Guest Opinions

Save U of I sports and keep recruiting athletes, citizens and business owners like me

I was a swimmer. I was a student-athlete. I was a Vandal. I am now a successful Idaho business owner because of all those things.

While it was difficult to hear about the predicament in which University of Idaho athletics has found itself, I must applaud the innovation of the leadership at the U of I for taking bold steps to solve the problem in a positive, solution-based way that saves (even adds) sports, fixes the budget and keeps my alma mater a thriving university.

Adjusting spending caps and considering the greater economic impact of student athletes on the whole university — rather than just the athletic department — will not only save several sports teams, but it will also solve the budget issue the University of Idaho is facing. And, it’s the common-sense thing to do. Economic influences of this nature are considered in the real world and make sense to be considered for universities.

For example, when a business is recruited to the state, the direct jobs are considered, but the impact of those families moving to the state — what they’ll buy at local retail stores, the homes they’ll purchase, the restaurants they’ll dine in — are all factors measured as real contributions to our economy. Why wouldn’t these considerations be contemplated when considering cutting programs in a university with a budget issue? Most of the student-athletes in the sports programs on the chopping block are on partial scholarships, many from out of state. That means they are paying — in part — their own out-of-state money for tuition, to buy books and to rent dorms at an Idaho university they would otherwise be unlikely to attend if not for their sport.

This is personal for me. It’s my story. I’m a Wyoming girl who had never considered Idaho for my college education. That is, I never considered it until they called and asked me to swim for them in 2006. I received a 50 percent scholarship and swam for four years for the Vandals — a choice that has affected my life more than any one decision ever has. My scholarship paid for some things and I paid for the rest of them, a dollar amount that, imprudently, is not considered when discussing the elimination of sports like mine.

Now, I consider myself an Idaho woman. I’ve lived in and loved this state for more than a decade. I’m a professional working in Boise, own a business and a home and contribute handily to our local economy (much to the chagrin of my husband). I am a living example of why keeping sports alive at U of I is important — for the school and the state.

The State Board of Education decides Wednesday whether to grant U of I a waiver to continue operating as-is and work on fixing the problem. I urge the board to consider the plan presented by leadership at the University of Idaho that would add men’s swimming, women’s triathlon and co-ed rifle because it will help bring hard-working, passionate student-athletes to our state who could stay here long term. It also solves the current athletics budget issue and will bolster enrollment; the two largest institutional issues facing U of I today.

Please, save these programs. Do it for people like me who wouldn’t otherwise be in Idaho if not for these programs. Do it for the athletes who are there today because they took a chance on Idaho. Do it for the student-athletes coming after them and help grow an important, legacy university. Let’s make the bold and wise decision to move forward, not backward, and support the plan laid out by the University of Idaho.

Amanda Watson was on the University of Idaho women’s swimming and diving team from 2006 to 2010. She’s the owner and founder of Atlas Strategic Communications.