Air Force Academy to see minor cuts to sports programs

Air Force linebacker Jordan Pierce (51) celebrates after a 4th-quarter sack against Army at Falcon Stadium at Air Force Academy, Colorado, on Saturday, November 2, 2013. The Falcons defeated the Black Knights, 42-28.


By BRENT BRIGGEMAN | The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazette | Published: March 6, 2014

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Budget cuts will not require the elimination of any sports teams at Air Force.

Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson determined that sports — at levels from intercollegiate to intramurals to club — were too essential to the academy’s mission of building character and leadership through competition to be eliminated.

“I think the value of competition is invaluable, and that’s why we’re trying to preserve the essence of it,” said Johnson, a former All-America basketball player for the Falcons.

The athletic department did not emerge unscathed. Athletics will lose 30 positions, including nine assistant coaches, and 10.2 percent (about $400,000) of its appropriated tax funds.

The most visible impact of the cuts for Falcons fans will come in the form of some programs being unable to travel to certain events and the likely reduction in size of rosters.

Ultimately, however, the cut in athletic funds represents a tiny fraction of the total operating budget. According to the most recent numbers available to The Gazette, taken from five years ago, the expenses for the athletic department were just over $50 million.

Athletic director Hans Mueh said he has worked with Johnson for six months, producing roughly 12 scenarios that would bring the department to its targeted dollar amount. Many of those involved cutting sports. As word spread about those plans, panic set in among supporters of sports most heavily rumored to be cut — primarily baseball, gymnastics and lacrosse.

“Unfortunately, in the process of different planning steps people say things out of context and obviously leapt to some conclusions,” Johnson said.

Only with Tuesday’s news did the concerned parties learn their sports would survive. Of course, none of this is absolutely certain. The budget cuts will not begin until the 2015 fiscal year, and even that could change as this is all based on the numbers recommended by President Obama. Congress still must approve the budget.

Mueh said the 10.2 percent cut in the athletic budget will not be approached with a “cookie-cutter slice across each sport.”

“We’re trying to spread that across all of the sports so that everybody feels a little bit of pain,” Mueh said, “but we save the essence of the programs and athletic department for the academy.”

The budget news hits the academy as the nation is sizing down the military with several overseas wars winding down. Budget cuts in addition to those for athletics will see the academy lose military and civilian personnel as well as 10 academic majors.

By keeping sports in place, the academy hopes to buy time for the Air Force Academy Athletic Corp. — which gained nonprofit status just eight months ago – to grow into a strong enough support mechanism to work in concert with tax dollars and provide solid footing for these teams.

“These are tough times,” Mueh said. “But thank God the AFAAC is there. If we didn’t have that as the wave of the future, I don’t know where we’d be. If it wasn’t that, we might have had to cut some sports.”

Johnson opted not to elaborate on the difference in value provided through intercollegiate athletics vs. the obviously less expensive options of intramural or club sports. She did, however, make it clear that athletics were a vital part of living up to the academy’s charter.

“In my experience in active duty I could tell the difference in people who had played sports — period — and those who hadn’t,” Johnson said. “It’s the idea of knowing your role, training, putting others before yourself, rule setting, being tough, playing hurt, those kinds of things.

“I can’t cut out this value of competition.”

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