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Groups prepared to fight for the life of baseball, other sports as Air Force considers cuts

February 25, 2014 Updated: February 26, 2014 at 7:59 am
Caption +
Air Force Academy pitchers take part in a drill in this 2008 photo. Baseball is one of the sports that may be eliminated at Air Force. Mark Reis photo

The future of America's national pastime is apparently in serious jeopardy at Air Force.

Budget cuts are expected to come down as early as March 4, and The Gazette has confirmed that sports may be eliminated. With baseball high on that list, a group of former players are doing all they can to proactively prevent it.

"It's not just baseball related, but with baseball being America's game, are you going to drop baseball at a service academy? That's kind of ridiculous," said Bobby Johnson, a 1987 graduate and former baseball player. "The All-American game doesn't matter at a service academy?"

Johnson, who lives in New Jersey, is among a group of former baseball players nationwide who are writing letters, trying to "inundate the superintendent and athletic director with why we feel we need to keep the baseball program." An email circulated between baseball fans and alumni has asked that positive messages be sent that provide candid thoughts on the sports' importance to individuals in their careers as officers and later in life.

That group has reached out to Gen. Mark Welch, the chief of staff of the Air Force and a former baseball player at the academy, and has created a chain of supporters that has even attempted to enlist the support of former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.

"We're getting ready for the big fight if it comes to that," said Johnson, who said his group would explore ways of privately financing the baseball team if necessary. "There are a lot of powerful people who are on our side."

Johnson made it clear that his group is not simply fighting for baseball, but is trying to prevent any sports from being cut. His group is not alone. Representatives trying to preserve the women's gymnastics team have created an email handle and are soliciting help. Other sports said to be in danger include men's lacrosse and boxing.

"Sports cuts are always an option with the budget, but no decision has been made," said a source within the Air Force.

The source struck down an early rumor that as many as nine sports might be removed, saying that could cut too thin the leadership and competition opportunities for cadets.

This panic among the Air Force sports communities comes as Army on Tuesday announced it would be adding women's lacrosse. That one service academy would add a sport as another might make cuts was particularly upsetting to many Air Force fans.

The Air Force athletic department responded to a query about potential cuts by issuing a statement.

"We are in the midst of working the FY '15 budget and it would only be speculation on what that budget may look like," the statement read. " As soon as those decisions are made and the president's budget is finalized and released, we'll make those details known. It's too early to speculate on what, if anything, may or may not be cut due to budget considerations.

"We are experiencing unprecedented budget challenges over the next several years and have to make some very difficult decisions."

Title IX will be a factor when determining cuts. Since the academy's gender breakdown is roughly 80 percent male, male athletes must be offered about 75 to 85 percent of the intercollegiate athletic opportunities. So if baseball is cut, a corresponding women's team would likely have to go as well.

This may end up saving some men's sports, which flips the original impact of the law as many schools around the nation had to cut men's sports like wrestling and baseball to even out opportunities between genders.

For now, those who want to see sports at the academy saved can do little more than try to make public their frustrations and await word.

"We're in a holding mode," Johnson said. "We're just trying to get everything ramped up."

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