BOONE — When Appalachian State eliminated three sports from its athletic department, Athletic Director Doug Gillin went through several scenarios before making a final decision.
That decision, eliminating men’s soccer, indoor track and field and men’s tennis, ended up being the final three choices made. The cuts left App State with 17 sports: 10 women’s sports and seven men’s teams.
That is one more than the 16 sports required for an FBS program.
The athletic department is trying to make up a $5 million shortfall for the 2021 fiscal year through a variety of methods. Eliminating the three sports will take care of $1 million of the deficit. Gillin said that factors such as budgets, travel, facilities, operating expenses, scholarships and gender equity played a part in the decision.
Some losses were attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Gillin was not specific what those were. Gillin said keeping 20 sports going has been difficult in the past five years. He said the athletic department started re-evaluating the athletic budget shortly after the NCAA suspended all athletics on March 11.
Gillin said the athletic department went though a complete evaluation until May 1, when he said some decisions started to be made. App State was trying to offset an approximate $5 million reduction in the athletic department budget, which Gillin said was 20 percent of the overall budget.
“With the financial situation the way it is right now, we simply could no longer sustain 20 sports programs in a fiscally responsible manner,” Gillin said during a Zoom conference call. ”Striving for competitive excellence since moving to the FBS with 20 sports has been a financial challenge throughout the last five years.”
Gillin was hopeful that this would be the end of cutting programs.
“We’re hoping to continue with 10 women’s and seven men’s sports,” Gillin said. “As I mentioned, we don’t know what tomorrow may bring as we return to play.”
The men’s soccer team eliminated the jobs of head coach Jason O’Keefe and assistant coaches Brad Franks and Matty Evans. The roster included 26 players, and Appalachian State finished its last season 11-7-1.
The men’s tennis coach was Craig Schwartz and Jack Maddocks was the graduate assistant. The men’s tennis team had seven underclassmen on its roster and finished 3-11 before its season was stopped in March.
There were no athletes who were exclusively indoor track athletes.
“From a standpoint of track and field, with the ability to participate in cross-country and the ability to participate in outdoor track and field, we thought that would allow our student-athletes to still have an opportunity to compete,” Gillin said.
Appalachian State used an indoor-carpeted track on the Holmes Center concourse to have home meets, which is shared with the men and women’s basketball teams in the winter.
“It’s tough to train here in the winter,” Gillin said. “We have different facilities we use to train with and certainly with multiple teams training, facilities become somewhat of an issue in the winter times.”
Gillin said all scholarships from the three teams would be honored in full to allow them to finish their degrees. Any athletes who have signed a national letter of intent with the three teams will be honored in their freshmen years.
Gillin has not been alone in cutting programs.Six other athletic departments, including five Division I programs, have trimmed sports from their athletic departments recently.
All of the Division I programs were Group of Five programs. East Carolina shut down its men’s and women’s tennis teams and its men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams on May 21.
Akron eliminated men’s cross-country, men’s golf and women’s tennis. Bowling Green eliminated baseball, Cincinnati shut down men’s soccer, Central Michigan eliminated men’s indoor track and Old Dominion canceled wrestling.
Furman, a member of the FCS Southern Conference, eliminated men’s lacrosse and baseball.
Gillin called the deficit a $5 million problem. He said closing down the three sports was only a part of eliminating the problem.
“This is part of the puzzle to the problem,” he said. “There are a lot of different factors. There are a lot of different ways you could look at a sport mix that might have saved more money. When you look at facilities, when you look at operating expenses, when you look at the gender equity at our university — the gender gap continues to grow as well — all of those facets go into the decision-making with those sports.
“Finances were absolutely part of the equation, but it was just one part of the equation.”
Appalachian State has seen a rise in female students, so the athletic department has to reflect that in its athletic offerings.
Gillin said another way to cut costs was to eliminate as much air travel as possible. That will be different, even in Sun Belt Conference play, since App State teams must cross the Mississippi River to play three teams — Texas State, Louisiana and Louisiana-Monroe.
“We’re going to do more with less, like we always have,” Gillin said. “But I tell you I couldn’t be more proud of our coaches and our staff and our personnel for realizing that we are all in this together and we’ve got to tighten our belt. The sun will come out, but we have to persevere.”