Amid financial struggles, UConn to cut 4 sports after 2020 season

The University of Connecticut will cut four sports — men’s cross country, women’s rowing, men’s swimming and diving and men’s tennis — after the conclusion of the 2020-21 season. 

The university announced the decision on Wednesday, saying it was made as part of an “overall budget reduction effort” that allows the athletic department “to meet a university directive calling for a 25 percent reduction in institutional support by 2023.” 

In all, Wednesday’s decision affects 124 UConn student-athletes. Those four sports were chosen based on “operational cost of programs, existing and traditional strengths of each program, the quality of facilities available for practice and competition and Title IX compliance,” the university said. 

Beginning in 2021-22, UConn will drop down to 20 sponsored sports. The school will also implement other cost-cutting measures, including emphasizing regionalized non-conference scheduling, decreasing scholarship totals in men’s golf and men’s track and field and offering fewer summer school classes for athletes. 

In a statement, UConn president Thomas Katsouleas said the university’s “thorough and comprehensive review” into the athletic department’s finances began well before the coronavirus pandemic hit. The decision to cut the four sports is an effort toward long-term sustainability for the athletic department. 

"While this is a painful decision, it is in the best interest of the long-term viability of UConn and UConn athletics," Katsouleas said.

UConn athletic director David Benedict called the decision a “difficult” one, but also a “necessary” one. Benedict said the school will assist impacted athletes who wish to transfer to another school and honor scholarships for the affected athletes who “choose to continue their education at UConn and complete their degree in four years.”

"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,” Benedict said. “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 all, the school expects to save “approximately $10 million annually.”

The University of Connecticut will cut men’s cross country, women’s rowing, men’s swimming and diving and men’s tennis after the conclusion of the 2020-21 season. (Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

What about the football program?

With the financial issues UConn has been experiencing, many pointed to the university’s struggling football program as a possible cost-saver — especially after the school decided to leave the American Athletic Conference for a return to the Big East. 

The Big East no longer includes football, leaving the Huskies’ football program to trudge on as an independent (the AAC would not keep UConn as a football-only member). 

The Huskies have not had a winning season on the gridiron since 2010, and have won three games or fewer in five of the last six seasons. So why not cut football or at least drop down to the FCS level? The school said the savings from that scenario “would be outweighed by a significant decline in revenue opportunities.”

UConn recently signed a television contract to air its home games on CBS Sports Network, a move that would be “nullified by a reclassification to FCS.” UConn also has rights agreements with Learfield and an all-sports equipment deal with Nike that “would suffer greatly or not exist” if the football program dropped down to FCS. 

UConn also pointed to revenue-generating scheduling agreements with opponents like Syracuse, North Carolina, Purdue, Maryland and Boston College. 

“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,” the school said. “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.”

The 2020 season will be UConn’s first as an independent program. The Huskies, in their fourth season of Randy Edsall’s second tenure as head coach, went 2-10 in 2019. Overall, they are 6-30 since Edsall returned. He previously coached UConn from 2004-10, a run that included five winning seasons and two Big East titles. 

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