STORRS, Conn. (AP) — The University of Connecticut decided to eliminate four athletic teams as it deals with an expected budget deficit driven by issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.
UConn President Thomas Katsouleas told the school's Board of Trustees Wednesday that the school will reduce the number of sports it supports from 24 to 20, eliminating its men's cross country, men's swimming and diving, men's tennis and women's rowing teams.
He said eliminating those programs, along with mandating a 15% cut in the operating budget of all sports and cutting some scholarships, should result in a requested savings of $10 million annually, or 25% of the school's subsidy to the Division of Athletics over the next three years. That subsidy was $42 million in 2019.
The school will continue to support the eliminated sports through the 2020-21 academic year, allowing the 124 affected athletes time to transfer or make other decisions, officials said.
“While this is a painful decision, it is in the best interests of the long-term viability of UConn and of UConn athletics,” Katsouleas said.
That move came as the Board of Trustees approved a $1.5 billion spending plan for its main campus in Storrs and regional campuses, with the expectation that it will need to revisit budget several times this year to deal with coronavirus-related shortfalls.
The school's chief financial officer, Scott Jordan, has predicted a deficit of between $47 to $129 million, depending on when and how the school reopens from the pandemic and whether it will face cuts in support from the legislature, which is dealing with cornoavirus-related shortfalls to the state budget.
“We're planning on a shortfall of about $50 million,” Katsouleas said..
The school is planning an Aug. 31 reopening for the fall semester, but the board also approved a plan that will allow for fees, such as room and board, to be adjusted, depending on what services can be offered on campus.
“The university is developing plans to de-densify classrooms and residence halls, and this will require offering students the option of taking some or all of their classes online,” Jordan said in a memo to the board. “Should they choose this option, they may not benefit from some of the traditional student services offerings that are paid for by student fees, such as the Rec Center or the shuttle bus system.”
The board spent almost an hour and a half hearing from former athletes who asked to save their sports.
Track and field alumni have pledged more than $1.6 million for that program. Men’s golf alumni had said they could contribute $900,000 over the next five years.
Rowing coach Jennifer Sanford told the board said she was not informed of the decision to eliminate her sport until Tuesday afternoon, giving her very little time to rally support.
“This decision will come as a surprise to many, because very few saw it coming,” she said. “If approved, the University of Connecticut will be the only Division I rowing program in the country that has been cut.”
Athletic Director David Benedict said the decision was difficult, but necessary and brings the school more in line with the number of sports offered at other institutions in the Big East conference, which UConn officially rejoins next month.
“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," he said.
The school announced Tuesday that it would be cutting nonunion managers’ pay through furloughs and canceling their merit raises.
Katsouleas wrote in a recent letter to managers that most nonunion managers will be furloughed for the equivalent of one day a month in the new fiscal year that begins July 1. That would result in a pay reduction of just under 5% for the year.
Katsouleas said he and other senior managers with the highest pay will take the equivalent of two furlough days a month, equaling about a 10% pay cut. He said he's also asking for union concessions, but did not say what those would be.
Similar furloughs are planned at UConn Health. The board also approved a six-month, $645.4 million spending plan for the medical school and hospital instead of a full-year budget, because of similar fiscal uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
This story has been corrected to show that UConn is going from 24 sports to 20, not 22 to 18. This reflects that indoor and outdoor track and field for both men and women are counted as separate sports.