Hundreds of student-athletes at St. Cloud State University were called into a campus auditorium on Wednesday and told that six athletic programs are being eliminated in a cost-saving move that also will require roster reductions in football and other men’s sports.
The programs shutting down after this school year, affecting about 80 athletes, are men’s and women’s tennis, women’s Nordic skiing, men’s cross-country and men’s indoor/outdoor track and field. The cuts were announced by athletic director Heather Weems at a departmental meeting.
The university said the cuts will save $250,000, or about 5 percent of the athletic department’s general fund allocation in fiscal year 2017.
St. Cloud State President Earl H. Potter III said the changes are part of the school’s overall financial recovery plan.
St. Cloud State, like other public universities across the state, is dealing with falling enrollment and nagging deficits. SCSU enrollment stands at 15,461, down from 18,650 in the fall of 2010, a more dramatic drop than at many of its sister schools. It is currently battling a $6 million budget gap.
Steven Rosenstone, chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), which includes St. Cloud State, said in an e-mail that legislative approval of MnSCU’s $21 million supplemental budget request “will be critical to … protect high-demand programs, student support services such as academic advisers and counselors, and workforce training and development.” Last year he requested $142 million in extra funds from the Legislature, of which $100 million was granted.
Students at MnSCU’s four-year universities already felt a 3.4 percent tuition increase in the fall.
St. Cloud State coaches were told of the changes during a meeting with administrators at 7:45 a.m., and 200 to 300 student-athletes got the news barely 15 minutes later.
The auditorium included a mix of athletes, some learning that their team was going dark or that their squad’s roster is shrinking. Others breathed a sigh of relief that their program was escaping unscathed.
“To learn of it in the midst of everyone, sitting in a group, it was an awful, awkward feeling,” said Jerry Anderson, longtime coach of the doomed tennis teams. Anderson said student-athletes, male and female, shed tears as they heard the news.
Thomas Nelson, interim director of athletic media relations, said there really was no good way to notify so many people at once. “It was an emotional day for everybody.”
In the wake of the shake-up, St. Cloud must adjust the size of some of the rosters in the remaining 17 programs to meet Title IX’s federal gender-equity requirements. Men’s baseball, football, wrestling, and swimming and diving will see smaller rosters. Women’s indoor and outdoor track will see gains. The school’s hockey teams, its only programs in the NCAA’s top division, are gaining a roster spot each.
The school said it considered several factors when weighing the cuts: the history and tradition of the programs, facilities and their condition, recent competitive success, investment needs, alumni engagement and financial support and regional interest.
Nordic ski coach Jeremy Frost said he and other head coaches “were told several times” that Title IX requirements would keep the women’s teams immune from elimination or roster reductions, “so we were shocked to hear of cuts to women’s sports.”
Wrestling coach Steve Costanzo, whose program brought St. Cloud its first national title in any sport, said it had been “rumored for a while” that his roster would be taking a hit. “The hardest part is the team is so close,” said Costanzo.
NCAA qualifier Clayton Jennissen, a junior, said he’s trying to stay focused on the national meet, but greeted the news with a glass-half-full attitude. “It’s better than getting cut, like some of the other teams,” he said.
For athletes left without a program, the university said it will honor current scholarship agreements for up to four years.
Elsewhere in state
Officials at other comparable state schools said they didn’t foresee cuts to their athletic programs. At Minnesota State University Mankato, three sports were dropped in 2010-11. “We’ve been through this,” said athletic department spokesman Paul Allan, adding that he is not expecting further cuts.
Bemidji State dropped men’s indoor/outdoor track in 2011. Spokesman Andy Bartlett said the school is in no position to shrink further; otherwise it would lose its Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference membership.