Oklahoma Baptist University boasts a tradition of all-around excellence in intercollegiate athletics that few can rival. From our history as one of the premier programs in the NAIA, culminating in three straight Learfield Sports Directors Cup titles, to our emergence as an annual championship contender in the Great American Conference and NCAA Division II, the Bison have a well-earned reputation for competitive distinction.
Throughout our program’s history we have been dedicated to the transformation of our student-athletes through a commitment to developing Christ-like character, thriving in the classroom, engaging with the community, and cultivating their God-given athletic abilities.
With 583 student-athletes calling Bison Hill home, athletics plays an important role in the life of the university. Like many institutions around the country, OBU has recently been forced to grapple with significant budgetary challenges. As with every department on campus, Athletics has borne its share of the burden in reducing costs in pursuit of balancing the budget. Thanks to our outstanding group of coaches and staff, as well as the commitment of our student-athletes, the Bison have continued to excel in competition and in the classroom while efficiently stewarding our available resources.
Now, however, the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have hastened a thorough examination of OBU’s long-term financial health.
In order to address the long-term financial health of the university, the Board of Trustees, at its Nov. 6 meeting, approved reductions impacting every area of campus. In line with the university’s overall budget proposal, the OBU Athletics Department has been asked to reduce its annual operating budget by approximately $3 million.
To that end, university leadership conducted an exhaustive financial analysis to help departments identify potential cost-saving measures and other operational efficiencies to reduce the overall budget by the necessary amount. After extensive discussions it became clear that reducing the number of varsity athletics programs provided the path forward to achieve the required financial benchmarks set forth by the Board of Trustees and chart a path toward long-term sustainability.
It is thus with great regret that we must announce the discontinuation of seven of our varsity athletics programs at the conclusion of the 2020-21 academic year. The programs impacted include men’s golf, men’s soccer, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s tennis, and women’s lacrosse.
Teams will have the opportunity to compete in their upcoming NCAA championship seasons, should the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 permit, before they are discontinued at the varsity level.
Please know that we are heartbroken for our student-athletes and coaches, and we share the deep disappointment felt by the alumni, fans, and supporters who have helped build these highly successful programs. Through their exceptional representation of the green and gold, each of these teams has brought vitality and distinction to the university through the years.
Oklahoma Baptist University is committed to supporting the impacted student-athletes and coaches during this transition. Those student-athletes that choose to remain on Bison Hill will retain all existing scholarships through graduation within the standard four-year window. Furthermore, OBU Athletics will assist any student-athlete wishing to transfer to another institution following the completion of their 2020-21 championship season. All support services, including sports medicine, academic services, nutrition, etc., will continue to be provided without interruption through the end of the spring term. The contracts of affected coaches will be honored through the end of the university’s fiscal year (May 31).
Earlier today we met personally with the affected teams to share this information and provide further communication regarding their opportunities moving forward. Staff members from student financial services were on hand to provide comprehensive documentation of individual scholarship packages, and compliance officers were available to answer questions related to NCAA transfer procedures.
While these reductions are painful, we believe they are nonetheless necessary to the long-term financial health of the university in general, and the athletics department in particular. Maintaining a sustainable number of varsity teams will increase the viability and strength of our remaining programs and allow OBU to redouble its commitment to all-around excellence in intercollegiate athletics.
Understanding that there are likely additional questions regarding today’s announcement, we have attempted to address as many of those as possible in the FAQ section below.
We covet your prayers for all those in the Oklahoma Baptist community affected by this decision.
God bless OBU.
Dr. Heath A. Thomas
Director of Athletics
What decision was announced today?
Oklahoma Baptist University announced the difficult decision to discontinue its varsity men’s golf, men’s soccer, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s tennis, and women’s lacrosse programs at the conclusion of the 2020-21 academic year. The affected programs will have the opportunity to compete in their spring 2021 NCAA championship seasons should health and safety protocols allow.
The decision to discontinue these programs resulted from the need to cut approximately $3 million from the athletics department’s annual operating expenses as part of university-wide budget reduction measures.
Why announce this decision now?
The Board of Trustees approved budget recommendations at its Nov. 6 meeting. Making this announcement as soon as possible affords the affected student-athletes and coaches as much notice as possible so they can make informed decisions regarding their future plans.
What process led to the decision to discontinue these programs?
The decision was announced following a thorough review of the athletics department operations and extensive financial analysis by OBU leadership and external consultants. The review included a comprehensive examination of the department’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, as well as exhaustive financial analysis.
As a result of the group’s findings, it was conclusively determined that the path forward to achieving the necessary budgetary reductions was the elimination of multiple varsity athletics programs.
