On Thursday, July 2nd, Boise State President Marlene Tromp and Athletic Director Curt Apsey announced that Boise State would be cutting their baseball program and women’s swimming & diving program. Cuts were expected after COVID-19 ravaged athletic departments around the country, but the move came as a shock to the coaches, student athletes, and the fans. Let’s take a look at how the process played out. I was lucky enough to have Kase Ogata and Matt Farman from the Boise State baseball team and Lucia Davis from the swimming and diving team join me for a few questions. I also reached out to Gary Van Tol’s daughter, Amaia Van Tol, to discuss how fundraising efforts are going.
Originally, Boise State baseball coach Gary Van Tol was told that the program would need to cut their budget by 12%. Van Tol went above and beyond cutting the budget by 21%. You can hear Van Tol’s comments on the budget issues here. Boise State swim coach Christine Mabile also knew her program was facing budget cuts. She offered to cut her salary in half and only travel regionally. She even offered to assist in fundraising and believes the program can raise enough money to support itself. Lucia Davis had this to say about Mabile: “Christine is relentless. If I have learned anything from this situation it is that she never gives up. We were expected to be given this news and walk away, but she refused that and has fought with her whole heart for us since the day we got the news. I mean few hours of sleep, calling everyone she knows, meeting with Apsey all the time, fighting for us, for her women. Her heart is so big and she said she’s not going down without a fight”.
Both coaches found out that the programs were going to be cut the night of Tuesday, June 30th, and the athletes were made aware Thursday morning. Boise State first baseman Kase Ogata was shocked when he heard the news: “It didn’t feel real. I am still shocked and angry with this whole situation.” Infielder Matt Farman also shared his initial shock: “My initial reaction when I found out the program was cut was shock. It was hard to believe for the first few minutes. After the shock wore off there was more of a feeling of anger. Anger from being let down by our administration and knowing how much support we had for the program that had gone down the drain after just 14 games.”
Coach Van Tol has been there to emotionally support his team; Van Tol is highly regarded by his players. Ogata made it clear that Van Tol has a special connection with his players: “He truly loves each and every one of us and believes in guys who want to grind and win ball games. The trust he has in me and my teammates is special. He offered me when I was in a sling after my second shoulder surgery. To me, that is a guy who sees something in guys who want to be great and compete.” Farman feels a special bond with Van Tol as well: “Gary is a one-of-a-kind person. He wouldn’t let us ever call him coach, which first off shows how personable he is and how we didn’t see him as a coach but rather a mentor and a father figure. He always put our family’s and our education before baseball, and he was always there to talk to us if we needed help or were going through personal issues. There is no better baseball coach/mentor in the country than Gary, and you can’t convince me otherwise. He always had our backs and will continue to always have our backs no matter what happens. He would run through a brick wall for any of his players or staff members and I will never forget the life lessons he has taught us all through the last couple of years.” This is more than just a game for these guys, they also want to do this for their coach.
At the July 2nd press conference announcing the programs would be cut, Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey and President Marlene Tromp made it a point to bring up sustainability in regard to why these programs were cut. Amaia Van Tol and others are out to prove that Boise State baseball can be a force in the Treasure Valley. “Their main argument to deter people from fundraising is that there’s no proof that these programs can be sustained. A lot of people have an issue with this, because how can you say a program is not sustainable when only 14 games have been played? That’s completely absurd. Look at the photo on the Go Fund Me that shows the crowd at the home opener. It’s a sold-out stadium. Can they honestly say for certain that this community doesn’t support these programs and won’t back these athletes?” Boise State’s leadership has been noticeably quiet since the press conference on July 2nd. However this all plays out, this needs to be a learning lesson for the Boise State athletic department. The coaches and athletes were completely blindsided; this can’t be a decision that just came out of nowhere. People within the athletic department have had to know this could be a possibility for some time. Why not give the coaches a heads up?
If cutting programs was an absolute necessity and the athletic department exhausted all of their options, it is easy to see why they picked baseball and swimming & diving. Neither sport has an on-campus facility, and the cost of building a baseball stadium would be substantial. Was this a COVID related decision? Was this a feeling that baseball costs too much? Or did this happen because it was Bob Kustra’s brainchild and there is no longer anyone in the athletic department to support baseball? We are still searching for the answers to these questions.
The athletes, the fans, and outside supporters have made it very clear that they aren’t going down without a fight, and Ogata made it clear that this is a team effort with the swimming and diving program. When asked if they have been communicating Ogata said: “Yes, we’ve been talking to them. This fundraising is a group effort and we are not stopping.” Farman wanted to share his appreciation for the Boise State community: “We can’t thank the community enough for their overwhelming support and it’s clear that the Boise community and people around the country want baseball and swimming to stay at Boise State. Many people have already donated money to try and keep our programs alive and there will be many more that will donate within the next couple of weeks to try and help us. Like I said, we can’t thank them enough for their support and efforts, and saving our programs wouldn’t be possible without them.”
Both teams have expressed frustration with the timing of the announcement and the lack of communication coming from the athletic department. Davis had this to say about their future at Boise State: “Thankfully, scholarships will be honored. The worst part of this whole situation is the timing- they made this decision and told us July 2nd, a day after most teams give out their last scholarships (if someone wants to transfer), six weeks before schools start, and not long after many leases are signed and down payments are made on our rentals. We have girls stuck in contracts that if we would have known any sooner would have saved them hundreds of dollars, and if they do choose to transfer, many schools cannot offer scholarships.”
The two programs have made a statement with their ability to gather the support of this community, as they have already been able to raise over half a million dollars. How much money will it take to save these programs? We don’t really know, because nobody at Boise State has given any indication if there is a “magic number.” But one thing is clear, these athletes are being heard, and they aren’t going to go down without a fight.