Fowler urges ECB to cover university academies funding cuts
Graeme Fowler has called on the ECB to fund the university centre of excellence programme after the MCC announced it will slash its contribution by 50%.
Fowler, who established what is currently termed the MCCU scheme two decades ago, is concerned that the cuts will see talented cricketers forced to choose between completing their education and a career in the game and will, as a consequence, result in many players deciding against a future in professional cricket.
He is also concerned that, at a time when the PCA are encouraging players to gain qualifications for their life after cricket, any reduction in funding may compromise that duty of care.
Around 23% of current England-qualified cricketers involved in the first-class game developed in part through the MCCU scheme which has six centres in Oxford, Cambridge, Cardiff, Durham, Loughborough and Leeds-Bradford. Among the players to have graduated through the system are director of cricket for the England team, Andrew Strauss and Zafar Ansari, who was named in the England squad to tour UAE at the end of last year.
The MCC are currently the sole funders of the scheme and have invested just over £550,000 a year into it. From 2017 that figure will reduce to £275,000 though they hope to announce a sponsor in the coming weeks that may reduce that shortfall by another £100,000 or so. Despite the number of players graduating through the scheme, the ECB do not contribute.
"The reason I set up this scheme was to ensure young people didn't have to pick between education and cricket," Fowler told ESPNcricinfo. "The MCC have funded it well for many years but I fear that commitment may be coming to an end. The time really has come for the ECB to take over.
"Not only does this scheme encourage more of the best and brightest players to pursue a career in the game, but it honours the duty of care we should have to them at both ends of their career.
"We have seen the game make huge progress in preparing players for life after cricket through the sterling work of the PCA. This news threatens a huge retrograde step."
Fowler, previously a batsman good enough to score a double-hundred in a Test in India and a Test century against the 1984 West Indies attack, resigned last year after 19 years at Durham University. The scheme he established there became the template for the MCCU model, although he feels recent changes may dilute its effectiveness.
"Recent changes to the scheme saw the head coach having to run staff cricket, women's start-up cricket, inter-college cricket and a lot of other things," Fowler said. "While all those things are admirable initiatives, they should not come under the remit of the head coach. Their role is the elite level. To give them these other responsibilities has to dilute their impact on the top team."
An MCC spokesman confirmed the funding cuts to ESPNcricinfo. "We will be reducing our funding by half from 2017," he said. "We have given all the universities fair notice but we are looking at costs across the board. This does not constitute any lessening of our commitment to the scheme."
The MCC are currently in the process of redeveloping Lord's. £25m is being spent on the new Warner Stand and £4m on the refurbished media centre.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo