Bowling Green, Ky. — Facing current and future budget reductions from the state government, the Western Kentucky University Department of Athletics announced Friday that it will discontinue sponsoring the men’s soccer program effective with the 2008-09 academic year.
“The current and future state budget cuts represent a genuine threat to our ability to successfully operate our intercollegiate athletic program at WKU,” said WKU Director of Athletics Dr. Wood Selig. “We first learned of the dire financial future of the Commonwealth barely a month ago. Since then, we have been totally consumed with devising a plan and strategies to operate more efficiently and with less financial capacity. Rather than dilute each of our 20 intercollegiate athletic programs and negatively impact the experience of all 440 student-athletes at WKU, we have determined the best course of action to be the elimination of one entire program.
“Given the Sun Belt Conference affiliation for 19 of our 20 programs (all but men’s soccer), our desire to successfully compete for the SBC all-sports trophy each season, the competitiveness of specific programs and our need to create legitimate expense savings for the athletic department, the men’s soccer program was targeted to be the best solution to help solve our current and immediate future financial needs.”
The school will honor the current scholarship levels of each player in the program through their senior year as long as they are in good academic standing should they choose not to transfer to another school to continue their collegiate career.
“The timing is most difficult given the uncertain financial future of the Commonwealth and the pending National Letter-of-Intent signing date next week,” Selig added. “The national signing date period and a need for current student-athletes to be put in the best position possible to transfer while scholarship funding is still available at other institutions has literally forced our hand to make this sudden decision and announcement. We were forced to act quickly and prudently given the financial information we recently received over the holidays.”
“All of us involved with the Hilltopper soccer program are devastated by today’s news,” said head coach David Holmes. “The timing is difficult, and I don’t have much to say publicly at this time. The challenge at hand is to place 15 underclassmen on the team and six freshmen recruits in the best possible educational situations. We are working on that now.”
With the school’s current transition to the NCAA Division I-A (Football Bowl Subdivision) level and impending membership in the Sun Belt Conference set to begin with the 2009 season, the men’s soccer program is the only one of 20 sports sponsored on the Hill not competing in the league. WKU has experienced plenty of success in the SBC, winning the Vic Bubas Cup — which is presented to the league’s top overall athletic program — three times while finishing second on three other occasions over the last six years.
The move will prevent the dilution of all WKU’s athletic programs, as they will be spared a cut to their budgets thus allowing them to sustain their current funding level.
The Toppers have competed as an affiliate member in the Missouri Valley Conference in men’s soccer since the 1997 season since the SBC discontinued its sponsorship of the sport. One of the top leagues nationally in the sport — Bradley advanced to the quarterfinals of this year’s tournament and Creighton, the eighth seed in the event, moved on to the Sweet 16 — the MVC has placed multiple teams in the championships 11 times in 17 years. WKU has finished as high as third (on four occasions, the last time in 2003).
WKU has sponsored men’s soccer for 26 years, founding the program in 1982. In that time, the Hilltoppers have posted a 225-241-33 (48.4%) record — the wins are more than any other Division I program in the Commonwealth have recorded — with its only conference title coming in 1995 when they shared the Sun Belt championship with a 4-1 mark. The Toppers have finished with a winning record on 11 occasions, the last time in 2003 when WKU ended up 10-9-1 en route to the semifinals of the MVC Tournament.
Over the years, 12 Hilltoppers have earned all-region honors while 35 individuals have been recognized on the all-Sun Belt and Missouri Valley squads.
Holmes is one of only two coaches in the program’s history, taking over in 1984 after Neophytos Papaioannou compiled a 15-15-2 record in two seasons. A 1970 graduate of Wooster, Holmes has won 210 matches over the last 24 seasons while earning coach-of-the year honors twice — he was recognized in 1985 by the Sun Belt, then won the award again from the Missouri Valley in 2003. He also coached four years at Overton (Tenn.) High and was an assistant for two seasons at Louisiana-Monroe before coming to the Hill, and he has been involved with both the Kentucky and Tennessee Olympic Development Programs in his career. An all-Ohio selection his senior year at Wooster, Holmes helped the Fighting Scots to a berth in the NCAA Tournament in each of his four seasons with the program.
Off the field, in addition to posting the top grade-point average for a men’s program on several occasions including last semester WKU has received the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Team Academic Award multiple times. The Toppers were the 2002-03 WKU Scholar-Team Award winner, while a pair of players have been selected the school’s John O. Oldham Student-Athletes of the Year and several program members have claimed the Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award.
“Our men’s soccer program has been a solid performer for WKU — not only did they lead our 10 men’s athletic programs last semester with a 3.23 team grade-point average, they have one of the nation’s highest APR scores,” stated Selig. “They have competed admirably over the years under the leadership of coach Holmes. Coach Holmes and his wife Sharon have devoted most of their adult years to supporting our men’s soccer program and the hundreds of student-athletes who have represented WKU since we started the program in 1982. They have helped shape several generations of student-athletes at WKU, and they are an integral part of literally hundreds of men’s soccer alumni success stories being carried out today. I would like to thank David and Sharon for their sacrifices and commitment to this program.
“Additionally, I would like to thank all of the current and former student-athletes and their families who have given of themselves to our men’s soccer program. I share their frustration with this course of action that we now must take relative to men’s soccer in order to stabilize our athletic funding at this time.”