CGN Roundtable: On Eliminated Programs

We’ve seen three women’s teams—Alaska, Seattle Pacific and William & Mary—and three men’s—Iowa, Minnesota and William & Mary—eliminated effective after the 2021 season (or, in the case of Seattle Pacific, before the 2021 season). To add insult to injury, everything about Bridgeport athletics remains up in the air with the dissolution of the school. It has been a big blow to the sport, especially coming off of the excitement surrounding the addition of a women’s team at Long Island University.

We have some thoughts. Mostly, though, we’re sad and tired. 

Since we cover women’s gymnastics, we focused primarily on those programs, but we did want to dedicate some space ot the men as well, because they are in a uniquely perilous position.

How do you see the MPSF (Alaska, Seattle Pacific) and/or ECAC-I/II (William & Mary/Bridgeport) conferences changing without their respective eliminated teams?

Note: While, no official word has been announced about Bridgeport, all signs point to the program ending in the near future. For the purpose of this question, we’re taking that into account.

Emily M: These cuts drastically change the landscape in the MPSF. Dropping from six teams to four feels shocking, especially given the region. The west coast is so strong for club gymnastics, it feels like we should be adding teams there. Also, William & Mary and Temple were the only non-Ivies in the ECAC-I. Can’t help but wonder if Temple will adjust elsewhere (EAGL?) as the only non-Ivy, especially given how conservative the Ivies have been in making athletics decisions in 2020.

Elizabeth: Like Emily brought up, I really want to see Temple join the EAGL, making eight teams there and the ability to split into two sessions for the conference championship (seven teams right now will be hell—I know because I experienced the MAC championship in 2019). As for the MPSF, I’ll take a positive outlook and say that a four-team conference championship is so much nicer than a six-team one. Otherwise, it’s Suck City all around.

Mary Emma: To echo what Emily and Elizabeth have said, I’d love to see Temple join the EAGL. This would make eight teams in the conference, which means conference championships could be split into two sessions of four teams (and making the meet more viewer friendly). This would leave the four Ivy league schools in a conference by themselves, which makes a lot of sense to me, since the Ivy Classic meet seems to be a much bigger deal to these teams than the ECAC championship.

Talitha: It hurts me to see the MPSF lose a third of its programs, especially Alaska, which was starting to gain nation-wide recognition. However, I agree with Elizabeth that a four-team conference championship is appealing. As for ECAC, Bridgeport was the highest ranking ECAC-II team in 2020, it will be missed.

What do you think these eliminations mean in a greater sense, for the gymnastics community as a whole? 

Emily M: I’m quite worried about DII gymnastics! Seattle Pacific was the only program west of Texas, and Bridgeport always carried a huge roster. If that isn’t enough, the level of gymnastics at Alaska and William & Mary is similar. It’s a big hit for a broad swath of recruits. I fear we’re rocketing toward a big school DI or tiny school DIII binary in the sport, which is really limiting.

Elizabeth: I’m actually not worried that much about college gymnastics as a whole, but on a more granular level, we’re losing a lot of those mid-tier teams that welcome gymnasts that wouldn’t have had a chance to do gymnastics in college otherwise. I’m hopeful that the addition of LIU wasn’t a one-off and that other schools are serious about adding teams after this whole pandemic thing is fully over.

Mary Emma: With gymnastics as an ever-growing sport in the US, the elimination of these teams means even fewer opportunities for gymnasts to receive scholarships and compete in college. It definitely feels like a huge blow, especially after seeing everyone so excited about the addition of LIU. It feels like we took one step forward and six steps back.

Talitha: It makes me wonder about the financial situation of most gymnastics teams, to be honest. We know that some of them, like LSU, have incredibly wealthy donors, but many others don’t. Hopefully the situation will improve once the COVID emergency is over and, as Elizabeth said, I hope we will see some new programs rising from the ashes.

We’ve heard that at William & Mary, gymnasts had been promised at least two years before the program was abruptly cut. There were shady dealings at Seattle Pacific as well. How should athletic directors be minimizing harm when they cut programs, in your opinion?

Emily M: 2020 is a confusing and awful year full stop, but that doesn’t excuse treating student athletes like garbage. I would hope any other teams being eliminated (here’s hoping there are none!) would be given time to transfer at the very least.

Elizabeth: This is an example where gymnastics is concerned, but Stanford did a really great job in its communication about its cut programs—or at least as good as it could have done with the circumstances. I don’t think it’s hard to show compassion and transparency when you make huge decisions that affect a lot of people in your community.

Mary Emma: Stop promising programs big things and then going back on that promise when things get tough. It feels like pulling a rug out from under someone’s feet, which is awful.

Talitha: Announcing the cutting of a program must not be an easy situation to deal with, but as Emily and Elizabeth have said, it can be done with compassion pretty easily. I believe that giving a program a final season is a decent thing to do, and if not possible, at least the right amount of time for athletes to transfer and for staff to find alternative jobs.

What are your worries about NCAA men’s gymnastics, especially given that there are so few programs?

Emily M: Iowa really struck me. The Big Ten is a Power Five conference! It is the only Power Five with men’s gymnastics! That’s something I always thought the schools held with pride, so it sort of rocked my MAG worldview to lose that team. I’m just worried about the sport in general. It is getting very close to having too few teams to continue as an NCAA sport, per NCAA rules. I can’t even imagine what will happen to the elite men’s program in this country if NCAA MAG folds completely. It truly is quite dire.

