East Carolina University announced drastic cuts to its athletic department on Thursday.
After days of speculation, the university in Greenville, N.C., issued a press release announcing that it was immediately eliminating its men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs, as well as its men’s and women’s tennis programs.
“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,” the release said.
The men’s swimming team has won four of the last six AAC titles, while the swim teams combined to send three athletes to the NCAA championships.
East Carolina said that the cuts affect 68 student-athletes and nine coaches. The News & Observer reported that 37 of the 66 affected athletes listed foreign hometowns.
"The affected student-athletes will be our priority and we are committed to offering them our full support during this transition," interim chancellor Ron Mitchelson 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."
Further cuts are being made to operations within ECU athletics, including eliminating several positions and utilizing more efficient traveling. The university estimates $4.9 million long-term savings that will go toward the current deficit and reducing the institutional investment in future years.
"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 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,” Mitchelson said. “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.”
East Carolina, which previously led the American Athletic Conference with 20 sports, now sponsors nine women’s and seven men’s sports, giving it the 16 required by the NCAA to be a Division I FBS school.
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The East Carolina community knew cuts were coming. The News & Observer reported Monday that university in Greenville, N.C., was intending to cut at least one of its 20 sports to correct a $10 million budget deficit.
East Carolina isn’t alone. According to Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger, nine Division I programs have combined to cut 16 teams during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dellenger noted that 12 men’s sports and four women’s sports have been cut, including five tennis teams, two track and field teams, two baseball teams, two swimming and diving teams, and one each for wrestling, lacrosse, golf, soccer and cross country.
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