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Charlotte 49ers AD Hill: School's sports programs are safe from cuts
COVID-19 adds budget pressures on colleges
 
Published Monday, June 1, 2020 9:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | PAUL WILLIAMS III
Charlotte Athletics Director Mike Hill said the school isn't cutting sports despite financial pressures brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. East Carolina and Appalachian State, both Division I FBS programs like Charlotte, have announced multiple cuts to its sponsorship of sports.

Charlotte 49ers men’s soccer will not be a COVID-19 casualty.

As programs across the country discontinue sports to cut costs caused by the pandemic, the school’s 18 sponsored sports are safe. By mid-June, athletic director Mike Hill expects football and men’s and women’s basketball players will be participating in voluntary workouts. Student athletes in the other 15 sports will be able to return for voluntary workouts a few weeks later.

“Over the course of the next two weeks, we’ll be communicating with our student athletes and in particular the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams, because they’ll be able to return for voluntary workouts,” Hill said. “The NCAA, a week and a half ago, voted to permit voluntary workouts to begin starting June 1. We are not bringing student athletes back that quickly. We have some protocols that we want to make sure are in safe for their safety and for our staff’s safety, and we’ll get them back here, and make sure it’s done in a very safe manner—in a way that is also well communicated to them and to their families, because we know that there’s a lot of maybe anxiety in terms of how people are going to manage this in terms of protocols and testing and physicals and the like. All of that is information that is being finalized actually this week that will be communicated to them.”

Hill said the school did not want to bring all 400 student athletes back at once. Instead they will allow them to return in phases, as North Carolina remains in phase 2 of reopening. Phase 3 is scheduled to begin on June 26. 

“If anything we’ll probably be overcautious and extra conservative on the front end and see how well we’ll manage that,” Hill said. “These are decisions we’re making not in a small room with three or four people, but we’re involving medical personnel, campus emergency management team, and our student athletes in fact have had a chance to weigh in on this as well, because they are the ones who will be living it every day. We wanted to make sure they have a comfort level.”

Last month East Carolina announced it would drop from 20 sports to the Football Bowl Subdivision minimum of 16, cutting women’s swimming and diving as well as men’s and women’s tennis. FBS schools must sponsor a minimum of eight women’s and six men’s sports. Appalachian State went from 20 programs to 17 through elimination of men’s soccer, tennis and indoor track and field. Both schools expect to save roughly $5 million each through the elimination of these programs.

“My heart goes out to those teams at App State and also at East Carolina, and to my friends who run those programs,” Hill said. “Doug Gillin (ASU) and Jon Gilbert (ECU) are both really good friends. They do a great job, and it’s unfortunate that they had to go through this. They’re not alone. There are schools across the country who have been in that situation. It’s important to understand the difference in each program, and why maybe they’re in that position and we’re not. Both of those schools sponsored more sports than we have here at Charlotte. I believe both of them may have been at 20. We’re at 18. That’s a big difference right there. The minimum number of sports you must sponsor to be at the Football Bowl Subdivision level is 16. They had to make some decisions about sports that were there when they arrived, and I know it was extremely painful. I talked to both of them and I feel for them. I feel for those athletes, and I feel for the coaches. It’s where we find ourselves in the state of college athletics today.”

Charlotte’s operating budget for fiscal year 2020 was $34.5 million. Hill said they will see a 10% overall budget cut for FY2021, a decrease which should not impact their ability to compete for championships. Charlotte lost nearly $930,000 due to the cancelation of the NCAA basketball tournament. Transitioning to online classes cost just short of $1 million in athletic fees. The program was also hit with other smaller budgetary cuts, such as the cancelation of their annual auction, which typically provides the department with $250,000. However, they did save on travel due to canceled seasons.

 “We have felt it’s important during this crisis to involve our head coaches on a regular basis in our decision making so they have an understanding of the landscape of where we are financially and also some of the other strategic moves we’re having to make, because they need to be invested in this as well, and they need to have an understanding of how serious this is, and also be a part of the solution,” Hill said. “This is difficult stuff. There is no road map for this, and everyone in the country is in the same boat—whether you are in college athletics or private business or whatever it may be. No one has gone through this before. We have to have all the best minds of our organization together to help lead us through this. I’m really encouraged. I’m optimistic about where we’re going to be. I think we have a chance to really emerge as an even better and stronger athletic program, to continue the momentum that we had when this crisis first hit.”

The fall semester has been pushed back from Aug. 24 to Sept. 7. What that means for fall sports remains to be seen. Seeing seasonal rivals like App State’s men’s soccer cut emphasizes the situation forced by the pandemic.

“It certainly is bringing home the gravity of the situation,” 49ers men’s soccer coach Kevin Langan said. “Even if we do get back and get started, what would that look like? We’d try and be extremely competitive and driving the players to achieve all they can achieve, and are we going to get a chance to do that this year or next year or the year after? It’s the gravity of the situation in terms of programs getting cut, but also for programs who are fortunate like ourselves to be in a good situation, what will the future look like, in terms of a competitive sport?”

Meanwhile Langan and the 49ers staff have kept in constant contact with their players. Like many, they believed COVID-19 would be a short-term inconvenience. That was in March. Then the USL League Two season, which many of their players participate in, was canceled over the summer. Now Langan is preaching “control what we can control,” encouraging the players to use this time wisely and continue to develop as athletes. Players are encouraged to study the game until they return.

“We will be back playing at some point, and we’re making sure when we are, we’ve not wasted our time,” Langan said. “Our take on it is there are two types of programs, the programs that come out of it in a much worse situation and there are programs who come out of it and they are going to be better players for it.”

 

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