College swimming and diving has taken a major hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Thursday, Michigan State University joined the growing list of schools that are dropping their swimming and diving programs.
“The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have touched every area of our life,” reads a letter signed by Michigan State president Samuel L. Stanley, Jr., and director of athletics Bill Beekman. “It's forced us all to evaluate not only our current place, but also our prospects for the future. Michigan State Athletics is not immune from those calculations. Sadly, as a University and an athletic department, we've reached a decision that MSU Athletics will no longer sponsor men's and women's swimming and diving as varsity sports following the conclusion of the 2020-21 season. We understand that the news is devastating to our outstanding student-athletes in these sports, as well as to their coaches, but with every thoughtful analysis it became increasingly clear that we were not positioned to offer the best experience to our student-athletes, either now or in the future.”
Michigan State still plans on competing in swimming and diving this year — if the Big Ten Conference chooses to hold those seasons during the pandemic. The university’s press release says that the coaches’ contracts will be honored through June 30, 2021, while the school will honor the scholarships of all swimmers and divers who finish their undergraduate degree in East Lansing. Matt Gianiddis has been the head coach of Michigan State’s men’s and women’s swim teams since 2003.
The letter from Stanley and Beekman notes that the university projects a revenue shortfall in excess of $30 million as the best-case scenario this year. The Detroit Free Press reported that the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics website shows that Michigan State’s total operating expenses during the 2018-19 school year were $344,523 for women’s swimming and diving and $147,678 for the men’s program. Beekman said in September that MSU’s athletics operating budget is about $140 million.
However, the decision to drop swimming reportedly goes beyond the immediate financial issues. The university said the Spartans have always competed in too small of a pool, adding that the “recent closure of the outdoor pool at IM West left our athletes without a regulation size pool in which to even train. It's a situation that limited our coaches' ability to attract talented student-athletes and hampered our student-athletes ability to maximize their potential.
“To be clear, this is not a move made to save money during the pandemic as there will be little financial benefit this year, as all scholarship and contracts will be honored. It's a decision that will better position Spartan Athletics for long-term financial stability.”
According to the Free Press, Michigan State hadn’t cut a sport since eliminating men’s gymnastics in 2001. Elsewhere in the Big Ten, the University of Iowa cut swimming earlier in the pandemic, which has led to a lawsuit.
Related content: Iowa Student-Athletes Sue Over Swim/Dive Team Cut