St. Thomas will drop men's and women's tennis at the end of this season, reducing its varsity sports offerings to 20 programs as it prepares to transition to Division I this summer.
School officials announced Tuesday they had made the "hard decision'' to discontinue tennis after evaluating athletic department resources. In a letter sent to the St. Thomas community, Athletic Director Phil Esten, President Julie Sullivan and Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick Ryan said the school does not plan to cut any other sports. The announcement said dropping to 20 varsity teams brings the Tommies in line with other schools in the Summit League, which St. Thomas will join this summer when it makes the move from D-III to D-I.
The Gophers also are eliminating men's tennis after this season, leaving the state with no Division I men's tennis programs.
The Tommies women recently completed their first-ever sweep of the MIAC regular-season and playoff titles and will begin play in the NCAA tournament this weekend. The men's team finished its season with a 9-7 record.
"St. Thomas is committed to giving all our student-athletes a chance to pursue comprehensive excellence in competition and in the classroom,'' the letter said. "We determined we are unable to adequately provide the conditions necessary for our tennis programs to sustain that comprehensive excellence at the Division I level.
"We understand this news deeply disappoints many people … While today's news is painful, we are fully confident making these hard choices will help us flourish in the future while providing an outstanding student-athlete experience.''
The letter said the decision was made jointly by Esten, Sullivan and the school's Board of Trustees. They considered factors including facilities, staffing, scholarship support, athletic programs at peer institutions and St. Thomas's long-term financial model. The current tennis rosters include 12 women and 15 men.
In a Q&A posted on the university's website, St. Thomas officials said the tennis programs "present unique challenges.'' The school does not have a dedicated tennis facility, and they said the cost to build one is "not sustainable.'' The tennis teams currently use the indoor courts in the Anderson Athletics and Recreation Center and play some matches at the Gophers' tennis facility.
School officials said they will honor all employment agreements with the tennis coaches, whose part-time contracts expire at the end of the academic year. They said no current or incoming players had been offered athletic scholarships, and that other financial aid will continue for those who choose to stay at St. Thomas.
While the Q&A said the decision was not prompted by Title IX, it added that the athletic department is adjusting roster sizes in all sports, saying that will help with Title IX compliance.
St. Thomas's women's team got a taste of Division I competition this season, going 0-3 against North Dakota, Nebraska Omaha and Creighton. The Tommies rolled to a 13-0 record against D-III teams, earning their first MIAC regular-season crown in 30 years.
The Tommies men have won nine MIAC titles but none since 1988. They also played three D-I teams, falling to North Dakota, Creighton and Drake by a combined score of 21-0.
The men's and women's teams both are coached by Ken Cychosz, who is in his second season as head coach. Terry Peck coached both teams for nearly 30 years, retiring from the women's program in 2019 after stepping down as the men's coach in 2017.