End of the Road for College of Charleston Swimming Program

College of Charleston Swimming
College of Charleston Swimming

Commentary by Jeff Commings

TUCSON – A lot of collegiate conference championships are taking place this week across the United States, and, for all the wrong reasons, the one that is at the forefront of my mind is the Colonial Athletic Association’s championships.

The College of Charleston swimming teams, conference champions in 2008, 2009 and 2012, will start the meet tomorrow with a heavy heart, as it will be the final competition for the school’s swimming and diving programs. Though the teams’ existence after this season had been set in stone since the athletic department announced the cut last November, a group of very dedicated alumni did everything in their power through the winter to keep the program running.

At issue was the campus pool where the team trains and holds swim meets. The Stern Center pool was in need of more than $1.5 million in repairs, more than the university felt was necessary to keep a Division I program alive. The community rallied by trying to raise money and support to build a new pool, but that did not reach the needed goal. Last weekend, the athletic department told the swimmers, divers, coaches and team supporters that all appeals to save the programs have run out, and Saturday will be the last day a swimmer will officially represent the College of Charleston. The only good news is that the athletes keep their scholarships.

Bailey Clark, a 2010 graduate, had this to say about the news:

I am disappointed in the college – they let their students, alumni and community down. The hardest part is that we still have no clear explanation as to why such a successful program has been cut. Even when we provided numerous solutions to the college’s administration for reinstatement, our efforts have gone unfounded.

It’s heartbreaking for me to come to terms with this decision – to think that all the experiences I was lucky enough to have with this program, all the valuable life lessons I learned, and the familial bonds I still have with those I shared that pool with, have been erased from the realm of possibility for others, truly saddens me. And, what’s worse is that this will continue to be a problem across the country, not only for swimming and diving, but for other Olympic sports as well. The bigger picture here is the corrupt world of college athletics, and this needs to be a wake up call — something has to change.

Though Charleston’s swimming and diving teams do not make an impact on the national scale, the team seems to be one of the saving graces for local swimmers looking to compete for a Division I college team in their home state. Looking at this year’s roster, nine of the men and seven of the women hail from South Carolina. Five come from neighboring states North Carolina and Georgia. While these kids would still have had options if the College of Charleston didn’t exist, the reduction of options by one is heartbreaking and unnecessary. And to widen the scope to the entire nation, every time a collegiate swimming and diving team is cut, no matter its level of success, it makes every collegiate swimming and diving program vulnerable.

Times are indeed tough for collegiate sports (Click here to learn more) and swimming and diving is always in the crosshairs. Athletic directors will be facing increasing expenses very soon as football and basketball athletes will start demanding a paycheck. A revamp of the NCAA scholarship structure will be a major burden on the bottom line. An average swimming and diving team could cost an athletic department an additional $1 million each year. Since most collegiate swimming and diving programs do not earn enough money each year to be self-sustaining, these program tend to be at the top of the list when cutbacks are required.

If you are an athlete or coach on a collegiate swimming and diving team that has won NCAA titles, or has a decades-long streak of conference championships, don’t think that what’s happening to the College of Charleston won’t happen to you – unless your team has a hefty endowment that pretty much guarantees survival. When this season started, the 48 swimmers and divers at the College of Charleston didn’t think it would happen to them. Neither did the men’s team at UCLA in 1994 after placing in the top five at the NCAA championships.

I don’t have an immediate solution to the problem. Money is a pretty good Band-Aid, as USA Swimming and the CSCAA are doing, but what amount will keep the problem at bay? Signing petitions shows that there is support, but they rarely sway opinion. We can come up with a solution, one that will keep athletic directors from writing “swimming and diving” at the top of their execution lists.

Need some motivation to join the cause? Think about the Charleston freshmen about to swim in their first and only conference championship this week.

David Rieder contributed to this article.

23 Comments
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7 years ago

Really disappointing.

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7 years ago

Boo. I was hoping Elena and Cam would go there and the two of us would visit them in Charleston every weekend! 🙂 In all seriousness, that sucks.

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7 years ago

Can they airlift the empty pool to Boulder, Colorado? Leadership on many levels, including the school district and city and county leadership here, is too narrow-minded to understand a need and address it. Surveys, studies, whatever… It’s only been 24+ years since the issue was first raised (officially)…yet nothing for a real (and self-proclaimed) athlete/triathlete haven in the U.S. People spend millions coming here to train and we have facilities for the taxpayers, students and athletes that are woeful. No excuse. Also, the BVSSL needs to kill their summer league no-association rule, too. It’s as counterproductive to the sport of swimming as anything to have ever issued from the Republic, and is routinely abused with private lessons and workouts – a complete joke. Johnny/Mimi does not need to win a ribbon because you have removed his/her competition. That’s not what this sport is about. Now, about that pool…

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7 years ago

The sad thing is, swimming seems to always be on the chopping block. As a parent of a swimmer, it is harder every day to have confidence in college selection when it seems that swimming is not a “money” sport and like this program, can be cut in a heartbeat. Sad for those swimmers indeed.

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7 years ago

This is so sad!

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Another school drops swimming

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7 years ago

Very sad to read and my heart aches for those swimmers and families who put great effort into choosing a college program that was a good fit. As a mom of twin daughters who are high school sophomores and hope to swim in college, the inference that many other programs may be cut is quite unsettling.

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Brian Rauscher
7 years ago

Thanks for the article, Jeff. A sad day for Charleston and the whole swimming community. I wouldn’t have gone to CofC if it weren’t for the swim team, and I think that holds true for many, many swimmers there over the years. To think that winning conference championships, bringing in quality student-athletes from around the country, and maintaining one of, if not the, highest team GPAs every semester just means nothing to the administration.

Perhaps the saddest part of all is that the pool is named after a former CofC President and alternate for the 1932 US Olympic Swim Team – Theodore Stern.

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7 years ago

Sad

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7 years ago

That is sad 🙁

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7 years ago

Tragic!

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7 years ago

So sad!!!!!!!!

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7 years ago

So sad that another one bites the dust. Something needs to be done.

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7 years ago

Sad and a huge disappointed for those kids, Division I too. And ditto to Staci.

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7 years ago

Leigh Swisher Bellino

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7 years ago

Leigh Swisher Bellino

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7 years ago

Leigh Swisher Bellino

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7 years ago

GetLivvy WithIt

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7 years ago

Leigh Swisher Bellino

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7 years ago

So sad to see these schools drop their swimming & diving programs! I feel bad for the swimmers & families. I’m not sure about my daughter swimming now. :-/

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7 years ago

Such sad article..

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7 years ago

No! I feel their pain. I was on the Fresno State team when our program was cut in 2003.

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7 years ago

Too bad that a variety of entities couldn’t share the repair cost and the facility to keep it going.