Budget cuts.

This has become a refrain across campus. The phrase echoed again this week when the news broke that both UCSC men’s and women’s water polo will be cut next quarter.

The decision to cut the teams was not a reflection of the personality of the team and certainly not a penalty against a lack of success among these individual programs. Both teams have proven their ability to outperform their competition. The women placed third in the nation in the 2007–08 season, and the men won the Division III title in 2006, with two of its players named all-Americans.

First and foremost, we would like to congratulate all the student athletes on a job well done. Athletics at UCSC are chronically underfunded and water polo players have shown exceptional sportsmanship and resolve by continuing to succeed.

Much of the outrage concerning this decision stems from the way in which the cuts were announced, over the weekend after a ceremony honoring all of the athletes. As the women’s team finished its season and run at nationals, everyone expected a similar season of success to follow. At the sports awards last Friday on the Lower East Field, no one felt the need to give a eulogy for the teams.

This decision came during a tumultuous time for every department on campus, athletics included. Getting by on a shoestring creates a delicate balance. When funding comes up short, any cuts become drastic.

The decision to cut the sport raises many questions, both economic and political. The water polo teams have a large number of players, 31 men and 26 women, and the larger a team, the more it costs the sports department on campus to keep it running. Money is needed to maintain the facilities, to travel to away games and to pay the officials. Title IX requires that athletics offer equal opportunities for men and women, so a cut for one requires a cut for the other.

Athletics are more than just expenditures and championships. It is unfortunate that the fate of two of our best teams comes down to a question of dollars and cents. The benefit that these and other programs bring to our campus community is not economically quantifiable.

We as a campus need to discuss where our priorities lie. The quality of student life is as important as academics in attracting and retaining students and creating an engaged and enthusiastic community. Sports play an important role in the lives of many students and we should not neglect these students’ needs any further. Athletics instills a sense of community, pride and spirit in the entire student population.

Still, when it comes down to it, despite the myriad of reasons to protect the water polo teams, economics trumps community.

This event, though, transcends the pool. Studied as a microcosm of economics, it should be a wake-up call to the student body. It is a tangible realization that we are all paying more for less. The economy is in a recession, the state is allocating the UC a record low amount of money, and the Board of Regents has raised student fees even more.

Let’s not just watch another program get taken out from under us. We have paid fees and shown our support for the athletic program, and we are still losing teams. Don’t let these teams fade into legend with everything else we’ve seen cut from this campus.