The University of Connecticut’s Board of Trustees approved a plan Wednesday that will cut four athletic programs – three men’s and one women’s – from the university’s 2020-21 budget to offset a massive deficit resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, Katsouleas asked trustees to approve the elimination of women’s rowing along with men’s cross country, tennis, and the swimming & diving program in order to reduce the athletics budget by 25%, or $10 million.
The cuts, which university officials said will directly impact 124 student-athletes, are part of a larger plan to reduce a deficit estimated to be anywhere from $47 million to $129 million. The figure is imprecise because administrators are trying to account for the impact of a potential second outbreak of COVID-19 in the months ahead.
Over 450 members of the community phoned into the Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday to express outrage over the cuts.
The meeting began with over an hour of public comment from UConn athletics alumni begging the board not to cut their respective programs. The majority of the comments came from track and field, which was not cut.
“UConn will no longer sponsor these sports after the 2020-21 year,” Katsouleas said. “While this is a painful decision, it is in the best interest of the long term viability of UConn and UConn athletics.”
UConn has committed to supporting the athletes by honoring all athletic scholarships for those who wish to continue at UConn, and Katsouleas also pledged to provide guidance and support to student athletes who choose to continue academic and athletic careers at other universities.
“Moving forward, we are certain we will be able to enhance the student-athlete experience, improve competitiveness in more sports and continue to be a model for gender equity, diversity and inclusion and intercollegiate athletics,” Katsouleas said. “In doing so, we will continue to leverage the pride generated by our outstanding Huskies for an even stronger UConn community.”
In a related announcement earlier this week, Katsouleas said UConn’s non-union managers would be furloughed for one day per month for the coming school year, which equates to a 5% reduction in pay, and senior managers like him would take two furlough days a month for a 10% reduction in pay.
Kevin O’Connor, a member of the Board of Trustees who serves as a liaison to UConn Athletics, acknowledged that this would never be an easy process, but the goal was always to make “tough but realistic decisions.”
“Unless you took the view that athletics was somehow immune to cuts, we knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” O’Connor said. “I don’t think any of us took the position that athletics would be treated any differently than any other part of the university so we went into this knowing we would have to make some tough decisions and that we would have an impact on student athletes and their families and knowing that there were never going to be any decisions that were 100% popular with everybody in the UConn community.”
Jennifer Sanford, head women’s rowing coach, said she first learned that her team might be cut on Tuesday, June 23, at 1:30 p.m., less than a day before the decision was announced to the public. She thought that women’s rowing was safe because it helped to balance out the Title IX concerns related to a football team.
“I did not believe rowing would be part of this proposal and obviously I was mistaken,” Sanford said. “If approved today this decision will come as a surprise to many because no one saw this coming.”
Sanford said this decision would mean that UConn would be the only Division I rowing program in the country that has been cut. She expressed frustration that the university will continue to support football, despite the financial strain it has caused, as well as the lack of communication she received about the decision-making process.
“Since 1997 UConn rowing has produced outstanding student-athletes that are great ambassadors [for] the university during their time here and as alumni,” Sanford said. “The best part about my job is not about the wins and losses but watching the growth over four years of the women that are part of the program. It is about the relationships that last a lifetime.”
Over the past month since the budget shortfall became clear, several teams whose members feared being cut organized to raise thousands of dollars, including men’s golf, track and field and tennis. Of those sports, tennis was the only one cut.
Angelo Rossetti, a 1992 UConn alumni and member of the tennis team, said his experience on the team changed his life. He still teaches tennis, holds two Guinness World Records, and published a book — all of which started with UConn tennis. He also met his wife and several lifelong friends through the team.
“Basically, tennis and UConn have meant the world to me,” Rossetti said.
UConn plans to have students return to campus in the fall with modifications. Some athletes will begin moving into campus in July as part of the state’s Phase Two reopening plan. In August, regular move-in for residential students will begin at an estimated 70% capacity in the dormitories.
“It will take a village, it will take a combined effort to achieve the priorities we have,” Katsouleas said. “When we convene again in person, I do expect the revenues to rebound.”