Pima Community College chancellor Lee Lambert, his school emerged in cutting $15 million from its budget over the next three years, gave his athletic director Edgar Soto three scenarios to work with to keep Soto’s department spending below $2 million starting in 2019-20.
Those scenarios included a $1.9 million budget with two possibilities — keeping football or eliminating football — or a $1.7 million budget or one that was $1.5 million.
Soto, with the help from his staff, including number-crunching by executive assistant athletic director Jerry Stitt (a former Arizona baseball player and coach), came up with only one viable recommendation:
A $1.9 million budget eliminating football and also two of the programs associated with the men’s and women’s tennis and golf programs. Lambert approved the recommendation. Soto said there is not a timetable to make the decision on which tennis and golf programs will be cut.
“We know this decision is disappointing for our hard-working staffs, to the students and alumni who have worn the Aztecs uniform and of course for many members of our community,” Soto told the Pima Community College Governing Board, including Lambert, in a meeting Wednesday night.
Soto explained that the scenario within the $1.9 million budget to keep football was not feasible “because we would have to cut all the men’s programs with the exception of soccer.” Soto, Stitt and the department staff also had to consider Title IX implications by keeping the number of male and female student-athletes relatively close.
Pima football coach Jim Monaco and a few members of his staff attended the meeting despite knowing beforehand of the decision to eliminate football. The Aztecs will still play this upcoming season with a projected roster of nearly 100 players.
Soto added that his department is working to keep some of those student-athletes — and the ones who will suffer the cuts to the tennis and golf programs — on scholarship in 2019-20 to “see them through to get a college credential.”
As disappointed as I am with the outcome of our board meeting, we have a season ahead do to something AMAZING. The fight isn't over but enough on things we have no control over, this SEASON IS OURS FOR THE TAKING. BE PREPARED.
GREAT TO BE AN AZTEC
PROUD TO BE YOUR COACH
“Our decision was made with great deliberation and thoughtful attention to the full consequences and best interests of the college,” Soto told the board. “Because we are sensitive to the fact that Pima has opened its doors to students who might not have considered to be here previously, we are creating scholarships for displaced Pima County football, golf and tennis student-athletes.
“We will actively recruit them to attend. Their ride to college might be academics instead of athletics but it will be the same, to see them through to get a college credential. We will present those details when they become available.”
Some of the impetus for Pima cutting its football program included the Maricopa County Community College District earlier this year eliminating football at Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa and Glendale community colleges.
The elimination of those teams would have greatly reduced Pima’s opponents on its 2019 schedule and required the Aztecs to travel out of state, which goes against the school’s need to cut $5 million from its budget each year over the next three years.
Coaches are here to see what’s next for them and their teams in 2019 season. @PimaAthletics Football Coach @JimMonaco5050 sits in last row to hear AD Edgar Soto’s (pictured with Manila folder) budget plan that could include cuts to football. @TucsonNewsNow #PimaAthletics #Tucson pic.twitter.com/4fRbH3i5cY
“I would just like to add my thanks to Edgar Soto,” Lambert said after Soto presented his recommendation to the board. “I know this is very difficult on him. This is what he does, this is what he loves. … I also want to thank Coach Monaco and all of the football coaches for serving the program.
“I look forward to the upcoming season. I know you’ll do your best to keep the spirits high as we move through a difficult period of time. Also, I want to thank all of the athletic staff and students. To even have to look at budget reductions, is difficult regardless of the athletic program.
“And we are not just talking athletics. We are talking about making hard decisions of many programs, and athletics is just one aspect of a larger piece. It takes a lot to do that for the administrators, especially, because they are the ones who have to deal with the questions and the hurt from making these hard decisions.”
PCC AD Edgar Soto before governing board saying football will be dropped and two of the men's and women's tennis and golf programs will be eliminated to clear a $1.9 million budget for 2019. pic.twitter.com/1CB5s4I39V
Soto’s department will operate under a $2.6 million budget this school year, so approximately 27 percent of the budget will be reduced for 2019-20.
Knowing that enrollment plays an important part in having a budget in the first place, Soto said that Pima “will look to eliminate the need for general funds to subsidize the athletics program.”
Enrollment has decreased more than 35 percent since the school had nearly 23,000 full-time students in 2011. In 2017-18, the enrollment was only about 14,700 students, coming close to equaling a 30-year low.
The dwindling enrollment has caused almost 70 employee positions to be cut this year after nearly 100 positions were eliminated last year through attrition.
“There isn’t a corner of the college that is not being impacted (by the budget cuts),” District 3 board member Sylvia Lee said.
Soto said he is concerned more athletic programs will have to be cut in the future if enrollment continues to decline.
“We expect to partner with the PCC Foundation to identify fund-raising opportunities and will look forward to community assistance to help sustain the greatest levels of opportunities for our students,” Soto said.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.