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UNCW Swimming and Diving will live to soar another day.
So will men’s indoor track and field, men’s cross country and women’s softball teams.
All five programs were recommended to be eliminated next year—identified in a recent Intercollegiate Athletics Review Committee (IARC) report that was released after a three-month analysis of the various athletic programs’ financial viability.
This morning, UNCW Chancellor Gary Miller announced his plan to continue all 19 of the university’s athletic programs to the thunderous applause of a crush of teal-clad student-athletes, alumni and supporters in the university’s Burney Center.
Since the report was released two weeks ago, UNCW student-athletes, alumni and community members organized fundraisers, staged rallies and met with Miller to lobby to continue the programs.
“Eliminating any sports program is a last resort, because it removes opportunities for gifted students to fully participate in the UNCW experience,” Miller said.
“I’ve talked to major athletic donors to this program, members of the various university boards and many, many community members. I have consulted with leaders around the country who are facing the same challenge, and there are many.
“It’s clear to me, from these discussions, that there is a great passion for Seahawk Athletics and an even greater anticipation for future successes,” Miller said.
What’s more important, Miller said, is the understanding that increased revenue and additional efficiencies must be achieved to accommodate the entire 19-sport portfolio.
“It cannot be achieved without a strong and sustained community support effort in the form of partnerships, sponsorships, ticket sales and very, very importantly, outright gifts to the university. Athletic programs, unlike most other university programs, rely heavily on these outside sources and this kind of community interaction.
“I have concluded that ultimately, there is, and indeed, there must be or we will not be able to continue these programs,” Miller said.
But, even with the continuation of all 19 programs next year, UNCW Athletics still faces budgetary shortfalls. The decision to move forward with the entire athletics portfolio was “with the understanding and expectation that we can find the resources and partnerships with this community and through our initiatives to give these student-athletes the support they deserve,” Miller said.
Dave Allen has coached UNCW men’s and women’s swimming for 35 years. He’s led the Seahawk swimmers to 14 Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) championships, and he’s been named CAA Coach of the Year 14 times, including this year.
After Miller’s announcement, Allen said he was elated with the decision to continue the program and was up to the challenge of ensuring its viability.
“The volume of voices that were heard that came forth, and they were all unified into one, by all of our alumni, by all of our current swimmers, and all of the parents. They really came together and they really tried to demonstrate the support that they have for this program and within the community. There’s a lot of good that we can offer to the university as well as to the community,” Allen said.
“I’m going to try to partner up with the athletic director and with our athletic department and fundraise and talk to our people and certainly try to communicate with our alumni and parents and let them know how important this program is to the university, and also the fact that we can probably do more to try to help contribute to make sure we are around for the next 35-40 years.
“I’m just elated. I’m just so happy for all the folks that have put so much work and effort into this. I just cannot describe the feeling. It’s total elation,” Allen said.
The current athletic department budget is about $10.5 million, with $16 million being the target goal for UNCW to be competitive on the national scene.
According to Miller, a $16 million athletic budget fell “right in the middle” of the CAA.
“As with all other parts of this university, we will continue to examine the finances and conditions of this program. As with all other parts of the university, the prosperity of the athletic program will depend on both our efforts internally and how we interact with this community and how we get support from them to sustain it.
“I’m making a strong appeal to this community, who has shown enormous passion for UNCW Athletics to continue that passion–parents, alumni, supporters across this country–and support this program with your gifts and with your resources and with your ideas,” Miller said.
Caroline Curran is the managing editor of Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter at @cgcurran.