STORRS, June 24, 2020 – The University of Connecticut announced that it will cut four varsity sports from their athletic program after the conclusion of the upcoming 2020-21 season and reduce scholarships in men’s golf and men’s track and field to save $10 million over the next three years.
UConn will eliminate varsity programs in women’s rowing, men’s cross country, men’s swimming and diving and men’s tennis. The elimination of the four programs will affect 124 athletes.
It will leave the UConn program, which joins the Big East Conference in July, with 20 varsity sports with 530 athletes in those programs.
“While this is a painful decision, it is in the best interest of the long-term viability of UConn and UConn athletics,” said Thomas Katsouleas, president at UConn. “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.”
Schools in the Big East host an average of 18 varsity sports while schools in the American Athletic Conference, which UConn is leaving, host an average of 17 varsity sports.
The school is facing a potential deficit of between $47 million and $129 million in the 2021 fiscal year, according to documents shared with the UConn Board of Trustees Wednesday morning.
Part of the decision of which sports to cut was rooted in federal Title IX legislation. The school must provide equal opportunities for men and women in terms of athletics.
Football, which has 85 scholarships at the Division I level, has a large number of athletes and there is no comparable women’s program in terms of participants. That is why collegiate programs that sponsor Division I football teams generally have more women’s varsity teams than men’s varsity teams to ensure that there is an equal number of athletic opportunities for women and men.
Beginning in September 2021, UConn will sponsor nine varsity sports for men and 11 for women. Women’s cross country, swimming and diving and tennis will remain intact. Rowing will end for the women after 22 years as a varsity sport. Men’s rowing was not a varsity sport at UConn.
“This was a very difficult, but necessary, decision,” said David Benedict, Director of Athletics at UConn. “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.
“Despite our current emotions, we are optimistic that the financial plan approved today will serve as an important road map for a bright future for UConn athletics,” Benedict said.
In addition to the reduction in sports, other actions will be employed in order to reduce the financial deficit. These measures include a reduction in operating expenses by 15 percent, achieved in part by more regional non-conference contests for a number of sports and fewer summer school classes for student-athletes.
The university will honor all scholarships of affected student-athletes who choose to continue their education at UConn and complete their degree in four years.
There have been private fundraising efforts as rumors have swirled about cuts to sports at UConn. The Hartford Courant reported Wednesday that track and field alumni and supporters have secured $1.6 million in pledges with tennis securing nearly $300,000 in pledges.
But in Wednesday’s announcement, the school said that private fundraising is not a sustainable solution. Even with the elimination of four programs, private fundraising will still need to be a major revenue source for the remaining 20 athletic programs.
The school said that Benedict has taken a voluntary 15 percent pay reduction and will not take any cash bonuses.
The men’s tennis team dates back to 1932 at UConn and most recently won New England and ECAC championships in 1993 and 1994. The men’s swimming team dates back to 1938. This winter, senior Will Kearsey became the first UConn swimmer to ever qualify for the NCAA Division I national championships but the meet was cancelled to COVID-19.
The men’s cross country team is also a legacy program. The year of their first team wasn’t immediately available but it goes back at least to the early 1940s. The cross country team’s first All-American runner was Charles Robbins in 1942.
The cross country team was second in the AAC last fall and finished eighth at the NCAA Northeast Regional. The cross country team was tenth in the nation in 1990 at the NCAA Division I championships and won 11 straight New England titles beginning in 1993.
The following Q&A was posted online by UConn Athletics.
Q: Why is UConn discontinuing sport programs?
A: While difficult, this is the fiscally responsible decision and another step toward a more financially sustainable athletic department. While it is difficult to end programs, it is in the interests of the greater university and the overall student-athlete population to provide the best athletics experience possible.
Q: Why do this now?
A: Given current financial pressures facing the university, we were asked to develop options to reduce the annual financial support received by the athletics department from the university.
Q: How does this specifically help reduce the financial assistance from the University?
A: Student-athletes and programs are supported through a variety of support staff, training expenses, meals, equipment, travel, cost-of-living and academic resources. Reducing the number of programs will reduce the operating and scholarship costs. Some nwill be recognized immediately, while others will be reduced over time.
Through reduction of operating expenses and scholarship costs, it is estimated that the elimination of these four programs will reduce costs by $2 million in three years.
Q: What is the long-term benefit to the department and its remaining student-athletes?
A: Our mission is to create the best possible experience for Husky student-athletes and, while it is difficult for the student-athletes who will no longer compete at the varsity level, this allows us to support the remaining student-athlete population so that it can compete safely and successfully.
Q: What will happen to student-athletes from these sports?
A: The university will honor all scholarships of affected student-athletes who wish to continue working towards their degree at UConn.
Q: Can affected student-athletes transfer to another university?
A: Yes, per NCAA transfer rules a student-athlete is immediately eligible for competition when an institution eliminates or announces the elimination of the sport in which the student-athlete competed.
Q: How many student-athletes and coaches does this decision affect?
A: 124 student-athletes and at least four coaches.
Q: Will affected student-athletes maintain access to support services offered by sports medicine and athletic training.
