Winthrop to cut two sports programs due to COVID-19 budget hits, school says

Winthrop to cut two sports programs due to COVID-19 budget hits, school says
Winthrop to cut two sports programs due to COVID-19 budget hits, school says (Source: Rock Hill Herald)

ROCK HILL, S.C. (Rock Hill Herald) - Winthrop University’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution Friday to cut the men’s and women’s tennis programs from its athletics department, citing financial hardships that have hit college sports programs across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cut is effective immediately. Students will retain their scholarships through their fourth academic year, and students “who signed National Letters of Intent for the 2020-21 year” will retain scholarships for the upcoming year, a release states.

Per NCAA rules, students are immediately eligible to play if they choose to transfer to another school.

The programs did not bring in any ticket sales, according to a 2019 NCAA financial summary report obtained by The Herald via a Freedom of Information Act request, and their total operating expenses were over $813,000.

Winthrop is the latest school to cut a program after the 2020 spring sports collegiate season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Furman, another school in South Carolina with Division I athletics, cut its baseball program in late May. And Appalachian State and East Carolina, two North Carolina schools, cut multiple non-revenue sports before Furman.

The tennis teams at Winthrop are among the most successful of any in the school’s athletic program. The women’s tennis team has won five Big South Conference championships since 2014, including the 2019 conference championship, and earned an NCAA tournament victory in 2018. It’s won 21 conference titles, more than any of its Big South counterparts.

The program also has seen considerable individual accomplishment. In 2019, Lauren Proctor became the second player in the Big South Conference’s nearly 40-year history to be voted the Big South Player of the Year four times.

The men’s tennis team, meanwhile, won a Big South Conference title in 2015 and won the 2018 regular season conference championship.

WINTHROP NCAA DIVISION I STANDING, FINANCES

In 2019, Winthrop had eight men’s sports and 10 women’s sports. Winthrop, thus, is edging closer to the NCAA’s minimum requirement that its Division I member schools field either seven women’s teams and seven men’s sports teams, or eight women’s teams and six men’s sports teams.

Financial reports show the Winthrop tennis programs brought in $631,550 worth of revenue in 2019 — $230,889 of which was from student fees.

Much of the rest of the programs’ revenue came from the university: Over $348,000 came in direct institutional support, which includes items like athletic scholarships — and over $97,000 came in indirect institutional support, which includes costs covered by the institution to athletics but not charged to the athletic department, such as facilities maintenance, security, risk management and utilities.

In an interview in April that focused on how coronavirus will affect Winthrop’s athletic finances in the immediate future, Winthrop athletic director Dr. Ken Halpin told The Herald that the cancellation of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was a huge hit to Winthrop.

Because of the tournament’s cancellation, the NCAA’s distribution to its 32 member conferences was cut by nearly two-thirds.

“The NCAA Tournament is what’s so important,” Halpin said. “... If we have an NCAA Tournament, then that accounts for close to 90% of the NCAA annual operating revenue. If you have the tournament, all that revenue goes back.”

Winthrop receives a majority of its athletic revenue from the university. Thus, its athletics program is dependent on the revenue from its campus — things like from students living and paying for dorms, people paying for food at campus dining facilities, etc. — as well as the larger state economy, which funds the public university with taxes.

And both the campus and state economies have been stifled by the coronavirus.