WEST FRANKFORT — During a closed door meeting of its board of trustees Wednesday, Morthland College decided to eliminate its athletic program.
Leigh Caldwell, public relations and marketing director for Morthland College, confirmed the decision Thursday. She provided a statement from the board, which cited delayed government funding as the reason for the decision.
“... the Board of Trustees has made the decision to transition our athletic programs to club programs only,” the statement read. The board hopes the decision will ease the financial burden on the rest of the college.
“This move will dramatically reduce our costs, as we work to make the region’s only faith-based college accessible to as many Southern Illinois students as possible,” the board said in the statement.
In an interview Thursday, Dr. Tim Morthland, college president, said the board voted unanimously for the cut.
Morthland said eliminating athletics has come up more than once in the last five years. He said by taking their athletics offerings to a club sports model, one they had seen used in teams on their NCAA schedule, he hoped it would help maintain a consistent student experience.
“We considered several options but we felt the offering of club sports programs still provided an adequate student experience,” he said. Morthland club sports are organized as a student body club and coaching is handled either by students or volunteers.
Out of the roughly 100 students on their West Frankfort campus, Morthland said approximately 90 participated in athletics, several of which are there on an athletic scholarship. Morthland said the college is positioned to try and help these students stay enrolled.
“If a student is on an athletic scholarship and they are in good academic standing the school is prepared to work with them to make a way for them to return to the college and finish their degree,” Morthland said.
He explained, however, that by cutting athletics, they have been able to reduce the cost per credit hour to $200, which Morthland said makes the college comparable to community colleges.
According to its website, the college offered baseball, basketball, football, volleyball and softball. It also lists more than 20 staff members in its athletic department, eight of which were full time with the rest representing part time positions. Morthland said this decision did not come lightly.
“That was a very difficult decision on the part of the board and administration,” Morthland said. “This was the best mode of stewardship that we could select at this time.”
It was a decision made out of ethics, Morthland said.
“We moved on this quickly … because we felt that it was the most ethical decision we could make and also the most ethical mode to support the student who might otherwise want to pursue athletics at another college,” he said.
Morthland said while students were notified of the decision immediately after the meeting, staff were made aware of the possible elimination of athletics in the days before.
The statement from the board said cash became tight when the receipt of government dollars was delayed this January. Morthland said this was due to a general program review conducted by Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, which he described as a routine procedure for colleges every five to ten years. Morthland said this slowed the college’s cash flow during the process.
“They slow it down until it’s done,” he said of the process, adding that the college has not yet heard the results of the review.
The announcement to cut athletics comes just weeks after the surprise resignation of of recently appointed College President Glenn Poshard after just two months on the job. Among his reasons for leaving were financial difficulties not disclosed to him prior to accepting the job. In a media release, Poshard said the financial difficulties would need to be resolved by someone other than himself. During an emergency board meeting called the day Poshard resigned, the board asked Morthland to return as president, which he did.