ECU announces elimination of four sports as cost-cutting measure

Men's and women's tennis, and men's and women's swimming and diving have been eliminated, leaving the Pirates with only 16 varsity programs, fewest in the American Athletic Conference

A statue of Pee Dee the Pirate watches over ECU's Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (Brett Friedlander/North State Journal)

Following the lead of several other Group of Five schools, East Carolina has announced the elimination of four sports in an effort to cut expenses.

The men’s and women’s tennis and swimming and diving teams have all been eliminated, according to a joint statment issued by interim chancellor Rob Mitchelson and athletic director Jon Gilbert on Thursday. The two later held a press conference to explain the decision and the future direction of the Pirates’ athletic department.

Sixty-seven athletes and eight coaches will be affected by the cuts, based on rosters posted on the school’s athletic website.

“The toughest part about today is informing the coaches and student-athletes through a computer screen,” Gilbert said. “I couldn’t feel what they were feeling. I wanted to tell them in person.

“Implementing these changes, once realized, will save the athletic department $4.9 million. That’s why these tough decisions were made.”

The moves come less than a week after the release of a report by a working group of ECU staff members recommending cuts in athletic spending to counteract revenue shortfalls caused by the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

ECU’s athletic department is projecting a loss of $10 million for the current fiscal year, nearly $3 more than previous estimates before the COVID-19 outbreak forced the cancellation of winter sports championships and the entire spring season.

Thursday’s cuts leave ECU with just 16 varsity sports, the fewest among members of the American Athletic Conference. Its 20 sports were tied for the most in the league.

“This is a painful decision, but it’s simple. ECU does not possess adequate financial resources to support 20 sports programs successfully,” Mitchelson said. “Please understand the decisions today were arrived at after a very deliberate evaluation. No rock was left unturned.”