Former University of Connecticut track and field and cross country athletes fear their program will be on the chopping block in the wake of inevitable cuts to athletics as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Almost a dozen former athletes encouraged the UConn Board of Trustees to preserve their beloved program during a phone meeting on June 12. There were so many people who wanted to speak that officials enforced a three minute cap on comments.
The decision about how the sports department plans on cutting $10 million from the sports budget will be announced on June 24. Patrick Mckenna, associate director of athletics for athletic communications declined to comment about whether track and field was at risk, but track alumni mobilized and began fundraising in May after learning the future of the program was in jeopardy.
“I am who I am today because of UConn track and field,” said Stephen Cousin, a member of the track team and UConn class of 2006. “Everything that I learned, the brotherhood, the sisterhood that was shared. It meant so much to me. It breaks my heart that this might be (cut). I seriously urge the board to reconsider their position and give more men and women a chance to succeed at UConn like I did.”
Frank Malzbednen, who was also on a team, graduated from UConn in 1997. He spoke at the Board of Trustees about how UConn track and field is more than just a sport.
“I am advocating for the hundreds of track athletes from all walks of life to have the opportunity to meet each other and compete with each other and make lifelong friendships on the track,” Malzbenden said. “UConn track fosters relationships that bridge cultural divides in an organic natural way.”
Alumni of the track and field and cross country program have raised $1.5 million from 200 people, according to their website. They are looking to raise $2 million to support the program for five years.
Other sports like golf and tennis, also fear they could be on the chopping block next week. The university has 24 varsity sport teams and not all of them generate revenue for the university.
In addition to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic the sports programs at the university were already operating at a deficit.
In 2019, UConn lost $42.3 million on its athletic programs. That deficit was offset by student fees and a university subsidy. Athletics suffered similar shortfalls in 2017 and 2018, according to financial statements filed to the NCAA. A 25 percent reduction in that would mean cutting more than $10 million in expenses.
The sports department spent more than $80 million in 2019, and brought in about $38.6 million in revenue from ticket sales, fundraising, media rights and other sources.
UConn also changed conferences, which came with a $17 million exit fee and a $3 million reduction in conference revenue.
The Board of Trustees meeting will be held by phone on June 24 to discuss the $10 million reduction in the budget. No time has been announced for the call.