Colorado cuts men’s nationally ranked tennis program
BOULDER ” University of Colorado junior tennis star Eric Molnar won’t have a team to return to when he finishes competing in the NCAA singles tournament at Stanford University later this month.
The Buffaloes’ men’s tennis program officially got the ax Wednesday.
“My heart goes out not only to him but to all of our athletes, students, coaches, former athletes, everyone associated with the program,” athletic director Mike Bohn said after announcing that men’s tennis would no longer exist in Boulder once the NCAA championships are over.
On March 23, Bohn said the program would be cut unless the tennis community could raise $1 million to fund expenses over the next three years. Supporters of the program pledged more than $594,000 as of May 13, of which about $110,000 had been received. That money will be returned and the balance of $483,000 in pledges nullified.
Bohn told The Associated Press the decision to cut the men’s tennis program was strictly financial and that it had nothing to do with former football coach Gary Barnett’s $3 million buyout in December.
“It would be easy to put Gary’s buyout on this, but the financial burden of his deferred compensation was with us whether we made a change or not,” Bohn said. “No, the reason for this was dwindling ticket sales and overall revenue to the department is down.”
The football program, which generates about $8.5 million a year, is the only profitable program at Colorado, Bohn said.
Bohn is still developing a 10-point plan to boost the men’s and women’s basketball programs, an effort that might have hit a snag when it was reported last week that men’s coach Ricardo Patton had delayed informing the school of an incident of alleged sexual harassment within his program.
None of the school’s other 16 sports programs are endangered because the Buffaloes are now at the minimum required to maintain Division 1-A status in the NCAA.
Bohn said it was an “extremely tough” decision to cut the men’s tennis program which had been around since 1914 and was in the midst of its best spring season ever.
Colorado reached its highest national ranking (23rd), recorded its first 20-win season since 1977 and earned its first NCAA tournament berth in eight years. The team defeated Arizona in the opening round before falling to defending champion UCLA.
Coach Sam Winterbotham was recently named the Wilson/Intercollegiate Tennis Association Mountain Region Coach of the Year and co-Big 12 Coach of the Year, and he’ll travel with Molnar, who is ranked 51st in the nation, to the NCAA singles tournament May 24-29 at Stanford.
Molnar is the first Colorado men’s player to participate in the NCAA singles tournament in 10 years.
Any players who choose to transfer to another NCAA school won’t have to sit out a year. Scholarships for any players who choose to stay at Colorado will he honored through their eligibility.
Bohn said he’s trying to do what Pat Richter did at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1990s, when the former athletic director made unpopular moves such as eliminating the Badgers’ storied baseball program in order to save the department from a sea of red ink and empty seats.
That effort worked famously as the Badgers became three-time Rose Bowl winners and sellouts became the norm in football and men’s basketball, sparking a resurgence in both men’s and women’s “non-revenue” sports.
“That’s exactly the model we’re trying to emulate here,” Bohn said. “And as I understand it, season ticket sales and donations took off there after he made some tough cuts there.”
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