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ECU Announces The Elimination of Swimming and Tennis

ECU announced on Thursday the elimination of four sports, men’s swimming and diving, women’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis and women’s tennis in an effort to reduce the financial athletic deficit by an estimated 4.9 million dollars.

Below is the official press release from East Carolina University along with explanations for these decisions:

GREENVILLE, N.C. – East Carolina University announced Thursday that it is reducing the number of its intercollegiate athletic programs by four, effective immediately. The action is being taken as part of the University's overall budget restructuring efforts and is part of a detailed analysis of ECU’s athletics financial position during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Affected programs are men’s swimming and diving, women’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis and women’s tennis. The move affects 68 student-athletes and nine coaches. ECU previously led the American Athletic Conference with 20 sports (following the departure of Connecticut) and will now have 16 sports (9 women’s, 7 men’s).

The NCAA requires Division I FBS schools to sponsor a minimum of 16 sports including a minimum eight women’s and six men’s sports. ECU will remain at 16 sponsored sports.

In addition to the elimination of sports, several measures will be taken to reduce the financial deficit athletics faces for the current fiscal year ending June 30 and the coming years. The plan will recognize an estimated $4.9 million long-term savings and the funds that are saved will go toward reducing the current deficit and reducing the institutional investment in future years.

The plan includes the elimination of four sports, significant cuts to operations within athletics, including department and sport budget reductions, regional scheduling and travel efficiencies for select sports, an elimination of several positions which are currently vacant, a limit on summer school for student- athletes and suspending all professional development/conferences for a minimum of one year. The athletics department is exploring additional personnel actions with guidance from the university that will affect all employees.

“Today’s decision came after a deliberate review and in-depth analysis of the athletics department’s budgets and programs,” said Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson. “The current athletics budget was not sustainable pre-COVID-19 and the university was working closely with athletics to decrease the annual deficit over the next year. With the pandemic, the deficit began to grow significantly where the impact was immediate and will affect future revenue and expenses for years to come. Ultimately, the reduction of sports aligns ECU with our American Athletic Conference peers and provides a roadmap to a more sustainable future for the University and athletics.

“The affected student-athletes will be our priority and we are committed to offering them our full support during this transition,” he said. “We will honor all athletic scholarships for students who decide to remain at ECU to complete their degree and are committed to ensuring their success here. Athletics is an important part of our overall campus community and this is a difficult day for Pirate Nation, and the impact of this decision is not taken lightly.”

“This is one of the most agonizing decisions you can make as an athletics director,” ECU Director of Athletics Jon Gilbert said. “There is no right time or easy way to take these actions because you are affecting people. These decisions were made for the long-term sustainability of athletics at East Carolina University. The fallout from COVID-19 has affected every revenue stream for our department and we must take immediate action and implement cost-saving measures to address the mounting financial challenges.

“The coaches and student-athletes for these respective sports have all impacted our department and the Pirate Family in a positive manner. This decision was not made lightly,” Gilbert said. “The history and success of the swimming and diving programs and the tennis programs will continue to be celebrated at East Carolina. Matthew Jabs, Shawn Heinchon and Kirstin Burgess are not only successful coaches, but they have contributed greatly to our community and have been role models for our student-athletes.”

The detailed analysis by the university looked at a variety of factors in the reduction of four sports. The analysis looked at the amount of financial investment from the institution to athletics; the financial commitments (scholarships, operating costs); sustainability of the programs; the facilities currently being used and the cost to maintain and improve those; and comparisons of sports sponsored by American Athletic Conference institutions.

The university will honor all scholarships of affected student-athletes who want to continue studying at ECU and will complete their degree in four years. Under NCAA transfer rules, students are immediately eligible for competition when the students’ original institution discontinues the sport in which the student practiced or competed.

ECU Athletics and university staff are committed to providing support to these student-athletes through the transition process. Members of the athletics compliance staff, academic staff and leadership team are available to discuss scholarship, transfer information, academic advisement and counseling resources.

What are the reasons for the reduction in sports?

The decision to reduce the number of sponsored sports came after a deliberate review and analysis of the athletics department’s budgets and programs. ECU has one of the lowest athletics budgets among American Athletic Conference teams but is at the top in the number of sports sponsored. The athletics department was faced with a $7.5 million deficit this fiscal year. The pandemic has increased the deficit to an estimated $10.2 million. The reduction of sponsored sports is part of a larger plan that will recognize an estimated $4.9 million savings to the athletics department.

Is the University considering eliminating additional sports?

No. The NCAA requires Division I FBS schools to sponsor a minimum of 16 sports, a minimum of eight women’s and six men’s sports. We will remain at 16 sponsored sports.

How did you determine which sports to be eliminated?

The institution looked at a variety of factors such as financial commitments (scholarships, operating costs), sustainability of programs, the cost to maintain and improve facilities, and a comparison of sports sponsored by American Athletic Conference institutions.

Will affected student-athlete’s scholarships be honored?

Yes. The university will honor all scholarships of affected student-athletes who want to continue studying at ECU and will complete their degree in four years. Students must adhere to all NCAA, university and athletic department policies to maintain eligibility and receive aid.

Can student-athletes transfer to other NCAA programs?

Yes. Under NCAA transfer rules, a student is immediately eligible for competition when the student’s original institution discontinues the sport in which the student practiced or competed.

How are your 2020 signees affected by today’s news?

ECU will honor the incoming National Letter-of-Intent (NLI) signees’ athletic scholarships. These prospective student-athletes may pursue other athletic opportunities if they choose to compete at another university.

How is ECU helping the affected student-athletes?

ECU Athletics and university staff will support these student-athletes through the transition process. Members of the athletics compliance staff, academic staff and leadership team are available to discuss scholarship, transfer information, academic advisement and counseling resources.

How many student-athletes and coaches are impacted by this decision?

68 student-athletes, which includes 2020-21 incomers and nine coaches.

What other cost-saving measures are you considering implementing?

We are looking at a variety of different options along with today’s announcement to cut a significant deficit for the upcoming year. We are committed to continuing our work as an athletics department to identify areas where we can reduce costs.

What will the department do with the money saved?

The funds that are saved will go toward reducing our current deficit and reducing the institutional investment in athletics in future years.

Why make the decision now?

When you make decisions such as eliminating sports, there is no ideal time. As ECU looked at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant financial deficit, the decision was made following the spring semester to allow the student-athletes as much time as possible to find a new school where they can continue in their sports, if they choose to go that route.

Would these decisions have been made pre-coronavirus?

We were not discussing the elimination of sports as we headed into March. We acknowledged that adjustments and decisions would need to be made based on the $7.5 million operating deficit. With the pandemic, our deficit began to grow significantly such that the impact was immediate and will affect future revenue and expenses.