EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a three-part series about the funding of Thomas University's athletic program. The second and third will appear in Saturday and Sunday's edition, respectively.

By Greg Kohntopp

THOMASVILLE -- Thomas University's athletic programs enjoyed an unprecedented year on the field. The women's soccer team won the NAIA Region 13 championship and the women's softball squad claimed the NAIA national championship.

Questions are now being raised as to whether the programs will be able to remain competitive at the national level, however.

Thomas University released its athletic budget for 2004-05 to the coaches in early June. President Dr. John Hutchinson refused to release the exact figures but said the overall athletic operating budgets have increased by five percent.

"We're very proud of our programs and we're going to work hard so they can remain competitive," Hutchinson said.

NAIA coach of the year Thomas Macera, however, believes the level of funding his softball team is set to receive falls short of what is needed. He described it was "a cut."

"I know what I need to the dollar," he said.

"I gave them a figure of what I needed. I don't think it was an obscene amount of money I asked for. I'm just asking them to give me what I need to defend the national championship."

Eric Faulkner, head women's soccer coach, didn't go into detail but said his budget for next year is similar to what it was in 2003-04. He said he hasn't seen Macera's budget but understands why he would be upset if there was a cut.

"As a coach you always want more money, especially since he won the national championship and knows what it feels like to be at the top," Faulkner said.

"But with that being said, I think the school is doing everything it can to make sure all the programs can be competitive."

Thomas University athletic director and head baseball coach Mike Lee declined to comment on the budgets.

"I can't comment on that," Lee said, "but I will say this year is no different than any other year. We'll work with what have and go out like we always do."

Hutchinson held firm that all TU athletic teams are funded well enough.

"There is no doubt in my mind," Hutchinson said.

"Our teams have been and remain competitive on a national level."

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