Amidst all of the other COVID-19 related college-reopening news, you probably missed that the University of Iowa is cutting their men’s and women’s NCAA Division I swimming and diving teams, as well as men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis. In a joint statement from the university president and athletic director, they put it as plainly as they could: “UI Athletics now projects lost revenue of approximately $100M and an overall deficit between $60-75M this fiscal year.”
You might not know (and I have to admit that I didn’t know any of this until now) that the University of Iowa swimming and diving team is over 100 years old, and also the birthplace of the butterfly stroke. Iowa also now joins Boise State, UConn, Dartmouth, East Carolina, and Western Illinois as institutions that decided to cut their swimming and diving program in light of budgetary pressures due to COVID-19.
The purpose of this piece is not to defend the role of swimming and diving teams specifically or athletics more generally on campus. Swimming and diving are by no means the only target of budget cuts directed at athletics, but just the sports I am most familiar with because of my other role as a swim coach. I swam collegiately for a year (albeit in Canada), was an assistant coach for a DIII swim team for a number of years, and now coach a year-round club team, where parents of high-school swimmers worry about getting their kids into college, hopefully with some sort of scholarship.
When the first set swimming and diving team cuts were announced, I made the mistake of getting into an argument on (sigh) Facebook with a swimming parent who was circulating a petition in an attempt to save said program. I wrote that while it was sad that this program was being cut, institutions were facing massive deficits and had to make hard choices – between athletics and academics, I was going to fall on the side of academics every time. This parent, however, made it plain that without swimming scholarships, they would be unable to afford to send their kids to college at all. And thus the zeal they were showing in promoting a petition to save the swim team, to save a handful of potential scholarships her kids might have access to.
Take another look at the list of schools who have cut their swimming and diving programs. All but one are public institutions. When desperate parents direct their ire at individual institutions in an effort to save the team and the scholarships that go along with it, they are expending their energies in the wrong place: the reason why you can’t afford to pay for your child’s college education without scholarship money is because state governments have drastically cut funding for public higher education. That’s it. That’s why.
And it’s only going to get worse as state tax revenues fall.
So rather than signing petitions or pressuring donors and alumni to withhold support and donations, focus your energies on your local state representatives to fund public higher education in your state so that tuition can be affordable again, and you won’t have to rely on the slim hope that your kid is good enough to get a scholarship. If college athletics are meaningful to you, then don’t get mad at the institution doing the cutting, get mad at the people responsible for the financial hardships the schools are trying to grapple with.
Write to your reps. Ask during primaries where they stand on postsecondary funding. Vote. Work the alumni network to pressure state legislatures to support the schools. That the public can no longer afford to attend an in-state college without a sports scholarship is on our government and no one else.
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