Daily Egyptian

Budget impasse threatens men’s and women’s tennis

Then-SIU men's tennis coach Dann Nelson draws a diagram for his players Sept. 17, 2013 during practice at University Courts. (Daily Egyptian file photo)

Then-SIU men's tennis coach Dann Nelson draws a diagram for his players Sept. 17, 2013 during practice at University Courts. (Daily Egyptian file photo)

By Sean Carley, @ScarleyDE

The Illinois budget issues that have plagued public universities could threaten one of SIU’s longest-running athletic programs.

Men’s and women’s tennis could possibly be eliminated next season under Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed FY17 budget, according to an email sent by SIU President Randy Dunn. The men’s tennis team has competed since 1924 while the women have competed since 1974. 

Cutting the two programs would save the school $688,000 and those are the only explicit mentions about athletics in the proposed cuts.

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MORE: SIU Basketball amid budget issues, to decline postseason invites

Officials at SIU-Edwardsville announced in February it would cut men’s tennis and women’s golf at the end of the school year.

Saluki senior Jonny Rigby expressed his concern about the future of the program and said he wasn’t informed of Dunn’s proposal.

“On my part it was frustrating hearing about it from [the Daily Egyptian],” he said. “It would have been nice for someone who’s making the decisions to talk to us because it affects other people’s lives.”

If the teams are cut, a combined 17 players, 10 of whom are international, and two coaches will be without a sport or job.

Director of Athletics Tommy Bell said Dunn’s proposal is just an early discussion and not an official plan of action.

“We would do everything possible to reduce spending rather than cut a sport,” he said. “We’ve already taken cuts from the appropriated funds and done some belt-tightening.

Because of Title IX, if a men’s sport is cut a women’s sport must be cut, and vice versa.

Bell stressed that the athletic department has not made its own proposal on how to deal with the budget crisis, and creating one is an ongoing process.

The key to the ongoing process is finding a sustainable solution. Bell said that whatever cuts and arrangements are made cannot be one-year fixes.

With men’s and women’s tennis failing to generate revenue, according to information obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request, the teams seem like easy targets to be cut. But Rigby said there’s more to the sport than money.

“We know we’re not like basketball where everyone is crazy about you, but we worked our entire lives for this,” he said. “We worked 110% to bring everything we got to the program. It would be a real disappointment to have everything we worked for go away.”

Both tennis teams hold a winning record to this point in the season. The men’s tennis team has won eight matches in a row and is 8-1 overall while the women’s team is 8-6.

Rigby, the lone senior on the team, is second all-time at SIU with 128 total wins between singles and doubles. He and his doubles partner, junior Michal Kianicka, are ranked No. 47 nationally.

“This has been the best four years of my life,” he said. “I got an education that’ll last me for the rest of my life. It’s frustrating to know others may miss out. It’d be really sad to have this be the end of it.”

The men’s tennis team has one NCAA championship, which it won in 1964, as well as 16 conference championships. The women’s team has also had a successful history with two team conference championships and 24 individual conference champions.

Rigby said it’s too early in the process to organize any form of protest or plea to the university, but hopes officials can find other ways to cut spending.

“This is our lives,” he said. “I don’t know the other ways the university to save money, but if the university knew the people involved then they I think they would think twice because it’d be a good program to have.”

Men’s tennis coach Dann Nelson would not comment on the proposal, and women’s coach Audra Anderson could not be reached. 

Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3307.

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