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CSUN Athletes Try to Cope in Wake of Negative Vote

October 21, 1994|STEVE ELLING and MIKE HISERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NORTHRIDGE — Brian Swanson couldn't stand the tension, so he took a walk outside the Cal State Northridge athletics office as he waited out the results of a crucial election tally Wednesday night.

Swanson, an assistant athletic director, choreographed the campaign that sought a $49 increase in fees charged to students each semester to underwrite Matador athletics. A student-athlete recognized that Swanson, pacing the sidewalk, was on pins and needles and tried to break the anxiety.

She stuck her head out the window and said: "Swanson, it's a boy."

It might have been the last laugh in that neighborhood for a long time. The Northridge student body this week voted down the plan by a margin of 2,315 to 2,116.

It marked the second athletic referendum defeat of 1994. Sure, the skies were crystal clear Thursday, but athletes and coaches could sense that budgetary thunderclouds are forming.

"We had an opportunity to bring this university to a level of national prominence," said Peter Micelli, a member of the men's basketball team. "Now we might have to take steps in the opposite direction. That's sad. It's just sad."

More tears could be forthcoming, and soon.

With the athletic department facing a possible $700,000 in cuts next year from a budget that stands at $3.6 million in 1994-95, difficult decisions loom. Namely, if no additional sources of funding are identified, selected men's teams could be axed. After five years at the NCAA Division I level, a move to Division II also remains a possibility.

"If the elimination of programs is our only option, then that's the option we'll have to take," said Ron Kopita, the dean of students.

How bad is it? Kopita said athletics is "struggling this year to make ends meet."

Football has been mentioned as a sport facing the budgetary chopping block, which didn't go over big at practice Thursday--especially during homecoming week.

Football Coach Bob Burt spoke with the team before practice in an attempt at damage control.

"They're disappointed, concerned and rightfully so," Burt said.

Football players were predictably downcast.

"The thing that gets me most isn't that we're not being funded the way we should, it's that the vote shows there's no school spirit," said Dan Lazarovits, a freshman defensive lineman.

"Morale's low, especially from where I'm standing. I finally get to college and it's not exactly what I thought it would be."

Kopita met with Burt on Thursday and told the coach not to assume anything was a done deal. Kopita has a "brainstorming" session scheduled today with athletics administrators. The group will explore potential funding sources.

"We wanted to give them some time to lick their wounds and regroup," Kopita said.

Kopita, echoing the sentiment of many in the athletics department, believes the election outcome was dictated by the dollar.

"I believe the 'no' vote was a pocketbook vote as opposed to a vote specifically against athletics," Kopita said.

Some athletes sensed the vote would be close.

"I wanted to think it was going to pass, but I knew a lot of students couldn't support it," said Shannon Jones, a former all-conference softball player and a member of the women's basketball team.

"To people who are working 40 hours a week, paying rent and working their way through college, $49, that's a lot of money. That's the thing, to a lot of students it was just too much."

Turnout for the election set a school record and reinforced the verdict from a similar referendum last spring, which was defeated, 993-906. In both elections, those voting against the proposal made up 52% of the tally.

Shannon Crouse, a junior on the women's basketball team, considered the outcome a reflection of the apathy and selfishness of her fellow students.

"A lot of people look at their own area, their own programs, and stick to that," Crouse said. "People didn't want to do it unless it directly affects them."

She wasn't the only athlete standing in that corner.

"It's embarrassing," said Keven Kempton, a senior on the baseball team. "People here wear around a $59 UCLA sweatshirt and then they don't support us. Can you believe it?

"I don't play ball just for myself, I play for the school."

Athletes carried the promotional burden of the campaign, making the defeat doubly bitter.

"We did everything we could," Micelli said. "We passed out literature for two weeks. We set up an information booth. We had people canvassing the whole area. We had phones out for people to vote. We talked to every club on campus. We talked to classes.

"There was no stone left unturned."

If the school reverts to Division II, athletes will face some difficult decisions as well.

"When I decided to come here, (the school's divisional status) wasn't a concern," said Carlos Velazco, a freshman on the baseball team. "I wanted to come to a Division I school with a good program, a tradition. Now. . . ."

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