East Carolina Athletics Director Issues Tearful Apology Over Cutting Programs

“The decision to eliminate 4 sports programs today goes against everything that I believe in and was taught in intercollegiate athletics. This is not something that I take lightly. I was extremely disappointed to deliver this news today to our 68 student-athletes that are affected. It was difficult because I had to do it behind a computer screen, and I couldn’t be in the room with them. I couldn’t feel what they were feeling.”

These were the words of East Carolina Athletics Director Jon Gilbert in a press conference on Thursday where he addressed media regarding the elimination of the men’s and women’s swimming & diving programs, and the men’s and women’s tennis programs that the school announced this week.

After that opening statement, Gilbert had to take a pause to gain his composure as he appeared on the verge of tears addressing the decision.

Gilbert went on to directly address different stakeholders in the cut programs. That includes referring to head swimming coach Matt Jabs as “one of the finest people you will ever meet” and said that he leads a swimming & diving program that “routinely produces student-athletes that are among our best and brightest.”

He then issued a direct apology to the program alumni who helped build the programs.

“To the alumni of swimming & diving, and tennis, who helped build these programs to what they are today, words are not enough, but I apologize to you. This is not news that I want to be delivering to you today, however I understand our financial realities and that East Carolina is not able to support 20 athletic programs at this time.”

He also expressed empathy to former coaches of those programs, by name.

“I understand the anger and disappointment that these student-athletes and coaches are feeling and to that I say, ‘I’m sorry.’ With the pandemic and our financial situation, and understanding what financial realities can come, I knew that we could not support 20 sports programs, and I knew that decisions had to be made, and so we worked in conjunction with the institution…and how we arrived where we did.”

He apologized again, and committed to continued support of the other 16 sport programs, but said that right now, he wants the focus to be on the programs that are being cut.

Gilbert’s wife, Katie, was a former All-America swimmer at Alabama, where she swam under the name Katie Williams.

Other Budget Costs to Save the institution $4.9 million.

  • Reducing sport and operating budget between 10 and 20%
  • Scheduling more regional non-conference opponents to save money on travel costs
  • Not filling multiple vacant positions within the department, including a ticket office position, academic advisor petition, and mental health position.
  • Exploring additional opportunities for departmental savings
  • Gilbert has offered to take a 20% pay cut for his salary, which would amount to around $70,000.
  • The school is still looking at furloughs.

Gilbert said that the department looked at every sport aside from football and men’s and women’s basketball to consider cuts. They weighed scholarship costs, operating costs, and where the school was with regards to facilities. Gilbert said that the current state of the swimming and tennis facilities, and the cost that would need to be invested to improve those facilities, “played a large factor.”

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.

When asked specifically about the success of the swimming & diving program, one of the school’s most successful, making the decision more difficult, Gilbert re-emphasized the aquatic center’s status, saying that they “could never get around the facilities component.”

Gilbert did say that the school plans to have students on campus in the fall and play football in the fall.

Both Gilbert and interim chancellor Ron Mitchelson said in their remarks that the school was already planning “less painful” cuts prior to the global coronavirus pandemic, but that the pandemic forced them to look at deeper savings that included cutting athletics programs. Gilbert said that the pandemic moved the decision from cutting 1-or-2 sports to 4 sports.

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 school’s football and men’s basketball programs were both near, or at, the bottom of the conference standings in the American Athletic Conference last season, and the department’s financial woes are generally credited to Gilbert’s predecessor Jeff Compher, who resigned in May of 2018. When Compher took over the position in 2013, the administration had a surplus of more than $3 million. By the time Compher left, the department budget had a $3 million shortfall.

Gilbert did say that the makeup of rosters, including whether the students were in-state or out-of-state or international students, did not play a part in the decision making process.

Watch the full press conference below. The first speaker is East Carolina Ron Chancellor, followed by Athletics Director Jon Gilbert.

