The current economic crisis appears to have blocked the recent growth of college swimming. A week after Pepperdine announced their elimination of swimming, Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia has decided to do the same.
As the nation's focus turn towards the upcoming NCAA Championships, observers are casting an increasingly concerned eye towards more program eliminations this spring. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reports that at least 32 states have implemented or proposed cuts to higher education and/or large increases in college tuition to make up for
insufficient state funding. Several coaches have already been directed to return a portion of their remaining budget to the general fund.
Below is a letter from ASC President Elizabeth Kiss, informing the college community of the decision to cut the swimming and cross country programs:
Dear Agnes Scott Students, Faculty and Staff,
I am writing to let you know about several changes we are making in athletics next year. They reflect a decision, in a period of constrained resources, to rethink how we allocate resources within our athletics program in order to make strategic investments designed to increase student enrollment and give our sports teams the tools they need for growth and success.
At the end of this academic year, two of our current varsity sports, cross-country and swimming, will become club sports. All resources saved in this process will be reinvested to strengthen our six NCAA Division III varsity team sports: basketball, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis, and volleyball.
I want to explain the reasons behind this decision. Agnes Scott is currently at the bottom of our conference in funding per sport and per student athlete. It is a testament to the talent and dedication of our athletes, coaches, and staff that we have achieved great successes in many of our sports. But for our athletics program to thrive, and for it to truly make a difference in increasing student enrollment, we have to increase the level of investment per sport.
We are currently members of the Great South Athletic Conference, and are seeking a merger with the USA South Conference. We must maintain our basketball, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball teams to preserve our conference’s ability to get an automatic bid to the NCAA championships. If we reclassified any of these sports we could jeopardize our conference membership. Our new lacrosse program has already been approved as an affiliated member of USA South and if the proposed Great South-USA South merger goes through will be added to our list of conference-sponsored sports.
Cross-country is our only conference-sponsored sport that does not receive an automatic bid to the NCAA championships. In recent years our cross-country team has been small and relative to other sports has less recruitment potential for Agnes Scott, in part because we lack a cross-country course on our campus.
Swimming is not sponsored by either the Great South or USA South conferences. We compete as an independent team and for the past few years our swimmers have participated in the Atlantic States Championships in Virginia. We have received some indication that starting next year this championship may no longer be open to independent teams. So we face challenges in offering our swimmers the competitive opportunities they deserve and need.
Our decision to reclassify cross-country and swimming reflects these realities and uncertainties. Given our current resources, we are simply not in a position to support eight varsity teams at an appropriate level. We need to reallocate resources and focus on programs that are best positioned to promote the college’s overall success.
This was a very difficult decision to make because Agnes Scott has some wonderfully talented athletes in swimming and cross-country. I have cheered for the Scotties on these teams and know and admire their talent and dedication. This is a very upsetting decision for them and for their friends and families, and I am truly sorry for the pain it will cause. I hope that for most of the athletes on these teams a club sport will provide the opportunity to continue to participate in a sport they love. We recognize that for some, the suspension of a varsity team may prompt a decision to transfer to another institution. All of us sincerely hope this will not be the case and that they will choose to stay at Agnes Scott. However, if a student athlete does wish to transfer our admission staff stands ready to assist them. No timing is good for this kind of decision, but the challenges we are facing in providing appropriate competitive opportunities for swimming convinced us that waiting another year was not a good option since it could potentially leave our swimmers who wish to compete at the varsity level in an even worse position.
We were also committed to making strategic decisions in the athletic program that do not require layoffs. Cross-country coach Mary Chind is a graduate assistant and is completing her degree this year. Swim coach Laura LeDuc has been offered the position of directing a new aquatics program that, in addition to sponsoring a club team in swimming, will provide expanded opportunities for students, faculty and staff and the larger community to use the college’s pool.
We will reevaluate this decision periodically and if an improved economy and increased enrollment has provided us with the budgetary resources to support varsity programs in these two sports at an appropriate level in the long term, we will consider reinstating them.
In these challenging economic times, we will have to make some tough decisions. I am committed to making sure that every decision we make is designed to promote Agnes Scott’s strategic growth and excellence and that it protects and cares for the people involved. I know that this has been an extremely tough decision for Athletics Director Joeleen Akin to make, and am grateful to her for her strategic leadership, concern for athletes and coaches, and unwavering commitment to building a strong and successful athletic program that promotes Agnes Scott’s institutional growth.
Thank you for your understanding. Coach Akin, Dean Lee and I are ready to answer your questions.
President and Professor of Philosophy &
Agnes Scott College
141 E. College Avenue
Decatur, Georgia 30030
tel. (404) 471-6280
fax (404) 471-6638