07/06 07:11 CDT As schools ponder cutting sports, tennis proves vulnerable
As schools ponder cutting sports, tennis proves vulnerable
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
The promise of college tennis lured Abhimanyu Vannemreddy from his home in
India to the United States, where he settled in at Winthrop University in South
Now he's pondering his future thousands of miles away from his family as
financial reality crashes down on his sport.
Winthrop announced last month that both its men's and women's tennis programs
will be dropped because of budget woes resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
Tennis has been hit hardest among college programs as athletic departments
nationwide ponder cutting sports to save money.
"I was definitely caught by surprise," Vannemreddy said. "No prior warning or
rumor about the program shutting down. It was just a random call one day and
just found out it's done.''
Dozens of college tennis players across the country are in similar situations.
Men's and women's tennis are the only sports dropped by more than four Division
I schools since the start of the pandemic, according to AP research.
East Carolina, Green Bay, Northern Colorado, Southern Utah and Wright State
have dropped men's and women's tennis over the last three months. In Arkansas,
UAPB suspended men's and women's tennis for the year. Appalachian State cut
men's tennis, while Akron eliminated women's tennis. Connecticut won't have a
men's tennis team after 2020-21.
"My assessment is some of these cuts had probably been in the works," said
Timothy Russell, the CEO of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, the
governing body for college tennis. "Usually when there's a cut, there's a big
hue and cry. There's so much going on with the noise in this environment, it's
easier to make these cuts with nobody paying as much attention."
Nearly 89% of Division I schools had women's tennis programs and 71.5% had
men's teams as of 2019, but these recent cuts have raised concern and pushed
officials to seek solutions.
Tim Cass, a former New Mexico and Texas A&M coach, now is general manager for
the U.S. Tennis Association's national campus in Florida. He believes colleges
can help their programs by opening on-campus tennis facilities to their
communities, by hosting junior or adult tournaments and offering after-school
"If you're doing that, more than likely your program has a very good chance of
being safe," Cass said.
A lack of quality facilities has contributed to some cuts.
Winthrop deputy athletic director Hank Harrawood said his school's tennis
facility required at least $1.3 million in repairs. Southern Utah and Northern
Colorado didn't have indoor facilities on campus, and Southern Utah's teams
often had to travel 45-50 minutes for practice.
Northern Colorado and Southern Utah belong to the Big Sky Conference, which
previously required its members to field tennis teams. When the Big Sky relaxed
that requirement last month, both schools dropped their programs.
Scholarship concerns also play a role.
The NCAA allows schools to offer up to 4 scholarships in men's tennis and
eight in women's tennis. Harrawood said that meant Winthrop's tennis programs
were generating a smaller percentage of tuition revenue than the school's other
Once Winthrop realized it needed to save over $600,000, Harrawood said
eliminating tennis made the most financial sense despite its history of success.
Winthrop's women had made 17 NCAA Tournament appearances - including three
straight from 2017-19. The men had won nine Big South Conference regular-season
titles since 1997.
"From a dollars and cents standpoint, strictly a business decision on campus,
it became evident tennis is pretty clearly the one where you can impact the
least amount of students while also saving the most amount of money," Harrawood
An NCAA study found 63% of Division I men's tennis players and 62% of Division
I women's tennis players in 2018 came from outside the United States. No other
sport had the majority of its players come from outside the U.S., though men's
soccer had a slightly greater number of international athletes than men's
Retired Stanford coach Dick Gould, who led the Cardinal to 17 NCAA team titles,
believes tennis programs comprised primarily of international players are
vulnerable when schools need to cut.
"If you're a state school that gets state and public funding, and your team is
70% (international players), I think that makes your sport an obvious target,"
said Gould, who retired from coaching in 2004 but remained Stanford's tennis
director for 12 more years.
Winthrop men's coach John Collins wasn't so sure. He noted that Winthrop's
international players who weren't receiving full scholarships actually
generated more money for the university by paying out-of-state tuition fees.
"If we had more Americans from the Mountain region like Nevada, Utah, Arizona
over the course of the last five to 10 years, then the support may have been
better so maybe we'd have more donors, fundraising opportunities for facilities
and maybe this wouldn't have happened,'' Southern Utah women's coach Michael
Mucci said. "But there are so many programs that got cut even with a ton of
Americans, so I believe it really depends on the situation.''
Winthrop didn't have a single American player on its men's or women's rosters
this year. The international players who remained in the U.S., like
Vannemreddy, face a series of decisions.
He could give up college tennis and stay at Winthrop, which is honoring the
financial aid packages it offered its tennis players. Or he could try to play
elsewhere, knowing fewer roster spots are available with a surplus of players
seeking new homes.
He can't help but wonder about the risk of choosing a school that could cut its
own program a year from now.
"That's definitely something on my mind,'' Vannemreddy said. "There's so much
uncertainty at these times. It's basically a gamble, if I'm being honest.''
AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington contributed to this report.