Due to budgetary concerns, Eastern Michigan University announced it will sever four athletic programs, effective at the conclusion of the Spring of 2018.
The measure is being taken as a part of the restructuring of EMUs overall budget. The sports to be affected are: men’s swimming and diving, softball, tennis, and wrestling. With the change, EMU will go from 21 sports to 17, (seven men’s and ten women’s) and university officials say that this won’t affect Eastern’s affiliation with the Mid-American Conference (MAC).
With 58 male student-athletes and 25 female student-athletes, the expenses will be reduced by $2.4 million.
“We are very saddened by having to make this move, which is necessary as we continue to align the University budget with enrollment and state funding trends,” university President James Smith said. “This aligns us with our MAC peers in total number of sports, and is part of our ongoing effort to realign resources to ensure that we continue to invest in high-demand, high-quality academic programs and world-class facilities.”
“The student athletes affected by this are our priority. We will honor all athletics scholarships for the students should they decide to remain at Eastern should they decide to complete their degrees, which they hope we will.”
James Webb, chairman of the EMU board of regents, said the move was part of a ‘broad, university effort to properly adhesive our budget.’
“As a former student-athlete and swimmer myself, I profoundly share the pain felt by the affected student-athletes,” he said. “The Board of Regents fully supports President James Smith and vice president/director of athletics Scott Wetherbee. They are to be commended for taking on a difficult challenge and acting in the best interest of Eastern Michigan University.”
The decision for these cuts will put the university on par with its MAC peers, in terms of the number of conference sports and total number of sports teams sponsored by the university. The NCAA requires Division 1 Football Bowl subdivision (FBS) schools to sponsor a minimum of 16 sports and the MaC requires member universities to sponsor football, men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball.
“This was an extremely tough decision and it is a sad day,” EMU athletic sirector Scott Wetherbee said. “As a former student-athlete who went through this process when my spirt was eliminated, I empathize with how difficult this is for our impacted student-athletes.”
“Each of the sports involved has a strong network of student-athletes and alumni and powerful traditions of success in and off the field,” he added. “This makes the decision even more difficult, but there is no easy way to do this without having significant impact. It is a painful step for all parties involved, but it is necessary given the University’s need to realign university resources.”
Wetherbee said the announcement came on Tuesday to allow student-athletes as much time as possible to consider transfer options to continue their athletic pursuits if they choose to do so. It has also given the eight coaches across these four sports opportunities to find new jobs.
The university considered many factors including: program cost, athletic facilities, and a comparison to other MAC sponsored sports.
The last time that this change was made was back in 2000, when both men’s tennis and soccer were slashed and women’s rowing was added. Prior to that ,in 1988, men’s gymnastics and women’s field hockey team were eliminated.
EMU-AAUP president Judy Kullberg released a statement about the cuts, saying they were the ‘wrong move.’
“This decision needs further review – not by out-of-touch administrators, but through consultation with students, faculty and staff,” she said in her statement. “EMU faculty are pro-athletics. We support our school, our teams and our student-athletes. We want to see a successful athletics program – but it has to be sustainable.
During a protest on campus on March 15, Kullberg had called for cuts to the athletic budget, as well as administrator salaries. The protest came in the wake of 60 secretarial employees being laid off for budgetary reasons.
“EMU administrators have cut back on course offerings, laid off staff, left positions unfilled, and outsourced essential student services. In this environment,” she said. “It’s not sustainable for EMU to spend more than $20 million a year from its own funds to subsidize football and other NCAA Division I sports teams.”
According to the news release sent by the administration, the university will remain fully committed to remaining in the Mid-American Conference, and will not consider reducing any other sports programs. All student athletes that are incoming will have their letters of intent voided by the school, so that they may consider other schools.
Eight full-time coaches, a graduate assistant, and one par time assistant coach will be affected by the move. Congruent with the layoffs of 17 people from university staff positions announced earlier this month, the athletics positions make up 32% of the overall staff resuction.