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Eliminate the Scholarships, Save the Program

When I opened my inbox and saw the subject line "PTC Stony Brook", my heart sank. I immediately knew the men's tennis program at Stony Brook University was over. "PTC" or "Permission to Contact" is a term I have been hearing way too often lately. As the head men's tennis coach at Fordham University, a mid-major tennis program in the Atlantic-10 Conference, I get these notifications from my compliance officer whenever a program is being discontinued so I am allowed to speak to any student-athletes that wish to transfer.

Michael Sowter of Fordham
courtesy, Fordham Athletics
Over the past few years, there has been an alarming pattern of NCAA Division I mid-major programs being cut, and I feel that these decisions are both shortsighted and highly preventable. Recently, men's tennis has been cut from Division I universities such as Western Kentucky, Bradley, IPFW, Southern Illinois, Western Illinois, Hartford, Morehead State, Murray State and Robert Morris. In Stony Brook's case, the America East Conference stopped sponsoring men's tennis in 2014. Thankfully, Binghamton was able to join the MAC, while Stony Brook, Hartford and UMBC transitioned to the Missouri Valley Conference. Unfortunately, in the wake of cuts in tennis programs coming from Southern Illinois, Hartford and UMBC, the Missouri Valley Conference no longer meets the 6-team NCAA minimum and will be forced to eliminate men's tennis. Consequently, without a conference to play in, Stony Brook has decided to cancel men's tennis instead of trying to find a new home.

The schools that are eliminating tennis tend to follow some or all of the following patterns: the university is facing budget cuts; the roster consists mainly of international students; and the athletic director (AD) has been on the job less than three years. Looking at it from a financial perspective, cutting a non-revenue sport makes sense on the surface. Many ADs are faced with balancing a shrinking budget and cutting non-revenue programs is an effortless fix. International student-athletes are also easy scapegoats: utilizing many resources in scholarships and operating budgets, there is little resistance from parents if the program is discontinued, and as work visas become increasingly harder to obtain, they are not always able - or even want - to stay in the United States after graduation. Why invest in a team if they can't or won't have active alumni the same way other sports do?

I understand that these can be complicated decisions, but there is one solution to keeping tennis programs alive, improving college prospects for US tennis players, and increasing involvement from the university and local community: Eliminate the scholarships.

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Page updated on Monday, March 11, 2019
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