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Appalachian State to cut men's soccer, two other programs

Appalachian State to cut men's soccer, two other programs

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Updates at 7:43 p.m. with new version:

Doug Gillin just made a tough set of decisions and announcements. It was noticeable, even through a computer screen.

As Appalachian State’s athletics director worked through his opening statements, his voice found brief spots to tremble while conveying this afternoon’s difficult news. His department would drop three men's sports  indoor track and field, soccer and tennis  in response to the financial crisis caused by COVID-19 for all of college sports.

“There’s no right answer,” Gillin said when asked why those three programs were cut. “It doesn’t mean that these three sports and these three sports’ student-athletes mean any less to us than the others. That’s part of the pain and the hurt, right?”

The last 45 or so days have featured a lot of tinkering, evaluating and problem-solving, Gillin said. The issue? App State needed to find a way to shave off 20 percent of its athletics budget for the 2021 fiscal year. The solution, however, hasn’t been as easy to pick out.

Gillin mentioned last month that App State had a plan to schedule more locally throughout all its sports. That thoughtful travel budget, as well as the money saved due to the lack spring sports in 2020, would help. Along with the three cut sports, Gillin announced that vacancies in the athletics department would not be filled, and that other personnel actions were being explored.

The three shuttered programs will save athletics around $1 million, Gillin said, a value that will come to fruition in the next two to three years. Gillin said App State would honor the current scholarships of the student-athletes in the three programs, as well as the first year for student-athletes that signed their national letters of intent and expected to join the programs in the fall.

Gillin thinks App State is on the right track of hitting its reduction figure.

“Taking 20 percent, or $5 million, is really really difficult. That speaks to the difficulty of the decision today,” Gillin said. “With that, I believe that we’re almost there in terms of identifying. And we’ve identified, we just have to act on them."

App State goes from 20 sports, with indoor and outdoor track and field programs counted separately, to 17, which is one more than the required FBS minimum. The scholarships for student-athletes of the now defunct programs and recruits who were expected to join in the fall will still be honored.

The men's tennis team featured 10 players, seven of whom were born outside of the continental United States. The men's soccer program features 26 players, seven of whom are international.

Men's tennis was led by Craig Schwartz, who was hired in summer 2018. He was the only coach on salary with the program, working alongside graduate assistant Jack Maddocks. The team was 3-11 this season before the spring sports shutdown, just as the Mountaineers were readying for conference play.

Men soccer saw an uptick in 2019 during its fourth season under Jason O’Keefe. The Mountaineers were 11-7-1, which included a 1-0 win at North Carolina on Oct. 29 on the way to the program's first double-digits win total since 2011. O'Keefe is a Greensboro College alumnus who has coached at his alma mater and at Elon, UNC and Wake Forest in addition to working as a coach for the Twin City Soccer Association in Winston-Salem.

And the removal of the men’s indoor team is a shot to a program that has steadily produced individual and team championships. App State has won 19 men’s indoor championships and 192 individual men’s indoor titles. Damion McLean took over the entire track and field program in 2018, replacing 30-plus year coach John Weaver.

“There’s different ways that you could’ve looked at a sports mix that might have saved more money,” Gillin said. “But when you look at facilities, you look at scholarships, you look at operating budgets, you look at the gender equity within our university  the gender gap continues to grow as well  I think all those facets come into decision making when you look at those sports.”

Near the end of his availability to journalists, Gillin was asked whether App State could potentially make more cuts. Earlier in the conversation, he mentioned that App State had always done more with less. It’s just going to have to do so again, with an even more stringent money figure.

But with that hope also came practicality. And although Gillin feels he has a plan, he also alluded to the fact that stability has been a moving target since this pandemic started. But he was hopeful this would be it.

“We feel comfortable  as comfortable as you can be,” Gillin said. “I would say there’s always risk. The hope, and that’s why we went to 17 and not 16, the hope today was that this would position us to continue to have seven men’s and 10 women’s sports going forward.”


