By JOE KAY
The Associated Press
CINCINNATI — The University of Cincinnati eliminated its men’s soccer program Tuesday as other colleges weighed cutbacks because of budget problems resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
College are grappling with revenue losses from spring sports cancellations, including the lucrative NCAA basketball tournament. Eliminating sports is considered a last resort by athletic directors who face difficult choices.
Earlier this month, Old Dominion University eliminated wrestling as part of its response to the pandemic.
On Tuesday, Baylor University said the Big 12 school will delay building a new basketball facility that was supposed to open in time for the 2022-23 season, as part of a plan to cut as much as $80 million in the next academic year.
Cincinnati athletic director John Cunningham expects other schools to face similar choices because of the uncertainty over fall sports, including football.
“I’ve spoken to other athletic directors and everything is on the table at this point,” Cunningham said in a phone interview. “There will be different sorts of cuts and pullbacks that schools are going to make, and it’s definitely possible that will include sports offered.”
Cincinnati began offering men’s soccer in 1973.
If the football season is affected by virus precautions, schools that rely on football will be forced to consider deeper cuts, Villanova athletic director Mark Jackson said Tuesday.
“Our revenue center is in basketball — we’re not dependent on football,” Jackson said in a Zoom interview with reporters. “But the closer we move to fall, as you’ve read, and the more that football is impacted in a lot of different Division I programs, I think the decisions are going to become more drastic, I really do.”
Schools have made cutbacks in athletic staffing and expenses. Eliminating a sport is at the bottom of the list of options, Cunningham said.
“It’s the last thing you want to do as an athletic director,” he said.
Both Cincinnati and Old Dominion tried to lessen the impact on students by honoring scholarships for athletes losing their sports.
Cincinnati will allow its 21 men’s soccer players to keep scholarships for the rest of their academic careers. They’ll be allowed to transfer to another school without penalty.
“I’ve thought about them a lot today,” Cunningham said. “It’s really difficult news for them.”
Old Dominion said students who signed a national letter of intent for 2020-21 will keep their scholarships if they enroll. There are 32 wrestlers currently in the program, seven of them seniors.
At Baylor, the women’s basketball team is the defending national champion and finished the season ranked No. 2 in The Associated Press poll, while the men were No. 5. The football team played for the Big 12 championship.
Beyond the decision to delay its new basketball facility, Baylor President Linda Livingstone said the school’s efforts to cut costs will include a “strategic review and reduction of operating, or non-personnel, budgets” across the school, including athletics.
More cuts could be coming if the economic situation doesn’t improve or there is a re-emergence of COVID-19 in the fall or winter, Livingstone said.
Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades said he doesn’t think any Bears sports programs will be eliminated.
“We haven’t had to talk about or think about cutting any sport programs,” Rhoades said. And I certainly, I cannot or do not envision, at least now, a situation where we would have to do that.”