is one of the nation's most established women's hockey coaches. She was an assistant coach for Canada's women's under-18 team, and will act as an assistant coach for Canada's team at the International Ice Hockey Federation women's world championship next month.

Jordan says once emotions cool, the team may discuss options, particularly since a big alumni supporter of the athletic program has contacted her.

The women's team, in existence since the mid-1990s, has won four Atlantic University Sport championships and made several appearances in the CIS national tournament. The University of New Brunswick cut its women's team in 2008.

SMU now has six varsity sports for men and six for women, satisfying the school's gender equity policy.

In February, the Nova Scotia government announced a 4-per-cent cut to university operating grants for the 2011-12 academic year, so SMU asked all school departments to cut spending for next year by 5 to 10 per cent. Women's hockey is the first cut to be announced.

 

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