By David Rogers. May 26, 2020. BOONE, NC — Admitting that it was one of the toughest decisions he has been a part of, Appalachian State athletic director Doug Gillin announced today that three varsity sports are being discontinued: men’s soccer, men’s tennis, and men’s track & field. The decision was in response to projected budget shortfalls stemming largely from the pandemic and the uncertainty it has brought to college athletics across the country.
It was a tough morning, certainly for them to receive the information and for us to give it.
The program cuts are part of a $5 million fiscal belt-tightening overall in the athletics department, Gillin reported. He stated that all scholarships of currently enrolled student-athletes would be honored for the full four years (for freshmen) or whatever the student has remaining should they choose to complete their college degree at App State. For incoming student athletes who have signed a national letter of intent, the athletics department will pay the first year. In all cases, he clarified, App State’s commitment is to pay at whatever level of financial aid the student was scheduled to receive, i.e., full athletic scholarship, half scholarship, or some other aid package.
In a nearly 40-minute press conference held virtually on Tuesday with beat reporters, Gillin opened his remarks by saying, “As you can imagine, this is a really difficult day for App State Athletics.” He went on to explain that his team has been assessing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic since about March 11th, trying to evaluate the financial consequences. “The decisions made today are very painful,” he said. “What makes Appalachian so special is our people. Within Appalachian State Athletics, we try to offer as many participation opportunities as possible. With the financial situation what it is now, we can no longer support 20 sport programs in a fiscally responsible manner.
The cuts were part of an effort to save $5 million annually (roughly 5% of the athletic budget).
“Striving for athletic excellence in 20 sports since moving to the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision).” Gillin admitted, “has been financial challenging for the past five years. We have been operating with the most number of sports in the Sun Belt Conference and the third-most among the Group of Five schools, including the service academies over that time. Moving forward with 17 sports will put us closer to our Sun Belt Conference peers in terms of the total sports offered.
“With this decision today,” added Gillin, “we feel for the student athletes affected by these decisions and certainly their coaches. It was a tough morning, certainly (for them) to receive the information but also for us to give that information.”
Gillin was unsure of what competitive opportunities might be available to students that might want to transfer and finish their years of college athletics eligibility, even while acknowledging that other institutions are undoubtedly having to make similar decisions.
Given that a good number of the scholarships will be honored, most of the financial savings are likely to be in coaching staff salaries and team travel expenses.
If there is a silver lining in the decision, the discontinuance of three men’s sports increases the balance between the number of men’s and women’s opportunities offered, a balance that is targeted by the NCAA’s Title IX mandates.
Gillin shared that the new forces at work that impact college athletics, especially among the Group of Five schools (Sun Belt, Conference USA, Mid-American, American Athletic, and Mountain West conferences), may well lead to creativity in more regional scheduling to save on travel expenses in the surviving sports. He used Appalachian’s current need to travel to Lousiana and Texas as examples of travel cost burdens
“I’ve long been an advocate of greater regional competition,” Gillin noted, “not just for travel cost savings, but also to increase the opportunities for our fans. Our fan base travels as well as any Group of Five institution.” He pointed to the large App State contingents that contributed to recent year sellouts on the road in Charlotte, Chapel Hill, and South Carolina, as a few examples.
While Gillin said that they are hopeful that all of the remaining 17 sports will survive going forward, “Of course there is always a risk because there is so much we don’t know, especially how this pandemic will impact the fall sports.” (most notably, the largest revenue producer, football)