A: Yes. UConn sports medicine and athletic training staff will continue to care for student-athletes who suffered injuries while competing for UConn athletics. Should a student-athlete suffer a future injury, or require treatment, from any activity performed under the supervision of UConn athletics following the discontinuation of his or her sport, UConn sports medicine and athletic training will provide the same standard of care provided to current student-athletes.
Q: Would this decision have been made without the COVID-19 public health crisis?
A: A comprehensive review was well underway prior to the financial stress caused by the COVID-19 public health crisis.
Q: What will happen to coaches and support personnel for these programs?
A: We will work closely with human resources, labor relations and their respective unions to support staff members while fulfilling necessary personnel obligations.
Q: How much private fundraising would allow you to keep some or all these programs?
A: Private fundraising is not a sustainable solution. Even with a reduced number of programs for our student-athletes, fundraising will still need to be a major revenue source for those remaining programs.
Q: What other Athletics Department cuts or changes are being made to meet the directives set by the University?
A: We believe the plan we have moving forward will achieve the necessary annual reductions. In addition to the elimination of four sports, savings will be captured by additional scholarship reductions in the men’s golf and men’s track & field teams, administrative and sport operational expense reductions, fewer summer school opportunities for student-athletes, a more regionalized approach to non-conference scheduling and a reduced tuition rate charged to athletics by the university.
Athletics will continue to work to identify strategies to support fiscal sustainability.
Q: What is the average number of sport programs offered at BIG EAST and AAC schools?
A. BIG EAST schools average 18 sports sponsored while American Athletic Conference institutions average 17. UConn will now sponsor 20 intercollegiate athletics programs.
Q: How long have these discussions been going on? When did they begin?
A: We acknowledged long ago that this level of direct university support was not sustainable and that difficult decisions needed to be made. Department financial planning is a regular and ongoing discussion and the decision to take this action was not taken lightly.
Q: Have Senior Administrative staff or coaches Edsall, Auriemma or Hurley been asked to take a pay cut as part of this effort?
A: Director of athletics David Benedict has taken a voluntary 15 percent pay reduction and will not take any cash bonuses. Coaches Auriemma, Edsall, and Hurley are represented by the AAUP and consequently are covered by their collective bargaining agreement.
Q: What criteria was used to choose sport programs that were discontinued?
A: Elements in our decision making included operational cost of programs, existing and traditional strengths of each program, the quality of facilities available for practice and competition and Title IX compliance considerations.
Q: How does this affect Title IX compliance?
A: We continually strive to maintain equitable experiences for our male and female student-athletes, and it enters into every decision we make as an athletic department. This process was no different and we are confident that these changes will improve our ability to do so over the long term.
Q: Will this result in administration and staff layoffs as well?
A: We are continually assessing levels of support needed for our student-athletes and this will most likely result in some long-term staff consolidation. We will be having those discussions in the coming weeks and anticipate attrition will also play a factor.
Q: Why wasn’t football cut or moved to FCS level?
A: The savings from such a move would be outweighed by a significant decline in revenue opportunities. The newly-signed agreement with CBS Sports Network, would be nullified by a reclassification to FCS. Similarly, our multi-media marketing rights deal with Learfield/IMG College and our all-sport equipment deal with Nike would suffer greatly or not exist if we dropped to the FCS level. Currently, revenue from these two agreements is nearly $3.7 million annually.
Additionally, UConn would forfeit the ability to maximize revenue generation by securing premium guarantee games and would no longer have the ability to secure quality opponents such as Purdue, Syracuse, North Carolina, Maryland and Boston College in home-and-home series.
UConn football has a proud history and has proven to be a rallying point for alumni and fans in support of the state’s flagship institution. Dropping the program to the FCS level may diminish overall interest from our constituents, inhibit its potential to be a rallying force, and hinder its ability to drive revenue.
Q: Will you revisit this issue, whether to reinstate or discontinue more programs, in the future?
A: The decision to reduce sports was done with the long-term viability of UConn athletics in mind. However, today’s action does not necessarily preclude us from making future changes.
Q: Did the fundraising efforts of various teams over the last several weeks help save additional programs from elimination.
A: Today’s action was unaffected by recent fundraising efforts. While the generosity of alums and supporters is greatly appreciated and welcome, today’s action was meant to ensure the future success of UConn athletics. Philanthropy from alumni and supporters has always been critical to achieving our goal of long-term fiscal sustainability.
Q: Why was the decision to reduce sports after the 2020-21 season, rather than immediately, made?
A: There is never a good time to communicate this decision but throughout his process, we wanted to ensure the best possible outcome for our student-athletes. By making this decision as late as we did and considering the environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic, we felt continuing to sponsor these four sports through the 2020-21 was the most compassionate way to approach this difficult decision. This outcome creates options for our student-athletes and the time required to make well-informed decisions. The university directive to reduce our support by 25 percent is still achievable and delaying the reduction in sponsorship allows for the appropriate amount of time for our student-athletes to make the best decision for themselves.
Q: Is the intent of the delay in sport reductions to allow teams to raise enough money to privately fund the programs
A: We feel that continuing to sponsor these four sports for the 2020-21 season is in the best interest of our student-athletes but 2020-21 will be the final year UConn sponsors these four programs.
Q: Will affected teams face a reduction in competition schedule or training?
A: The competition and training schedules of impacted teams will remain unchanged and will reflect a typical season.