Elizabeth: I didn’t think a team like Minnesota would be cut with a gymnast as good as Shane Wiskus on the roster. That one made it “real” for me. And I don’t really see USA Gymnastics bailing anyone out. It’s dealing with its own bankruptcy and lawsuit issues, so where do you think the money is coming from? Realistically, and not to be a Debbie Downer, I see this as a negative turning point for men’s NCAA, and I think it needs to be an opportunity to overhaul the men’s J.O. (“ACE” *barf*) program so you don’t lose that important development for elite that college brought to the U.S. program.

Mary Emma: I’m worried that they are going to lose their NCAA status entirely. With NCAA men’s gymnastics being such a huge pipeline for elite, it will likely hurt the already struggling elite men’s program.

Talitha: As others have said, I’m worried about the future of men’s NCAA gymnastics as a whole. With only a dozen teams left, it really doesn’t look good. In turn, I wonder how the potential cut will affect men’s elite gymnastics…

Let’s end on a happy note and play gymnastics overlord. You can add four women’s and two men’s replacement teams anywhere your heart desires. Where are they?

Emily M: I wrote this question and I still hate it, because it’s too hard! For the women, I’d like to see Wellesley, Hawaii Pacific, Northwestern and Simon Fraser. For the men, I want to see UCLA revive it’s program, plus Rutgers to get more east coast action for MAG.

Elizabeth: I want at least one HBCU women’s and men’s team. I won’t be cliche and say I want a DI team in Texas, but I would like another DI team in Florida. Maybe Florida State or Miami—wouldn’t that be a fun rivalry with UF? Not to copy Emily, but I’ll also give UCLA its men’s team back because I think it would be one of the few schools that would have a chance at success, and add women’s programs to Wisconsin and CU Boulder.

Mary Emma: We all know how much I would love to see ACC gymnastics become a thing, so I’d want to add women’s programs to Duke and Florida State, mostly because of the immediate rivalries both would bring (Duke with North Carolina and Florida State with Florida). I’d also add a women’s program at Texas, partially because of the rivalry it would have with Oklahoma, but mostly because we need a DI school in Texas. I don’t know where I would add a fourth women’s team, but it would be at a DII school somewhere, so that DII gymnastics doesn’t disappear altogether. For men’s, I would give UCLA its men’s team back and add a team at North Carolina to fill the geographical hole that William & Mary will leave. 

Talitha: Ahh this is hard for a European! I think Texas certainly deserves a DI program, perhaps the University of Texas. As Mary Emma said, I would also love to see the addition of Duke because of the obvious rivalry with UNC. The University of Virginia would be an interesting one too because Virginia is not a state renowned for collegiate gymnastics—plus, we’re losing William & Mary. Finally, the University of New England in Maine would give New Hampshire a fun rival. I can’t really comment on men’s gymnastics, as I don’t follow it, but I endorse the revival of the UCLA program.

Article by Emily Minehart, Elizabeth Grimsley, Mary Emma Burton and Talitha Ilacqua

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  1. IIRC, Florida State and Virginia had WAG teams in the 80s.
    Wisconsin had a WAG program in the Big Ten that was discontinued after 1991.

  2. I think someone (USAG maybe) needs to go to campuses and try to fundamentally change the way college athletics are looked at. These great facilities in the SEC are one thing, but schools could train in down hours at local clubs (which some do) and could compete more at the larger convention center club competitions for limited cost.

    I think schools who have programs should be more interested in trying to find more competition at their level instead of Seattle Pacific dropping gymnastics, which ultimately led to Alaska dropping gymnastics, I think due to Alaska losing its lone easy trip. This is incumbent on coaches, honestly, and not ADs who are looking simply at bottom line. It’s easier for an AD to cut than justify an add.
    SPU could find other schools and encourage participation. This is what’s happening in Acro and Tumbling. NCATA and the Baylor and Oregon coaches are actively selling A&T to college ADs. It’s in their best interest. That’s what Big 10 schools need to be doing on the men’s side. Find nearby schools with access to clubs to train and try to make it inexpensive. But Title IX comes into problems with adding men’s sports.

    I jokingly told Byron Knox at Southern Connecticut that he needed to add a men’s program after moving over there so my son would have a place to go when he graduates in 8 years.

    As far as Bridgeport is concerned, I’ve had an e-mail conversation with the president of Goodwin College (who is purchasing Bridgeport), take it for what it’s worth, but this is what he’s said, “Goodwin is currently working collaboratively with your team coaches to design an athletics budget that will begin in 2021 and be sustained well into the future. We will be testing each sport’s budgets over the next week or so, and we have some hurdles still to cross. But it is our hope that we can announce very soon that we can commit to applying to NCAA to adopt (and perhaps expand) the current athletics programs as soon as the COVID-19 crisis ends.”

    It doesn’t bode well for Bridgeport that Byron Knox left and five athletes transferred out and there is no messaging. All of Bridgeport athletics is on furlough right now. I do think if they were definitely dropping athletics, they would have already done so after the school’s fall sports were cancelled. Might as well just be done at that point instead of having a spring season and be done at that point.

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