While both student-athletes and coaches are moving ahead with new programs for the 2020-2021 college season, a group continues their battle to save the swimming & diving programs at East Carolina University.
In the last week, they have raised $150,000 more dollars in pledges, pushing the total in pledges received past $715,000.
The group had a zoom call last week with a number of alumni, with Olympians Lauren Perdue and Ashley Twichell joining the call as well. The group plans to have a presence at a Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, where they hope that their efforts will be a topic of conversation.
The group, which includes both coaches, current student-athletes, and former student-athletes, has had trouble getting the attention of the ECU athletic department leadership in spite of their fundraising efforts. This week, though, they may have gotten at least a starting point for a number.
Speaking on a local radio show, WTIB-FM’s “Talk of the Town,” ECU Athletic Director Jon Gilbert said that it would take a fundraising level of $1.6 million annually to bring the teams back.
That number is more than the proposed 2020-2021 budget was prior to elimination, and the programs believe that they could get their annual combined budget to under $1 million, based on a proposal submitted last week to the administration.
“The administration is knowingly establishing an unrealistic standard for reviving the teams,” said Lindsay Takkunen, one of the leading forces behind Save ECU Swimming & Diving (SESD). “They know it would not take $1.6 million to bring these teams back. It’s clear they are more interested in justifying their decision to abandon these student-athletes than considering any option that keeps the teams alive. We know this is a solvable problem if ECU’s leaders would simply be willing to talk.”
The group argues that between tuition and fees paid by non-scholarship (or partial scholarship) student-athletes and $800,000 in annual support from the program from the Pirate Club, the school’s Booster Club, that the target should be set much lower.
On the show, Gilbert didn’t bring up the facility concerns that were originally used as the justification for cutting the programs.
While we were unable to find a published ECU rate of endowment payouts for fiscal year 2018, the national average over 10 years was 5.8%. To fully endow a swimming program at that rate for $1.6 million annually would require an endowment of about $27.5 million. Endowing the program at a $1 million budget annually would require about a $17 million endowment.
Prior to the outbreak, ECU says that their athletics department had a $7.5 million deficit this fiscal year, which grew to $10.2 million when the school lost money from the NCAA basketball tournament, among other sources. Gilbert said that, while these cuts were not yet enough to close the budget deficit, that no further sports would be cut, and the school would remain in FBS football (which has a 16-sport minimum).
The Minges Natatorium has an 8-lane, 25-yard competition pool and a separate 20 yard diving pool. The pool is owned by the University, and Gilbert said that they knew they needed to make a “long term financial commitment” based on its state, which included not only the pool, but also the locker rooms and coaches’ offices. The school does plan to continue to use the pool for academic purposes in the short-term, though the school’s Chancellor Ron Mitchelson did not commit to its long-term existence. The Chancellor emphasized that it was an “inadequate facility” for NCAA athletics. That is in spite of the fact that East Carolina routinely qualifies swimmers for the NCAA National Championship meet, including 2 in the 2019-2020 season.
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