Athletics cuts tennis, nets $200K in savings
“The elimination of a sport was necessary to meet budget reductions,” Director of Athletics Chris Peterson said in the release.
Currently the department is running at about an $850,000 deficit, and cutting the tennis program will save the department nearly $200,000, said George Lee, the assistant director of athletics/business operations.
“When there is a gap that big, somehow we have to either increase our revenue or cut expenses or a combination of both,” Lee said.
For the fiscal year 2013, the tennis program had a budget of $172,219; however, the total amount spent has been more than $196,000. In comparison, the men’s basketball team had a budget of $1.1 million dollars, but spent more than $1.23 million, creating more than $130,000 in the deficit.
The UALR Athletic Department has a budget of about $7.1 million for the fiscal year 2013. More than $4.6 million of which comes from the athletic fee that all students pay along with tuition, according to the annual budget. But with enrollment down this year, the amount of money the Department of Athletics will have to operate with in the next fiscal year will be less, which forces the department to make cuts in order to have a balanced budget.
“We tried to really look at the sport that would be least effected as far as the number of student athletes … and that is tennis,” Lee said.
“The beginning of early March is when I started working on next year’s budget. And like I said, it’s not finalized, but after looking at it and putting all the numbers in there — probably about the middle of March — I came to the realization that there’s no way it’s going to work with 15 sports,” Lee said.
UALR officially sponsors men’s: baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, indoor track and outdoor track and women’s: basketball, cross country, golf, indoor track, outdoor track, soccer, swimming, volleyball and tennis. But when the tennis program is cut, after the current season ends, it will bring the total number of sports at UALR to 14, the minimum number of sports that must be offered in order to maintain membership as a division-1 school.
Richard Turner, the associate director of athletics/compliance, said the department does not expect any other programs to be discontinued.
The student-athletes currently on the roster will have the option to stay at UALR for one year or transfer to another school and receive immediate clearance for eligibility.
“We scheduled a meeting with student athletes and we visited with them about the decision, why it was made, and we also offered to stay and help them process through all the ramifications that this meant to them personally in their lives,” Turner said.
But most of the players still don’t know what they are going to do.
Viktoriya Plyata, a junior international studies major and tennis player from Russia, said she may have to stay at UALR because no other schools will want to give her a scholarship to play tennis for just one year.
“It’s pretty hard to find the coach who wants the girl for just one year,” Plyata said. “I don’t know what to do right now.”
Plyata said she was not prepared for this and no one on the team expected the program to be discontinued.
“No one expected it. We heard there was a men’s team a couple of years ago, and they got cut off as well, and we wondered why, but we never thought it would happen to us. But it happened,” Plyata said.
“I was going to go home for summer, but now I can’t because I can’t afford the ticket,” Plyata said. “Now, I have to completely change my flight because I don’t know if I’m going to transfer or not. If I’m going to buy the ticket for one way, it’s going to cost me a lot of money.”
The financial impact is not hurting just current players, Plyata said.
“The coach just signed up a girl from Belgium for the fall of 2013 and she had to tell her, find another school, change your flight ticket, get a new I-20.”
An I-20 is a certificate of eligibility for non-immigrant student status that must be submitted to the U.S. Department of State, but it takes time to be approved.
The budget cuts are unlikely to stop with the tennis program, as the department of athletics will still be operating with about a $600,000 deficit. The budget for fiscal year 2014 is still being created, so when and where the next cuts will be made are still unknown.
The women’s tennis program has been sponsored by UALR every year since 1975, making it one of the longest-tenured sports at the university.