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Hot Dog Lover
5 months ago

Big fat phony. Not sure if tearful is the best way to describe it. He doesn’t care about the swimmers, just the shiny new suit he’ll get to buy after devastating families of 68 student-athletes. He should be ashamed!

Meeeeeee
Reply to  Hot Dog Lover
5 months ago

Eastern Michigan AD was “tearful” also. Then found out he received a bonus for cutting 4 sports that led to a Title IX non-compliance finding. And has led EMU’s resistance of reinstating women’s softball.

GA Boy
Reply to  Hot Dog Lover
5 months ago

This man is trying to run an athletic department that is going to be running at a loss next year. In case you haven’t been told, swimming is a nonrevenue sport. To say he doesn’t care for the athletes is ignorant! It suckers that it had to happen but if his bosses came to him and say the athletic department has to make cuts, it makes sense that swimming would be one of the first to go. Just because he had to cut the sport does not mean that he doesn’t care for the athletes.

Pvdh
Reply to  GA Boy
5 months ago

Everything I want should be subsidized no matter how much it costs and if it isn’t, it’s because of crooked evil people.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Pvdh
5 months ago

heartless crooked evil people

Irish Ringer
Reply to  Pvdh
5 months ago

Truth, and while we are at it where’s my $1000 monthly minimum guaranteed income? 🙂

Alum14
Reply to  GA Boy
5 months ago

Agreed. As an ex-college swimmer, it’s painful to watch happen, but this isn’t happening because of power hungry ADs. Sure, there may be some bad apples (EMU maybe?), but the swimming community needs to stop feeling victimized by this. Just the way it is. It’s an expensive sport that typically costs a million or more To run in college. It’s not like he had better alternatives to cutting swimming. If he cuts funding to revenue sports… you eventually lose revenue. If it even appears you’re not supporting the sports that people care about, they will likely lose donor support from alumni. (I bet you cutting these four teams will have a negligible affect on how much the university’s alumni donate… Read more »

Meeeeeee
Reply to  GA Boy
5 months ago

supposed to be idea people that work to increase and enhance sports departments. It always seems to be a cut without giving the team any chance to fundraise, make their own cuts, etc. Again, swimming is 100+ years old at the NCAA level. Why is it now seem to be dying or at least being crippled? I’m sure similar discussions and situations have happened through the years.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  Braden Keith
5 months ago

Tough to fundraise when every potential donor’s 401K has just been battered with no end to the economic gloom in sight.

DLswim
Reply to  GA Boy
5 months ago

Football at ECU is a non-profit sport; they generate revenue but spend more than they take in. Getting rid of football might be a better solution.

DLswim
Reply to  Braden Keith
5 months ago

If football can run on a deficit, then why can’t other sports do the same? And I don’t believe ECU and many other football programs are ever profitable if you subtract built-in university subsidies, for example, forcing all students to pay for football tickets and not charging for stadium or facility rent, etc. These programs spend huge amounts of money and expect the university to bail them out when they are in the red, even if you include these subsidies. Only a handful of programs are profitable.

Falcon
Reply to  GA Boy
5 months ago

They lost $7M last year. Why not cut last year? No Covis19 excuse.

Meredith
Reply to  GA Boy
5 months ago

I invite you to read this post by a sports economist that shows the swimming program provides a net profit to the university. https://www.google.com/amp/s/sportsgeekonomics.tumblr.com/post/618779851390877696/ecu-sinking-swimming-soaking-itself/amp

SwimPhish
Reply to  Hot Dog Lover
5 months ago

His wife was a collegiate swimmer at Alabama. Both of his children swam. He is a triathlete. I’m sure this decision was extremely difficult for him.

Anon
Reply to  Hot Dog Lover
5 months ago

His family has a history of swimming so I assure you he cares about those swimmers and ALL of his athletes. You are the one that should be ashamed for your ignorant comment. You don’t know him or what ECU is going through at the moment. Do your research before you decide to bash someone.

sven
Reply to  Hot Dog Lover
5 months ago

Devastating entire families? It totally sucks and I hate to see it happen, but this comment is crazy. Characterizing him as someone who only cares about himself is pretty out of line. Besides, you’re one to talk, Hot Dog Lover: we all know you don’t care about the swimmers, just the shiny new hot dog you’re going to eat after typing that comment.

