The Future of Collegiate Rowing
Why Administrators Cut Rowing Teams
Over the past few summers, more and more US university athletic departments have come forward to politely and directly announce that their rowing teams have been stripped of varsity status and will only continue as club sports, unsupported by the university’s resources. Unfortunately, Florida Tech’s program has become the latest to join the ever growing graveyard of scrapped collegiate rowing teams. While it may be tempting for outsiders to simply blame budgetary restraints brought about by the lingering impacts of COVID, the root causes and their effects are more complicated. The trend of cut programs continues in the US because of athletics administrative culture. All too often the regional or national image of the university in question is prioritized over the experience of the athletes and students.
Florida Tech’s athletic department has revealed this disconnect in no uncertain terms. In a statement provided to multiple news outlets, Florida Tech’s athletic director Jaime Joss asserted that the decision to cut rowing and four other sports was not motivated by budgetary restraints, but was actually “a strategic decision to deliberately increase competitiveness within the Sunshine State Conference.” His reference to increasing competitiveness is certainly interesting, considering that, just last month, FIT’s men’s team placed fifth at IRAs in the varsity four category and the women’s team was second in their division as recently as 2019, a competitive record any modern program would be proud of. What Joss actually means by “competitiveness” is competitiveness in the regional conference of universities in the state of Florida that prioritize sports such as football. This means that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter how well a rowing team does; as soon as the administrators decide to follow their colleague’s example and streamline their departments to focus resources on whatever sport their local division prioritizes, the rowing team will find itself unsupported. In the administration’s minds, the experience of the athletes now takes a backseat to the image of the university in their local division.
Clearly, this has grim implications for the sport in US collegiate athletics, but all is not yet lost. Although it is difficult to witness administrators cut a team as respected as Florida Tech and openly admit they did it not out of necessity but out of choice, the team will survive under the club status. Club rowing competition can be just as intense and enriching as varsity, although it will be more difficult for the rowers and coaches to maintain the team with significantly less support from the university. Fortunately, this kind of circumstance usually unites the alumni community as well as the entire rowing community. Florida Tech’s situation, in this respect, is no different than the many that have preceded it. Alumni have rallied to petition the administration to reverse their decision and an open petition, linked below, has already garnered thousands of signatures. Although it is unlikely to directly reverse the decision, signing this petition could help send a message to athletic directors and boards of trustees across the nation to prioritize the athletes, not the university’s image. If a future or current collegiate rower in the US comes across this, you’ll have extra incentive to sign because it may only be a matter of time before this situation repeats itself at your program.
words by Junior Rowing News
photo by Roesie Percy