In a move that sent a chill through the American soccer community, the University of Cincinnati announced Tuesday that it is discontinuing its men's soccer program.
The fear that it is
the first of many non-revenue programs, especially vulnerable men's soccer programs, to be dropped with the fallout from the economic hit that college athletic programs have taken because of the
cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament and the possibility that the 2020 college football season will be cut back or canceled.
"This was a difficult
decision," Cincinnati athletic director John Cunningham
said in a statement, "but one made with the long-term interests of UC Athletics at the forefront. During this time of profound challenges
and widespread uncertainty, I have engaged in a comprehensive and thorough review of UC's sport offerings and long-term budget implications of supporting the number of student-athletes currently at
Cincinnati is a member of the American Athletic Conference in which eight men's soccer programs operated in 2019. Ten of the 12 AAC universities -- all but Tulane and Wichita State
-- offer women's soccer as a varsity sport. The conference has teams spread across the country from UConn in New England to Houston in Texas.
Cincinnati started men's soccer in 1973. In
its 47 seasons, it advanced to the NCAA Tournament only twice, in 2003 and 2006, under Hylton Dayes
. In March, Dayes stepped down as head coach, having accumulated a 140-170-45 record in 19
that the men's soccer program
had operating losses of $726,498 in 2019, according to its most recent NCAA financial report.
American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco
said Cincinnati's decision to
drop men's soccer was something the university was already considering before the pandemic.
"It's a concern, though in talking with them, this is something they might have done, even
without the pandemic," Aresco told ESPN's The Paul Finebaum Show
. "Their soccer program was a concern to them. They wanted to devote more
resources to other sports, to their student-athletes. They felt they could do more if they didn't have soccer."
Yahoo Sports reported
that men's soccer was on shaky ground because if Cincinnati
ever moved to the Big 12, as has been rumored for many years, it would be to a conference that doesn’t offer men’s soccer. (Only one of the Big 12's 10 full members has men's soccer: West
Aresco said the AAC has the reserves and credit to absorb a short-term hit caused by the immediate economic fallout of the pandemic crisis, but he talked about doing everything
possible to save the 2020 college football season, even playing it in the winter and spring of 2021.
"If there is no football," he told Finebaum, "everything changes."
Sports reported that the commissioners of the AAC, Mountain West, MAC, Sun Belt and Conference USA -- known as the "Group of Five" with second-tier FBS programs -- are seeking a change in NCAA rules
that would allow them to reduce the number of sports programs they are required to offer in order to save money.
“I think now that Cincinnati just did it, watch the next
month,” an unnamed athletic director from an FBS school told Yahoo Sports. “They cleared the way for other people to do it. Cincinnati puts it on a different level. Unfortunately,
you’re going to start to see it. When you have to right-size everything, that’s going to become a way out for a lot of these programs.”