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The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

‘I’m still shocked’: Utica discontinues four varsity sports

A+Utica+tennis+player+looks+down+during+a+tennis+match.
Kayleigh Sturtevant
A Utica tennis player looks down during a tennis match.

Utica University and former President Laura Casamento on June. 13, discontinued men’s and women’s swimming and diving, women’s water polo, and men’s tennis as varsity sports.

The letter stated that in conjunction with the decision, a committee of trustees, staff, coaches, and student-athletes will formulate plans to repurpose the pool area as part of extensive renovations that will take place within the Clark Athletic Center.  

“We understand that this is difficult news for the current student-athletes who are directly affected as well as their coaches and the alumni who have represented Utica in these four sports over the years,” Casamento said. “The decision to discontinue these programs follows many years of thorough analysis, including in-depth consultation with Title IX experts, and is based on a combination of multiple factors.” 

‘Still Shocked’ 

The decision came months after the University announced the addition of women’s gymnastics and men’s and women’s wrestling to its athletics along with the previous elimination of 13 academic programs.

In 2020, a reported 97 sports were cut from colleges and universities during the pandemic. The university joins Division 3 counterparts SUNY Buffalo State — who on May. 4 announced their decision to cut their swimming and diving programs.

Utica’s head women’s swimming and diving coach Erin Knight had a surprised reaction to news of the program’s discontinuation. 

“I was shocked. I’m still shocked,” Knight said. “I was notified [the week before] then notified my athletic assistant and diving coach.” 

John Nigro, who started the men’s and women’s tennis programs at Utica in 1987, now in his 37th season as head coach said he was notified of the decision before the players on the team but admitted he saw it coming. 

“The sports [have] a food chain,” Nigro said. “… [And] we’re at the bottom.”  

The letter also stated a continuous decline in student interest. Despite new recruiting strategies, the programs did not generate enough enrollment to field a competitive NCAA roster. 

“This is a trend that is not unique to Utica University,” Casamento said. “[It] has spanned many years, and is reflective of decreasing participation in these sports at the high school and junior college levels, especially in the Northeast.”

‘An insulting excuse’ 

In a Zoom meeting held the night before the announcement the players were told that the reason for the aquatics program discontinuation was not due to the “continuous decline in student interest” as the letter stated but because the pool had fallen into “disrepair” conditions and became expensive to repair.

In 2022, the University spent $5,314,467 combined for all sports teams in the latest EADA report. A year prior the school added a new track and field multipurpose turf — a project which cost $3.5 million to complete. 

According to the letter, continuing aquatic sports would require major renovations to the 50-year-old pool. This investment, the former president said, would cost several million dollars along with additional operational costs. 

The discontinuation of the programs leaves the athletes heartbroken. 

“This is an insulting excuse for reasoning when the institution is spending millions on brand new programs,” said Annabelle Workman, a diver on the swimming and diving team. “… Aquatic sports don’t get the attention that many of these other teams do and therefore would be the first choice to go.” 

The players in the meeting made suggestions that the program could be continued without the use of the University’s on-campus pool citing examples that the gymnastics team would be practicing at an off-campus location and proposed a similar arrangement could be made for the swimmers. 

“This [idea] was immediately dismissed,” Workman said. “And a concrete answer was avoided.”  

The athletes were told that they would be able to keep their status as student-athletes — for Workman that’s still not enough. 

“I end my college athletics career feeling utterly disposed of, disregarded, and neglected by an institution that promised to value my talent and made a promise to provide me with the means to cultivate it further,” she said. 

The letter added that the University cannot offer a competitive experience for the programs being discontinued and intends to focus resources in ways that reflect student interest. 

“I strongly believe that this decision honors our longstanding commitment to supporting a strong intercollegiate athletics program and will help fuel our continued success and growth across a broad range of sports in the years to come,” Casamento said. 

Apart from the discontinued sports, the institution has more than 600 student-athletes who compete across 29 other varsity sports. With 10 committed swimmers, the largest recruiting class since the pandemic, it’s still hard to wrap heads around the decision, said senior Kim Serio.

“This past year our team took tremendous positive steps,” Serio said. “Both the men’s and women’s swim teams had winning seasons and fast individual races. So I would even argue that there is an incline in interest.”

Disbelieved by the news, Serio, a member of each women’s aquatic teams started a petition to keep the program alive for one more season, which received 2,339 signatures, 161 shy from its 2,500 goal. The petition got the attention of parents, faculty and the athletes themselves who were scheduled to attend the University. 

“There have been so many people supporting the campaign,” Serio said. “… I think it will be impactful when needed discussions are had.”

The university said it met with the approximate 15 student-athletes who were impacted by the decision and assured them they will continue to support them however they can. As for the coaches of the respective programs, they will remain members of the athletic department. 

Knight, also the aquatics director, now hopes to keep the players involved and said the seniors will be honored at the Hall of Fame dinner in the spring. However, as emotions continue to run high the likelihood of athletes leaving is a possibility. 

“The student-athletes are angry and sad, among a variety of other emotions, and rightly so,” she said. “The younger ones could transfer if they so desire but the upperclassmen are kind of stuck, especially since so many are in physical therapy and occupational therapy or pre-med.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The majority of this article was written on Tuesday, June. 13, 2023, the day of the announcement, when Laura Casamento was still president of Utica University. 

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About the Contributors
Mickale Thompson, Editor-In-Chief
Class Year: Senior Dual Major: Communication and Media & Business Management Previous Position: Contributing Writer (2021), Staff Writer (2021), Special Assignments Reporter (2022), Features Editor (2023), News Editor (2023)
Kayleigh Sturtevant, Multimedia Editor
Class Year: Senior Major: Sports Management Previous Position: Multimedia Editor (Fall 2023)

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