Almost one week has passed since Athletic Director Joe Hull announced the upcoming closure of the Stern Center pool and the termination of the Swimming and Diving program. In a statement released Friday the 7th, Hull explained that the NCAA Division I teams were being cut due to the insurmountable financial burden of repairing and maintaining the pool. The administration has been concerned about the costs of the facility “for at least 3-4 years. The pool is 40 years old, and a pool of that age requires significant maintenance” Repairs have been made “as needed” and Athletics has spent about $300,000 in recent years on its upkeep. Currently needed repairs include a $1.5 million replacement of the HVAC system. The last renovation of the space was made in 2000 and cost approximately $2 million. Since the announcement, Cougar swimmers both past and present have expressed their intention to raise adequate funds and save their program. However, in his statement to the CisternYard Hull indicated that a reversal of the decision is unlikely. “That repair will restore the climate control, but will do nothing to improve the pool itself,” he said. “We would still be left with a 40 year old pool that will likely need significant repairs and maintenance in the near future.” The College’s program is the first DI swimming program to be on the block since UNC Wilmington in 2013, and follows in the footsteps of former programs at Clemson and the University of Maryland. Hull assured the athletes that the school would honor all of its scholarship commitments and grant releases to students who wish to transfer and compete in the 2015-16 season.
In addition to the cost, the department has stated that the pool serves such a small fraction of the community that it is not worth maintaining. A survey conducted by the administration found that only 200 students, excluding the 49 varsity swimmers and divers, use the pool regularly. Financially, it is insupportable to spend $800,000 annually on maintenance and programming. However, Interim Head Coach Bora Yatagan sees the number differently. “They are estimating…They could be correct for today, but two semesters ago we had swimming classes that allowed for 50 extra students every single day using the pool. We were not allowed to offer classes this semester,” he said in a statement to the CisternYard. He also referenced the large number of people that make use of the pool on a less frequent basis, such as the Club swim team, faculty and students during open lap hours, and student organization events like Greek life philanthropy. “As one of the least active states in the country, it is important for the College of Charleston, a public institution, to offer ways for students to stay active” said Yatagan. He added that “Stern Center Pool is the only recreational facility owned in full by the College of Charleston.”
Diving Coach Stephen Julka stated to the CisternYard last week that “I think the state as a whole would be sad to see this program leave. In a sport that is seeing drastic cuts across the country, the loss of a collegiate athletic program is a loss to the competitive strength of that region.” The cut of CofC’s program leaves USC as the only DI swimming program in the state. “The state, as an important source of funding for our university, should be very reluctant to allow the removal of our program at the College,” Julka added. Interim Head Coach Yatagan elaborated, saying “We have been in conversation with the city council as far as our long term solutions go. It is from there that we will bring this to the state.”
As coaching staff and administration officials debate the future opportunities for recreational and competitive swimming, a vocal body of students have a single message; save the programs. Attempting to gather steam through a Twitter account, @SaveCofCSwimAndDive, current student athletes and swimmer alumni have expressed their never-say-die devotion to the programs. Amidst shock and disappointment after the team was first informed of the cut, junior Nicholas Campbell rallied his fellow swimmers, saying “I’ll fight for you, you fight for me. We’re swimmers.” There are no formal plans for fundraising as of now, Campbell said to the CisternYard, but “we are working with a few accountants on getting that set up.” Joshua Shaffer, a senior on the swim team, posted a petition on Change.Org. In it he writes “Over the past three and a half years, I have made a ‘family’ of goofs, geniuses, first-rate athletes, artists, competitors, idealists, motivators, coaches, advice-givers, my best friends. These people are more than my teammates- they are my life-long comrades.” He concludes saying “I ask that you sign this petition to extend the possibility that young athletes will, one day, be able to find the family they never knew they had as a CofC swimmer or diver.” At last check, the petition has garnered 10,263 signatures and climbing.
As the story has unfolded, emotionally charged for many, rumors and accusations have arisen. Many critics of the decision have questioned the cutting of a varsity program and major facility amidst the infant weeks of the BOUNDLESS campaign, a significant fundraising effort which the College’s website describes as “a comprehensive campaign with the primary goal of raising more than $125 million by June 2016. The funds raised will fulfill immediate and long-term needs across campus.” According to Athletic Director Joe Hull, the Stern pool repairs were never considered for BOUNDLESS funding. Speculation arose that the pool space was going to be repurposed into office and meeting space, but Hull stated “The Campus long term master plan designates that the Stern Center pool area is expected to be converted into space that serves the student body more broadly. I am not aware of any immediate plans to do so.” He also flatly dismissed rumors that swim and dive team budgets would be funneled into the development of a future men’s lacrosse program.