Big news out of Manhattan tonight, as K-State issued a press release announcing that it will drop its nationally ranked equestrian program and add women's soccer starting in the 2015-16 school year. Initial reaction was mostly negative, but the decision is necessary in light of a decision by the NCAA Committee on Women's Athletics. The full text of K-State's press release is below:
K-State to Discontinue Varsity Equestrian and Add Women’s Soccer
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Following a recent NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics recommendation to drop the intercollegiate sport of equestrian as an emerging Division I women’s program, K-State Athletics Director John Currie announced today that K-State will discontinue its sponsorship of equestrian at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season.
In keeping with K-State's commitment to improving opportunities for female student-athletes, Currie also announced that K-State will add the school’s first-ever intercollegiate women’s soccer program, allowing the Wildcat athletics program to maintain its sponsorship of 16 varsity sports as required by NCAA bylaw 20.9.6. Currie's recommendations were approved Monday by the K-State Athletics, Inc. Board of Directors and President Kirk Schulz.
In a letter to the equestrian community last month, the Committee on Women’s Athletics detailed its decision regarding equestrian based on a lack of sponsorship in all three NCAA divisions, including a 10-year period in which the sport failed to reach the 40-program target set by the NCAA as well as the significant costs of maintaining such programs. K-State is just one of 19 Division I equestrian programs in the nation, and according to a recent NCAA publication, only 719 student-athletes currently compete in Division I equestrian.
"While this was an extremely difficult and complex decision, we are proud of the effort of our equestrian coaches and student-athletes and the first class way they have represented K-State since the program's inception in 2000," Currie said. "Unfortunately with equestrian no longer projected to count toward the minimum NCAA requirement of 16 sponsored varsity programs as detailed in NCAA Bylaw 20.9.6, we must move our resources to another sport to continue our ability to operate as a Division I FBS member of the NCAA."
Although the NCAA’s recognition of equestrian may not end until August 1, 2017, allowing schools which sponsor the sport time to make adjustments, Currie believes a more immediate transition is in the best interest of K-State.
"There is never a perfect time for a decision such as this, but to keep with our goal of operating in a transparent and fiscally responsible manner, we believe a transition beginning in 2015-16 creates the best opportunity to allocate limited resources in a manner that propels our program toward our goal of a World-Class Student-Athlete Experience," Currie said.
Currie also announced that the school will fully honor the scholarships of its current equestrian student-athletes for the remainder of their eligibility as well as the contract of Head Coach Casie Maxwell, who is currently in the second year of a five-year contract.
"Our equestrian student-athletes and coaches have been dedicated Wildcats and they will forever be part of the K-State Athletics family and recognized as key historical contributors to our vision of a Model Intercollegiate Athletics Program with the privileges and honors accorded all our former student-athletes," Currie added.
"I appreciate the careful way John and his staff have evaluated this transition and K-State's options," said K-State President Kirk Schulz. "While we are proud of the accomplishments under Coach Maxwell's leadership, we have known for several years that intercollegiate equestrian had an uncertain future as an NCAA sport. I am in full support of John's recommendations and the KSA Board's decision."
K-State began varsity competition in the sport of equestrian in 2000. In nearly 15 years of competition the Wildcats have claimed five individual national titles, three team Reserve National Championships and consistently been ranked among the top 10 programs nationally.
"We have worked hard to support our team with a current annual operating budget of $1.2 million and facility expenditures and improvements of $700,000 over the last five years," Currie said. "But, the fact is that the sport simply hasn't grown as was hoped and nearly every one of our border state peer institutions, and every Big 12 institution, sponsors soccer. Reallocating those resources to soccer better serves the young people of our region and advances the institution toward the K-State 2025 vision of moving into the top 50 public research universities."
When Wildcat intercollegiate soccer launches in the fall of 2016, K-State will become the final team in the 10-school Big 12 Conference to compete in the sport. More than 320 Division I schools sponsor women's soccer, making it the fourth-most sponsored women's sport in Division I behind only basketball, volleyball and cross-country, while more than 26,000 student-athletes across the country are currently playing Division I women’s soccer.
Currie said a national search for the program’s first head coach will begin in January 2015, with the 2015-16 academic year used to complete a staff and recruit a roster that will eventually range between 25-30 student-athletes. The average national roster size in Division I is 27.2 participants. K-State's ongoing commitment to Title IX will also be reflected with the full funding of the 14 women's soccer scholarships permitted by the NCAA.
"The sport of soccer is one of the most popular, not only in the Midwest but across the world, and is a natural fit for us with nearly 4,000 high school young women participating throughout the state of Kansas,"Currie said. "Kansas City has become the epicenter of U.S. Soccer with the emergence and popularity of Sporting KC and FC Kansas City in addition to becoming the future home of the U.S. National Team. We are excited for our fans and the residents of Kansas to bring women’s soccer to K-State and the Manhattan community."
Soccer's importance in the Big 12 region was underscored in 2013 when the league announced a partnership with Sporting KC to upgrade the MLS club's practice facility in Kansas City’s historic Swope Park to serve as an annual host for the Big 12 women's postseason tournament. This year's edition will be played November 5-9.
"K-State women's soccer will be completing universal sponsorship of the world's most popular sport in one the very best women's leagues in the country," said Senior Associate Athletics Director Jill Shields. "It will be exciting for our student-athletes and fans to participate in the annual Big 12 tournament right here in our home territory."
Plans for K-State's soccer practice and competition facilities are being studied as the department is initiating discussions with the Student Governing Association about possible on-campus options including the potential of utilizing historic Memorial Stadium for home matches or constructing a facility in an existing location.
K-State Athletics sponsors 16 Division I programs -- seven men’s and nine women’s teams -- that compete in the Big 12 Conference. Driving toward the vision of a Model Intercollegiate Athletics Program, K-State continues to produce championship athletic performances both on the field and in the classroom, while $190 million in comprehensive facility improvements -- $125 million of which have been completed in the last 30 months including the West Stadium Center, Basketball Training Facility, Intercollegiate Rowing Facility and Mike Goss Tennis Stadium – provide a world-class experience for all 242 female and 236 male Wildcat student-athletes.
This is understandably difficult news for those involved with the equestrian program. I feel bad for those in the K-State family who won't be able to compete as varsity athletes in this program anymore.
But this is a necessary decision for the athletic department. K-State currently offers the minimum 16 varsity sports required for NCAA Division I membership. With equestrian no longer counting toward that number in 2015-16, the athletic department has to add another women's sport to take its place and comply with Title IX.