SwimDude
Reply to  Hot Dog Lover
5 months ago

Jon Gilbert’s wife was an All-American under Coach Gambril at Alabama. His two kids swam club in Tuscaloosa. I’m pretty damn sure this was a very difficult decision for him. He is an AD, and unfortunately has to make the tough decisions in the end. We all love swimming, and that’s why we are on this site. However, we also need to realize that there are other people with the same passions as all of us in other sports worried about the same thing as us. Running a collegiate swim team is expensive.

damon
Reply to  Hot Dog Lover
5 months ago

He was pretty robotic from the video I saw when he told the athletes.

ECUAlum
Reply to  Hot Dog Lover
5 months ago

Wrong AD, bud. The previous AD, Jeff Compher, was the one who gave zero craps about swimming, ruined the budget, and caused all of this. The school bought out his contract (and are still paying him). Gilbert is a stand up guy, who has to deal with the awful reality that the school cannot afford all of the sports it currently offers. I hate it for my school, the club team I coached for that uses that pool, and especially the coaches and current athletes. He’s not wrong that the facility is woefully under NCAA standards though. It’s a 4 foot deep 25 yard tile lined pool with a tiny locker room (there are two women’s rooms and one men’s… Read more »

Swammer
5 months ago

As someone who has competed and trained across eastern North Carolina I can say that the facilities are not the problem. They are some of the finest in the region. The university has actually built newer facilities but the pools are 24 yards and not deep enough to dive into. The issue is poor financial planning and the swim and dive program has been on the chopping block for a long time.

iLikePsych
Reply to  Swammer
5 months ago

Who would ever build a 24 yard pool? Aside from UT, of course.

Pirate in the Know
Reply to  Swammer
5 months ago

The pool is not 24 yards long….your information is factually inaccurate, and unhelpful. Minges is 8 lane 25 yd, separate diving well. Old… Yes, so is NCST!! Minges was renovated with new filtration and uv system about 10yrs ago. Minges is a fast pool, ask anyone who’s swam there. They fill the place for home meets, and have one of the best dual meet environments in the country. How bad can it be if they are winning championships, and qualifying kids for NCAAs. Dont speak if you don’t know!

Swammer2007
Reply to  Pirate in the Know
5 months ago

Swammer is correct. He is not referring to Minges, but the Rec Center they built in the early 2000’s. The pool that was built inside was only 24 yards so the swim team couldn’t train there. If they were ever to build a new racing pool, it would have been there like other University who have put pools in their rec center.

Swammer
Reply to  Pirate in the Know
5 months ago

Minges is a great facility with a full sized pool but the new ecu rec was built with a 24 yard pool. Trust me I know the facilities well and it may suit you well to read a little more carefully next time.

Alum14
Reply to  Swammer
5 months ago

It’s more about how they compare to competitor facilities, not so much just facilities in the geographical area.

In my experience on campuses, Recreational directors at universities tend to have animosity with a lot of varsity swim teams because they use up their pool time. That’s why some universities install 24 yard pools, so the swim team won’t interrupt things like intramural inner tube water polo.

damon
Reply to  Alum14
5 months ago

Sad thing is the rec pool is empty most of the day.

Just Facts
Reply to  Alum14
5 months ago

Cincinatti has better pool
SMU has better pool
UCONN has better pool

ECU Men BEAT THEM ALL
Been in the league 6 years, 4 championships

Women were rising

it’s not the building, its the people inside it.

abbie
5 months ago

I find it funny that they cut Swimming and Diving yet they still are going to have to maintain the pool which costs a lot of money at least they would have had the pool

damon
Reply to  Braden Keith
5 months ago

Atheltic also does not run the pool or pay for the pool.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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