Why were these programs chosen for discontinuation?
As part of OBU’s long-term strategic planning process, a thorough financial analysis and evaluation of overall program sustainability was undertaken by university and athletics leadership.
After carefully evaluating all available alternatives to reach the necessary budget reduction, it became apparent that reducing the number of varsity programs was the path forward. The decision on which programs were to be discontinued was based on a variety of factors, including:
- Current and future competitiveness
- Net financial impact on the institution
- Conference sport sponsorship requirements
- Regionality and conference affiliation
- Future capital/facility needs
- Local and regional sport offerings
- Title IX compliance
How much money will be saved as a result of discontinuing these programs?
OBU athletics anticipates a savings of approximately $2.5 million in FY22, with annual savings increasing to approximately $3.1 million once all affected student-athletes currently on athletics-based scholarship have graduated.
Were alternatives considered prior to the decision to discontinue these programs?
Yes. As part of the athletics department’s review along with external consultants and executive leadership, a number of alternatives to program discontinuations were considered. Ultimately, none of the potential options achieved the necessary cost savings without significant negative impact on the success and sustainability of OBU’s athletics programs.
What does this decision say about the stability of OBU Athletics?
For many years OBU athletics has operated a highly successful all-around athletics program with sport offerings far out-numbering our competitors in the Great American Conference. By reducing the number of varsity programs we are better equipped to help our remaining teams flourish at a championship level. This action will position the university for long-term sustainability and strength.
How many student-athletes are impacted by the decision to discontinue these programs?
The decision affects approximately 130 student-athletes.
How will OBU support the student-athletes affected by this decision?
We will work diligently with affected student-athletes as they navigate this difficult transition. In their meeting with Director of Athletics Robert Davenport on Monday, student-athletes were assured of the following:
- OBU will provide the opportunity for each team to train for and compete in its 2020-21 NCAA championship season as the circumstances related to COVID-19 allow.
- OBU will honor all financial aid agreements until the student-athlete completes his or her undergraduate degree at OBU within the standard four-year window, or until the student-athlete transfers to another institution
- The OBU Compliance office will personally assist any student-athlete who chooses to continue his or her education at another institution by providing all pertinent documentation and ensuring a timely and efficient transfer process.
At the Monday meeting, all affected student-athletes were provided with personalized financial aid documents specifying the scholarship amounts available to them should they choose to continue at OBU. Compliance staff was also available to discuss transfer requirements and the NCAA eligibility process.
Will OBU honor existing scholarships for affected student-athletes?
Yes. We will honor all existing scholarships for individuals who choose to complete their undergraduate degree within the standard four-year window.
Students must continue to meet all NCAA progress-toward-degree requirements and maintain good academic standing and standards of student conduct.
Will the affected student-athletes be able to transfer to other schools?
The timing of the announcement allows affected student-athletes the opportunity to compete in their NCAA championship season – pending health and safety protocols – in spring 2021 and evaluate all available transfer options, if they so choose. In addition to honoring all existing athletic aid, OBU will assist student-athletes with transferring their credits and eligibility if they elect to compete at another institution.
Each student-athlete who requests to be entered into the NCAA Transfer Portal will be allowed to do so. However, the one-time transfer exception will be granted at the completion of their winter or spring season, whichever is applicable. Under NCAA transfer rules, student-athletes whose sports are eliminated at their current institution are immediately eligible for competition at their next school once the season is over and the sport is discontinued.
How will OBU support the affected coaches?
Employment contracts for all coaches will be honored through the end of the fiscal year (May 31). The university human resources staff will be available to provide counseling and support for coaches seeking employment.
What happens to incoming students in the affected programs? Will OBU refund any deposits if they opt to withdraw?
The OBU Athletics Compliance office, as well as university admissions and student financial services, will work closely with affected students regarding their specific situation and available options.
What is the impact of this decision on gender equity and Title IX?
OBU remains committed to compliance with federal Title IX and gender equity guidelines. We will continue to provide equitable competitive and academic opportunities for our student-athletes in compliance with Title IX.
Is there any sort of fundraising campaign to save the affected programs?
While OBU Athletics is grateful for the generous support of our donors, financial sustainability and Title IX considerations, make fundraising an impracticable path forward.
In view of current nationwide economic trends, and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on individuals and businesses, OBU does not believe such a fundraising campaign goal is realistic.
What impact did the COVID-19 pandemic have on this decision?
While an evaluation of long-term financial health and program sustainability has been necessary for some time, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated existing budget issues campus-wide. As with many institutions across the country, the impact of COVID-19 on enrollment and retention numbers, as well as increased costs related to health and safety, has made the current financial position of athletics untenable.