EUGENE - The University of Oregon will reinstate baseball as one of its intercollegiate programs following a 26-year absence, according to an announcement Friday by the school's Director of Athletics Pat Kilkenny.
Kilkenny said that his decision was based in part upon the financial future of the Ducks' department of athletics as well as a growing interest in the sport on a national level and among University of Oregon constituents and alumni.
He added that an aggressive timetable for bringing back baseball on an intercollegiate basis would include the hiring of a national caliber coaching staff no later than this fall, with Oregon to resume competition during the 2008-09 season.
Oregon had remained as the only school in the Pacific-10 Conference without a baseball program since it was one of four sports eliminated following the 1980-81 season due to financial considerations. The other sports that were dropped at that time were men's gymnastics as well as women's golf and soccer.
Women's golf and soccer have since been reinstated and resumed competition in 1987 and 1996, respectively.
Completing the athletics department reorganization, Kilkenny announced that the university would add the sport of varsity women's competitive cheer and discontinue its wrestling program following the 2007-08 season.
Kilkenny emphasized that his decisions would not deter from the athletics department's mission to remain financially self-sufficient.
"This is a time of mixed emotions for both myself and the University of Oregon," Kilkenny said. "I am obviously excited about the opportunity to return a piece of the proud tradition of intercollegiate athletics back to the university, as well as provide more opportunities for women in a sport that has demonstrated remarkable growth at the collegiate and high school levels. At the same time, it is unfortunate we are unable to be all things to all people.
"As I've stated on more than one occasion, this decision was not part of my original directive handed down from President (Dave) Frohnmayer when I was appointed as athletics director. However I felt it was my responsibility to examine all facets of the athletics department and determine how we could improve its operation and fiscal efficiency. The changing landscape of collegiate athletics over the past decades has influenced me to come to the conclusion that these changes will be in the best interest of the future of the university."
Kilkenny said that the contracts of head wrestling coach Chuck Kearney, who has completed nine seasons at the helm of the program, as well as assistant coaches Rick Stewart and Jason Powell, would be honored through June 30, 2008. In addition, the 17 wrestlers expected to be on scholarship for the coming year will be provided the following options: they will be allowed to compete at Oregon during the 2007-08 season under their current grant-in-aid status and then be allowed to transfer to another school, where they would be immediately eligible under NCAA guidelines; they will be given the opportunity to continue their education at Oregon after the 2007-08 season while retaining their current financial aid obligations through their remaining years of eligibility; or they would be given their release to transfer to another school immediately before the start of the 2007-08 season.
"The first intercollegiate sporting event played on the University of Oregon campus was a baseball game back in 1877; just one year after the UO was established," said University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer. "It is especially fitting that Pat has decided to bring baseball back to the University of Oregon on the 130th anniversary of that first game."
It is anticipated that the baseball budget in its first year of competition would exceed $710,000, which would increase to more than $869,000 four years later when the program would grant the maximum number of allowable scholarships. The number of scholarships provided will be gradually implemented over a four-year period until the NCAA's maximum number of 11.7 scholarships is in place for the start of the 2011-12 season.
As part of the process, the university will develop plans to provide a solution for a permanent facility where its baseball team will play. Facility decisions regarding where the team will play in the meantime will be made with input from the new coaching staff.
Oregon also will begin competition in competitive cheer in 2008-09, with the addition of the program marking the third intercollegiate women's sport to be added in the last 11 years. In addition to soccer in 1996-97, the university began competition in women's lacrosse in 2004-05.
Although its championships are not currently governed by the NCAA, competitive cheer's schedules will consist of approximately eight to 10 annual competitions, culminating with a national championship in April.
The average squad size consists of approximately 35 women and will be entirely separate from Oregon's spirit squad that performs at its football and basketball games. A search for a coaching staff will be conducted, with an anticipated budget of approximately $500,000 needed to cover scholarships, coaching salaries and operations by 2011-12.
The national championships in the sport are sponsored by the National Cheerleading Association, with 250 colleges and universities taking part in the 2007 championships in Daytona Beach, Fla. Included were 40 schools in the all-women Division I bracket.
"I applaud Pat Kilkenny and the University of Oregon on their decision to add competitive cheer as a varsity sport," said University of Maryland director of athletics Deborah A. Yow, whose four-year-old varsity program has captured the past two championships of the National Cheerleading Association Division I competition. "This decision positions Oregon athletics on the leading edge of an emerging, national trend for women in athletics.
"Competitive cheer is a sport with a remarkable upside, as the participation rates at the youth, all-star and high school levels attest.
"When we launched our program in 2003, competitive cheer was already the ninth-most popular high school sport for girls; today, just four years later, it ranks as the fastest growing girls' sport at the prep level. Those are facts one can't dismiss when selecting a sport to add."
A 2005-06 study released by the National Federation of State High School Associations reported that competitive spirit squads represented the largest increase in high school female participants nationwide from one year to the next compared to any other sport, with an increase of 14,154 athletes.
"As we discovered after starting our program, the response to Oregon's decision by young girls involved in the sport and their parents will be overwhelmingly positive," Yow added. "I fully expect today's announcement to provide a significant momentum boost to all levels of competitive cheer, but particularly in the collegiate ranks, where our goals include securing emerging-sport status from the NCAA. We congratulate UO on its decision, and welcome the Ducks to varsity competitive cheer."
The financial impact of the reorganization is estimated to add $300,000 to the athletics department's 2007-08 budget, which would result in a net increase of approximately $500,000 in 2011-12 in the first year that both new programs would be fully funded and all wrestling commitments would be fulfilled.
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