College parents and supporters are taking a stand as athletic programs across the nation are being eliminated due to financial constraints amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
University of Iowa swim parents and University of Alaska Anchorage boosters are the latest to make their frustrations known during a time of upheaval across the NCAA landscape.
KCRG, an ABC affiliate in Cedar Rapids, reported that Iowa swim parents gathered this weekend to discuss how to save men’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and men’s tennis. The athletic department announced Aug. 21 that those sports will be cut at the conclusion of the 2020-21 school year. The swim parents are asking the athletic department to press pause and discuss options.
“The emphasis of this group is to have an open dialogue with the administration, sit down, lets talk, lets develop a plan,” Matt Purdy said of the parents’ goal during Saturday’s gathering at the Iowa Memorial Union. “We’re hoping there’s no need to take it any further than that, in saying lets pause, lets reevaluate, and we can make a change with this.”
Athletic director Gary Barta expects to save $5 million each year by cutting the four varsity programs. Iowa is projecting about $100 million of lost revenue and an overall budget deficit between $60-75 million this fiscal year without fall football.
“It was too business like, forgetting the fact that this is an educational institution.” Purdy said. “They need to put kids first. As a teacher myself, in day one of fundamental education they talk to you about do no harm to kids. If you think about it that way, and how 105 kids were affected by this, two days before classes start. College is stressful enough, along with COVID and all of the other movements taking place, which are amazing in this country right now, think about the damage to those guys and the mental anguish that they’ve gone through over the last several days.”
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Iowa and Big Ten Conference parents have been active all month, letting their voices be heard in the wake of the Big Ten’s Aug. 11 decision to postpone fall sports.
“We wouldn’t be good parents if we didn’t try to help in any way possible to make this university reconsider their decisions,” said Rick Williams, a former Iowa swimmer who currently has a son on the team.
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It’s going to be difficult to reverse any decisions. Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren wrote an Aug. 19 open letter saying the decision to postpone fall sports through 2020 was final, while Barta said last week there’s no way to save Iowa’s eliminated sports.
“I don’t want to create any false hope. The decision to cut these sports is final,” Barta said Aug. 24, according to HawkCentral. “I know there’s people who want to help. The dollars just are so large that there really is no path forward to change this decision."
University of Alaska Anchorage announced Aug. 19 that it would seek to cut four sports — men’s hockey, women’s gymnastics, and men’s and women’s skiing — after their 2020-21 seasons to save $2.5 million annually.
"The decision to cut any UAA program, academic or athletic, is devastating,” UAA chancellor Cathy Sandeen said. “Since fiscal year 2014, state funding for UAA declined by $34 million, forcing leadership to make difficult decisions about which programs and services the university can sustain long term. That includes our sports programs. My heart goes out to our student-athletes and coaching staffs affected by this situation. This comes at a difficult time as they are already facing much uncertainty surrounding this year's season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am proud of the incredible resilience they have shown."
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According to the Anchorage Daily News, Anchorage athletes and supporters are hoping to get the university to rethink the cuts before they are approved by the Board of Regents during a Sept. 10 vote.
“That is not enough time to even come up with a plan,” said Kathy Bethard, a longtime hockey booster. “Give these programs ... at least three months to be able to come up with a plan to move forward.
“Can you give us a dollar amount to shoot for? Can you please at least give us three months to try to obtain that money for the next five years?”
Ohio State hasn’t cut any sports, but BuckeyeExtra notes that those involved are aware of the possibility. The university projected $130.3 million in losses without fall football, which could theoretically put some of the Buckeyes’ 36 varsity sports at risk.
According to BuckeyeExtra, B. David Ridpath, an associate professor of sports business at Ohio University, there are other ways for athletic departments to cut costs.
“They have a rifle team, synchronized swimming, and those sports are important whether people think they are or not,” Ridpath said. “I will tell you that they are a piddly part of that budget. At the risk of having the fear of Buckeye Nation attack me, you could probably cut $5 million out of football and nobody would notice.”
BuckeyeExtra reported that Ohio State’s field hockey program had $1,458,752 in expenses and generated $124,981 in revenue during the 2019 fiscal year. However, the sport received only 11.41 scholarships for its 26 participants, bringing in tuition fees that some of the larger sports don’t. Therefore, BuckeyeExtra reported that eliminating field hockey would have a net savings of about $725,000.