Daily Egyptian

Column: Dawg talk with Dodd

Money didn't kick tennis, soccer did.

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Reagan Gavin | @RGavin_DE

Reagan Gavin | @RGavin_DE

Reagan Gavin | @RGavin_DE

By Nathan Dodd, Sports Editor

Something isn’t adding up in the university’s statements about the tennis and women’s soccer program.

Almost exactly one year ago, SIU made the decision to cut the tennis programs for men and women in order to save money. Now the university plans to add a Division 1 women’s soccer program for the 2019 season.

A more expensive soccer program, that is.

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On March 29, 2017, former tennis coach Judy Auld and former athlete Molly Beckmann filed a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights that alleged Title IX violations after the men’s and women’s tennis teams were eliminated.

After the Daily Egyptian broke the news on Jan. 16 that SIU was found non-compliant with Title IX guidelines and that a soccer program was coming, the athletic department released a public statement.

In that statement, Tom Weber — the athletic spokesman for SIU —  stated, “the initial annual operating budget for the program will be less than $400,000. One-time facility enhancements are expected to cost $100,000 for the purchase of goals, safety netting and additional locker room equipment.”

Those figures look to be a step in the right direction for SIU Athletics. However, the numbers do not add up.

Weber stated that the two tennis programs operated on a $600,000 budget in their final year of existence.

Athletics also claimed that it saved $700,000 due to cuts of the tennis teams and scholarship reductions for swimming and diving.

Here is where it gets fishy.

In a memo obtained by the Daily Egyptian, SIU President Randy Dunn said that keeping women’s tennis — and only eliminating men’s tennis — would only cost the university $350,000 per year.

Dunn also stated in the memo the expected cost of the women’s soccer program would range from $650,000 to $700,000 annually.

If I do the math correctly, that is a significantly larger total than the $400,000 Weber reported.

In last Tuesday’s press release, athletic director Tommy Bell stated the “interest in soccer is at an all-time high.”

Globally, soccer is exploding. In the immediate region, I have my doubts.

Here is where it gets even fishier.

Dunn said Tommy Bell wanted to start a women’s soccer team since he became SIU’s director of athletics in 2015.

Two years later, Bell took the first step in securing his wish by cutting tennis.

“In the end, I am hopeful this did not become a backdoor way to implement a new and more expensive sport without making the case in regular fashion to drop one and start another,” Dunn said in the memo.

The fact that Dunn even mentioned a “backdoor way,” leads me to believe that this is exactly what is happening.

Once again, if I do the math correctly, the timeline states: Bell wants soccer, Bell cuts tennis and Bell gets soccer.

I am sure there is excitement for the new soccer team and the addition is a great opportunity for a new sport to be introduced to southern Illinois.

While SIU needed to do something to reestablish compliance with Title IX, I’m not sure cutting a program to add another was the obvious or ethical choice.

But that is what’s happening.

Whether the soccer team generates revenue remains to be seen. Maybe, in the end, this turns out to be a good move for SIU.

In the meantime, maybe Dunn, Weber and Bell can have a meeting and decide on a “definitive” dollar amount on what the new program will cost.

Sports editor Nathan Dodd can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NathanMDodd.

To stay up to date with all your SIU sports news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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