August 15, 2017

Due to the redistribution of state budgets, the University of Southern Florida’s Sports Medicine and Athletic Related Trauma (SMART) Institute will no longer receive funding. SMART provides athletic training coverage to many Hillsborough County (Fla.) high schools, but without state funding, that seems unlikely to continue.

In years’ past, the SMART Institute was placed under a larger budget umbrella that covered all of USF Health. But this year, it was singled out. So when state legislators convened to discuss budget cuts this year, $2.4 million for the Institute was put on the chopping block. 

“The Legislature made a policy choice this session to go into a lot of university budgets and state college budgets all around the state and find old … projects like [SMART] and pull them out for individual veto scrutiny,” Mark Walsh, the USF System Assistant Vice President for Government Relations, told the Tampa Bay Times. “The governor made this real clear: He didn't say, ‘I don't like this program, it should go away.’ He said these are available funding sources now, and he has higher priorities.”

According to Walsh, the money being used to fund the SMART Institute will be diverted to provide more money toward K-12 public schools. USF has requested the money for the Institute be reinstated to next year's budget. But in the meantime, SMART may not be able to offer its assortment of services, such as athletic training coverage to Hillsborough County high schools.

“I think what we're trying to do internally now is determine, after the veto, which services we can fund out of other sources, which things need to be absorbed by other places, and which things may go entirely,” Walsh said. “I don't know that any of those decisions have been completely determined at this point.”

In another part of Florida, Pasco County School District is in a similar predicament. Their athletic trainers were provided through Florida Hospital, but the hospital has decided to end their contract. Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning has said that his district will still provide athletic trainers, yet this could add around $125,000 to its expected funding deficit. Like the schools in Hillsborough County, Pasco County is struggling to find a way to continue supplying athletic trainers.

“The athletic trainers are the eyes on the field,” said Erik Nason, MBA, MS, ATC, CSCS, President of the Athletic Trainers' Association of Florida. “They are monitoring everything that goes on, more than the coaches because the coaches are worried about the game. Any time a school or athletic event is without the (athletic trainer), there's a risk. It's as simple as that.

“In my mind, it should be a mandate that if a high school decides that they are going to have a sports program, there is an overhead responsibility of funding an athletic trainer full time,” Nason continued. “Typically, we are the cherry on top when we provide safety and care to an athlete. But the athletic trainers also are the first thing that go if there's a budget cut, and that's incorrect.” 

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