UCONN drops four sports for budget cuts
HARTFORD, Conn. - The UConn athletic department is eliminating its women's rowing program, men's swimming and diving, men's cross country, and men's tennis programs next year as one of its most significant measures toward cutting $10 million from its budget.
The Board of Trustees approved the budget, including athletic director David Benedict's proposals, on Wednesday.
"This was a very difficult, but necessary, decision," Benedict said, in a statement released by the school. "Reducing expenses is critical to our financial sustainability but that doesn't make this decision any more palatable for the student-athletes and coaches on the affected teams. We are committed to providing impacted Huskies with our full support during this transition, whether they wish to stay at UConn or transfer to another institution. Despite our current emotions, we are optimistic that the financial plan approved today will serve as an important roadmap for a bright future for UConn athletics."
The proposal became public during Wednesday's Board of Trustees meeting, in which it was made clear the athletic department's budget is unsustainable, especially as the school faces a significant shortfall following the coronavirus outbreak.
Athletes whose programs are cut will be able to stay on scholarship for a full year, with the cuts taking affect after the next academic year.
Other cuts proposed include a 15 percent cut in operating expenses across the board and a reduction in the number of scholarships offered in golf and men's track and field will be reduced. The school is also planning to put a reassigned value on scholarship, which could potentially save the school millions of dollars on paper.
Benedict took a voluntary pay cut of 15 percent. UConn coaches, including football coach Randy Edsall, men's basketball coach Dan Hurley, and women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma are not taking pay cuts because they are represented by faculty's union and subject to their collective bargaining agreement, the school said.
"While this is a painful decision, it is in the best interest of the long-term viability of UConn and UConn athletics," said UConn President Thomas Katsouleas. "For several years, the level of institutional financial support committed to athletics has been growing. Today, we shared some difficult decisions that nonetheless should chart a course towards better financial sustainability at a level of support and sport sponsorship more in line with our peers."
The moves will affect 124 athletes at UConn, which will continue to offer 20 sports. The minimum for remaining in Division I is 16, and the average number of sports offered by other Big East Conference schools is 18. The cuts, along with adjusting the value of athletic scholarships, are expected to meet the goal of trimming $10 million from the balance sheet.
The choices of programs to be dropped were made based on operational costs, "existing and traditional strengths," the quality of facilities and Title IX compliance.
UConn's FBS football program has had a long string of losing seasons and falling attendance, however the school did not consider dropping it, or moving it to less expensive FCS status. Now operating as an independent, the program will cut travel costs, and play "guarantee games" which bring $1.5-$2 million into the program.
"The savings from such a move would be outweighed by a significant decline in revenue opportunities," the school statement explained, adding that the school stands to lose money from deals with NIKE and Learfield/IMG College if football was moved or dropped.
The school also touted upcoming opponents for the football team, that should help reinvigorate the fan base.
During the public-speaking portion of the Board of Trustees meeting on Wednesday, Jennifer Sanford, women's rowing coach, revealed that Benedict informed her on Tuesday afternoon that her program would be one of those ticketed for elimination in the forthcoming proposal.
Sanford said she did not see it coming, that she thought her program would be safe because the scholarships and opportunities it offered female athletes were necessary to offset football and meet Title IX requirements.
"I did not believe rowing would be part of this proposal," Sanford said during the board's public comments. "Very few saw this coming. UConn would be the only Division I rowing program in the country that has been cut."
Before Sanford spoke, 11 former UConn athletes, 10 in track and field and one in men's tennis, made pleas to the board to preserve their programs.
"You could be saving someone's life if a program is not cut," said Rev. Steven Cousins, a former UConn track athlete and now a pastor at Bethel AME Church in New Haven.
While some programs - including men's golf, swimming and track and field - were able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds over the last few weeks, likely helping to save the programs, Sanford said she didn't "rally the troops" thinking her program was safe. She said she was informed by Benedict at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday her program could be eliminated.
The rowing team's expenses totaled $1.5 million in the previous fiscal year 2019, with revenue of $264,000. Swimming and diving has operating costs of roughly $719,000, tennis $298,000 and cross country/track $1.53 million. The four sports on the list cost about $4 million in 2019, and raised about $400,000.
The university is facing an estimated $47 to $129 million deficit due to coronavirus fallout. The athletic program, which has been bringing in about $40 million in revenue, and spending more than $80 million, has been receiving $40 million in university subsidy. Benedict was asked to cut $10 million from the subsidy, or about 12.5 percent athletic expenses. The subsidy has been a talking point in recent years, as it has been the largest in the country.
The team cuts follow a wave of other programs eliminated across the country since the coronavirus pandemic began and as schools face budget shortfalls. As of May 30, 19 Division I teams had been cut - 15 men's, four women's. East Carolina cut its swimming and diving and tennis programs. Cincinnati cut men's soccer. Both schools are part of the AAC, a conference will soon depart.
UConn's move to the Big East, slated for July 1, is expected to reduce the cost of travel with the expectation of re-energizing the fan base as the school faces old rivals, which would presumably drive up school revenue through ticket sales, merchandise and more.
Andy Bessette, chairman of the finance committee and a former Olympian hammer thrower at UConn, said, "This is a brutal decision ... The whole university is going to bleed a little bit. I know the importance of athletics on a lot of our younger lives and older lives. It's important to do this to be successful over the next decade. That doesn't mean this isn't painful."