The University of New Brunswick's women's hockey team rallied on Thursday to urge the school to reverse its decision to cut the team's varsity status.

"Reinstate - we want to skate" about three dozen demonstrators chanted outside the Wu Centre at the Fredericton campus where the university's board of governors was meeting.

The University of New Brunswick announced in March it was cutting the number of teams eligible for varsity athletics funding.

Along with women's hockey, wrestling, cross country and men's swimming were slashed from the school's varsity program, changing the teams' status to competitive clubs. As of fall 2008, the teams will no longer have a share of the university's $1 million athletics budget and students participating in the programs won't be able to earn an athletic scholarship.

'Can't function as a club team': coach

Becoming a competitive club won't just impact the team's funding but will also mean its players will be playing at a less competitive level, said coach Don Davis.

The women's team won't be able to compete in the Atlantic University Sport conference or the Canadian Interuniversity Sports national championships as those teams compete on the varsity level.

"It can't function as a club team because we have nobody to play," Davis said. "I mean the bottom line is we have to compete on the AUS level or there'd be no hockey."

The team has already collected more than 1,700 signatures in an online petition and some members of the team are considering filing a complaint with the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission regarding the team cut, claiming it is an issue of gender equality.

Gender equity issue, says player

"In 2008 we would hope there would be gender equity," said player Shannon Wise. "Right now we don't see that here."

Women's hockey is growing in popularly and it was downgraded while men's hockey wasn't, Wise said.

"We're fighting for all women in New Brunswick and equality in general for sports in North America," Wise said.

High school student Hollie Brown joined the protest and said she suspects the university's decision to cut the women's team may deter other females from enrolling at the school.

A lot of girls want to go to university and be able to play their sport, Brown said.

The university considered whether the decision to cut the team's varsity status may impact the school's female enrollment, said Jane Fritz, vice-president of academics at the university.

"Unfortunately when you have to make tough decisions it's the kind of thing you have to weigh and it's not a perfect world," she said.

Running team costing too much, says university

Increasing travel costs, not enough scholarships to recruit female athletes and inadequate coaching to make the team competitive were all considered when the team was cut from varsity status, Fritz said.

"We just felt with the limited funds we had, in order to be really competitive, this is the decision we had to make at this time."

It costs about $225,000 a year to properly run the women's hockey team, she said.

Frtiz said the university realizes some players are upset by their sport's changed status but the decision is final.