The University of New Brunswick has slashed its athletics program, cutting four teams from varsity status.

The university announced on Thursday that women's hockey, wrestling, cross country and men's swimming will no longer be varsity sports at the Fredericton campus.

The existing athletics budget will now increase funding for the surviving programs of soccer, basketball, volleyball, women's swimming and men's hockey.

The change means that as of fall 2008, the teams will no longer have a share of the university's $1 million athletics budget, and students taking part in those programs will not be able to earn an athletic scholarship.

Sixty female and 62 male athletes will be affected by the cuts, which will change the teams' status to competitive clubs. They will be able to access a portion of the university's $10,000 budget for sports clubs available through the recreation program.

Women's hockey will be most affected by the loss of status, because it will be dropped from the Atlantic conference and have to compete in an outside league as a competitive club.

The other teams, which are individual sports, will allow the athletes to continue to compete with the Atlantic University Sport and at Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championships if they are individually able to meet the competitive standard.

"It was a little shocking at first," said swimmer Nick Cameron, who is currently preparing for Olympic trials. "The men's team is still going to remain the same. We're still going to compete normally and stuff, but the women's team is just getting more funding. I can see where the men might feel that they've been slighted a little bit."

Money the deciding factor

The cuts were decided after a 13-month process that reviewed the university's athletics on the basis of competitive success, generated revenues, fundraising and gender equity, said Terry Haggerty, dean of kinesiology.

"Some sports, just by the nature of the sport, do better on the criteria than others. For instance, some sports do generate spectator interest and some don't by the nature of the sport," Haggerty said.

But money was a driving force in making the decision, he said.

"It became quite clear that the program wasn't sustainable. We had good funding from the university. We raised more money through our sponsors, alumni and gate receipts than other schools in [Atlantic University Sport] but expenses keep going up and up," he said.

It was a difficult decision to split the men's and women's swimming teams, so one will continue as varsity and the other won't, said head coach Paula Crutcher.

"My goal is to ensure that we have both sides to the sport," Crutcher said. "I mean, they say it's men's and women's swimming, but they're all one team. To try and say, 'OK we're going to earmark this money for the women,' then it's my job to say, 'Let's make sure we're taking care of the men's side of the program.'"

The competitive clubs will now be responsible for supplementing their budgets through their own fundraising.

It's possible the teams losing their varsity status could get it back when the university does another review of its sports programs in five years, Haggerty said.