Updates at 4:06 p.m. with new version:

Appalachian State's athletics department will cut three men's programs, making the Mountaineers the latest nationally to deal with financial issues.

The Mountaineers will no longer field programs in men's indoor track and field, men's soccer and men's tennis.

The programs were notified this afternoon ahead of a 2:30 p.m. head coaches-only meeting and a 3:30 p.m. emergency all-staff meeting. App State officially announced the decisions shortly after.

“This is a very difficult day for the entire App Family,” App State athletics director Doug Gillin said. “Our mission is to guide and support our student-athletes in their quest for excellence, athletically and socially.

"After careful and thoughtful review, we determined that we could no longer sustain 20 program offerings in a fiscally responsible manner. Since the move to FBS, App State has sponsored the most sports in the Sun Belt and among the most in the Group of Five. This will bring us in line with most of our peer institutions."

The cuts are part of a larger effort by App State to trim 20 percent, or roughly $5 million, off its athletics budget for the 2021 fiscal year. On top of the shuttered programs, Gillin also announced that the athletics department would not fill current vacancies. He also said App State is also exploring additional personnel moves.

App State goes from 20 sports, with indoor and outdoor track and field programs counted separately, to 17, which is one more than the required FBS minimum. The scholarships for student-athletes of the now defunct programs and recruits who were expected to join in the fall will still be honored.

The men's tennis team features 10 players, seven of whom were born outside of the continental United States. The men's soccer program features 26 players, seven of whom are international.

The men’s tennis program is led by Craig Schwartz, who was hired in summer 2018. He was the only coach on salary with the program, working alongside graduate assistant Jack Maddocks.

The team was 3-11 this season before the spring sports shutdown, just as the Mountaineers were readying for conference play.

Men soccer saw an uptick in 2019 during its fourth season under Jason O’Keefe. The Mountaineers were 11-7-1, which included a 1-0 win at North Carolina on Oct. 29 on the way to the program's first double-digits win total since 2011. O'Keefe is a Greensboro College alumnus who has coached at his alma mater and at Elon, Carolina and Wake Forest in addition to working as a coach for the Twin City Soccer Association in Winston-Salem.

The Sun Belt sponsored a modified, six-team version of the conference for men’s soccer. Only four of the teams were from football-playing members: App State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia State and Georgia Southern.

Men’s soccer was a regional power for App State in the 1970s and early 1980s. During that stretch, the Mountaineers won 10 Southern Conference championships and appeared in four NCAA Tournaments.

The program also sports the NCAA’s all-time scoring leader, Thompson Usiyan. The Nigerian forward scored 109 goals and 255 points, both still NCAA Division I records, in his 49-game career from 1976 to 1980.

And the removal of the men’s indoor team is a shot to a program that has steadily produced individual and team championships. App State has won 19 men’s indoor championships and 192 individual men’s indoor titles. Damion McLean took over the entire track and field program in 2018, replacing 30-plus year coach John Weaver.

This is a developing story and will be updated.


Appalachian State's athletics department will cut three men's programs, making the Mountaineers the latest nationally to deal with financial issues.

The Mountaineers will no longer field programs in men's indoor track and field, men's soccer and men's tennis.

The programs were notified this afternoon ahead of a 2:30 p.m. head coaches-only meeting and a 3:30 p.m. emergency all-staff meeting. An official announcement is expected to follow. 

Appalachian State goes from 20 sports, with indoor and outdoor track and field programs counted separately, to 17, which is one higher the minimum required for the FBS level. 

The App State men's tennis team features 10 players, seven of whom were born outside of the continental United States. The men's soccer program features 26 players, seven of whom are international. 

East Carolina last week announced cuts of four programs: Men's and women's tennis and men's and women's swimming and diving.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

ejoyce@wsjournal.com

@EthanJoyceWSJ

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