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OBU discontinuing seven varsity sports at end of 2020-2021

Letter

Open Letter to OBU Community,

Oklahoma Baptist University boasts a tradition of all-around excellence in intercollegiate athletics that few can rival. From our history as one of the premier programs in the NAIA, culminating in three straight Learfield Sports Directors Cup titles, to our emergence as an annual championship contender in the Great American Conference and NCAA Division II, the Bison have a well-earned reputation for competitive distinction.

Throughout our program’s history we have been dedicated to the transformation of our student-athletes through a commitment to developing Christ-like character, thriving in the classroom, engaging with the community, and cultivating their God-given athletic abilities. 

With 583 student-athletes calling Bison Hill home, athletics plays an important role in the life of the university. Like many institutions around the country, OBU has recently been forced to grapple with significant budgetary challenges. As with every department on campus, Athletics has borne its share of the burden in reducing costs in pursuit of balancing the budget. Thanks to our outstanding group of coaches and staff, as well as the commitment of our student-athletes, the Bison have continued to excel in competition and in the classroom while efficiently stewarding our available resources.

Now, however, the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have hastened a thorough examination of OBU’s long-term financial health. 

In order to address the long-term financial stability of the university, the Board of Trustees, at its Nov. 6 meeting, approved reductions impacting every area of campus. In line with the university’s overall budget proposal, the OBU Athletics Department has been asked to reduce its annual operating budget by approximately $3 million.

As part of its commitment to the enduring financial health of the institution, university leadership conducted an exhaustive financial analysis to help departments identify potential cost-saving measures and other operational efficiencies to reduce the overall budget by the necessary amount. After extensive discussions it became clear that reducing the number of varsity athletics programs provided the path forward to achieve the required financial benchmarks set forth by the Board of Trustees and chart a path toward long-term sustainability.

It is thus with great regret that we must announce the discontinuation of seven of our varsity athletics programs at the conclusion of the 2020-21 academic year. The programs impacted include men’s golf, men’s soccer, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s tennis, and women’s lacrosse.

Teams will have the opportunity to compete in their upcoming NCAA championship seasons, should the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 permit, before they are discontinued at the varsity level.

Please know that we are heartbroken for our student-athletes and coaches, and we share the deep disappointment felt by the alumni, fans, and supporters who have helped build these highly successful programs. Through their exceptional representation of the green and gold, each of these teams has brought vitality and distinction to the university through the years.

Oklahoma Baptist University is committed to supporting the impacted student-athletes and coaches during this transition. Those student-athletes that choose to remain on Bison Hill will retain all existing scholarships through graduation within the standard four-year window. Furthermore, OBU Athletics will assist any student-athlete wishing to transfer to another institution following the completion of their 2020-21 championship season. All support services, including sports medicine, academic services, nutrition, etc., will continue to be provided without interruption through the end of the spring term. The contracts of affected coaches will be honored through the end of the university’s fiscal year (May 31).

Earlier today we met personally with the affected teams to share this information and provide further communication regarding their opportunities moving forward. Staff members from student financial services were on hand to provide comprehensive documentation of individual scholarship packages, and compliance officers were available to answer questions related to NCAA transfer procedures.

While these reductions are painful, we believe they are nonetheless necessary to the long-term financial health of the university in general, and the athletics department in particular. Maintaining a sustainable number of varsity teams will increase the viability and strength of our remaining programs and allow OBU to redouble its commitment to all-around excellence in intercollegiate athletics.

Understanding that there are likely additional questions regarding today’s announcement, we have attempted to address as many of those as possible in the FAQ section below.

We covet your prayers for all those in the Oklahoma Baptist community affected by this decision.

God bless OBU.

Dr. Heath A. Thomas

President

Robert Davenport

Director of Athletics