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Eastern Michigan to reduce number of varsity sports from 21 to 17

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In a cost savings measure, EMU aims to cut four sports.

Welch Hall is where Eastern Michigan Administration is housed.
Kenneth Bailey

In an effort to stem some of their budget woes, Eastern Michigan University has announced its decision to cut four sports from their athletics program at th end of the 2018 spring athletic season.

The decision was announed early Tuesday morning via press release.

The sports affected are softball, men’s swimming and diving, women’s tennis and wrestling. The cuts will affect a total of 85 student athletes (58 men, 25 women) and are expected to save the university a total of $2.4 million.

Men’s swimming and diving has been one of Eastern Michigan’s— and the Mid-American Conference’s— more successful sporting programs. It has won a total of 34 MAC Championships (including the last three prior to this season), a few NAIA National Championships and have been to the NCAA Championships. The EMU swimming program also claims Olympic alums.

The EMU softball team was the MAC runner up in 1990. The tennis team were conference runners-up in 1982, 1987 and 1998. The wrestling team has had some histroical success, graduating 15 All-Americans and 22 MAC champion wrestlers. The wrestlers claim one conference title in 1996.

Ten coaches, including graduate assistants, will see their positions eliminated. The cut in athletics is linked to a university-wide initiative which is expected to attempt to make up a projected $4.5-to-5.5 million gap in the budget. That initiative is expected to eliminate 42 faculty jobs and lay off 17 others.

“As a former student-athlete and swimmer myself, I profoundly share the pain felt by the affected student-athletes,” James Webb, chairman of the EMU Board of Regents said via press release. “This move is part of a broad, University effort to properly adjust our budget for the years to come, and Athletics is actively participating in this process.”

Webb went on to say the board supported the decision of president James Smith and athletic director Scott Wetherbee, commending the pair for “taking on a difficult challenge and acting in the best interests of Eastern Michigan University.”

The move comes amidst controversy over how to properly budget the university, with faculty, staff and even Michigan gubernatorial candidates at EMU protesting the budget as recently as Thursday afternoon, calling for EMU to take a harder look at “the sacred cow” of athletics, which has been subsidized by as much as $27.3 million as of 2015.

Some faculty and staff on campus— with some support from students in recent years — have advocated for the elimination or demotion of football in the past, suggesting to the Board of Regents to join the non-scholarship Horizon League in 2016.

EMU isn’t the only MAC school to have to make such drastic cuts this year. In April 2017, Buffalo announced it would cut four varsity sports affecting 120 athletes, including its incredibly successful men’s soccer and women’s rowing programs, in an effort to save $2 million

I don’t think Eastern Michigan had many choices of what sports to cut though. In order to maintain Division I status with the NCAA, they had to keep 16 spots. In order to remain full membership in the MAC, they had to keep football, men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball. So I can understand why those sports were not cut.

Some people have suggested that Eastern Michigan drop football. I can say with some degree of certainty, that is not going to happen. While football is probably the biggest cost, it is also the biggest generator of revenue for the athletics department. They might be able to trim the budget though but I’m not sure that would save the above programs.

We’ll keep you up to date on any new information which emerges.

A Diving statue outside of the Rec IM building
Kenneth Bailey