UConn Announces Changes to Division of Athletics
STORRS, Conn. – UConn athletics announced today that it will reduce the number of sports it sponsors by four, effective at the conclusion of the 2020-21 season. This action was taken as part of the university’s overall budget reduction effort and allows athletics to meet a university directive calling for a 25 percent reduction (approximately $10 million) in institutional support by 2023.
Affected programs are men’s cross country, women’s rowing, men’s swimming & diving and men’s tennis. The move affects 124 student-athletes.
“While this is a painful decision, it is in the best interest of the long-term viability of UConn and UConn athletics,” said UConn President Thomas Katsouleas. “The Division of Athletics recently completed a thorough and comprehensive review of its operation and programs, an inquiry initiated long before the COVID-19 crisis began. For several years, the level of institutional financial support committed to athletics has been growing. 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.”
Beginning in 2021-22, UConn will sponsor 20 intercollegiate athletics programs providing athletic and academic opportunities to approximately 530 student-athletes. Average sports sponsorship among BIG EAST institutions is 18 while schools playing in the American Athletic Conference sponsor an average of 17.
“This was a very difficult, but necessary, decision,” director of athletics David Benedict said. “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. We are committed to providing impacted Huskies with our full support during this transition, whether they wish to stay at UConn or transfer to another institution. Despite our current emotions, we are optimistic that the financial plan approved today will serve as an important roadmap for a bright future for UConn athletics.”
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 regionalized non-conference team travel for a number of sports and fewer summer school classes for student-athletes. Additionally, the university will reduce the cost of scholarships for several internal units across campus, including athletics, beginning in the 2020-21 academic year. Also, the number of scholarships offered in the sports of men’s golf and men’s track and field will be decreased.
The overall plan is estimated to realize a savings of approximately $10 million annually.
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.
UConn athletics is committed to providing support to affected student-athletes through the transition process. Staff members from athletics compliance, the student-athlete success program, athletic training, sports performance and mental health services will assist students as needed, including the areas of scholarship and transfer information, academics and counseling services.
QUESTION AND ANSWER
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 will 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?
- 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.