A year later, woman rowing is still looking for sudden cut answers – The Daily Aztec

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It’s been a year since San Diego State announced that the women’s rowing team would be removed from an official sport after the 2020-2021 season.

A team that added 34 of 44 rowers to the purely academic team of the American Athletic Conference in its final season – the second most popular in team history – no longer exists.

At first it was not planned to give up a sport. Athletics director John David Wicker said in an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune that there was no intention of dropping SDSU sports teams.

“At the moment we don’t want to give up any sport,” said Wicker in an April 15 article in the Union Tribune. We feel like we’re in a pretty good place. “

Months later, Wicker and the Athletics Department made the decision to allow women to row, citing the financial constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to respect gender equality as required by Title IX shorten.

An open letter from the athletics department to the SDSU community supported their decision.

“Ultimately, a number of factors, including financial sustainability and gender equality, drove this decision. The need to realign the student-athlete population to better match the gender makeup of the entire institution has been a leading factor, “the letter reads. “The current financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an assessment of our sports portfolio in terms of the long-term success of our various sports and the financial sustainability of that success.”

However, the hiring of women rowing, one of many Division 1 sports programs to be canceled across the country, is not as black and white as it may seem.

The athletics department’s initial message to all teams followed the early thought process that SDSU did not think of cutting sports teams. This message was repeated during a series of meetings with staff, coaches and teams.

Then came November 2020 and out of the blue, according to some athletes and coaches, an early morning text message was sent to a team captain regarding a mandatory team briefing with athletics on the same day, in which all members of the team were involved.

“It was like texting at 9:30 in the morning,” said one rowing athlete. “Then they get in and JD Wicker reads a prompt on a Zoom call … completely dodged every single question we asked.”

This athlete asked for anonymity to protect his athletic career.

Shortly after the meeting, the San Diego Union-Tribune published an article about the team’s dismissal. Initially, coaches weren’t available to speak to the press, but head coach Bill Zack voluntarily reached out to the Union-Tribune for clarification.

“I took it upon myself to email Mark Zeigler and say I’m available, here is my email address and here is my phone number,” said Zack. “He called me and actually gave me a lot more background information, he knew a lot more about the process, the decision and the rationale than anything I’ve ever been told.”

The announcement coincided closely with the National Letter of Intent Signings in the fall. The NLIs were not deployed as planned, with the administration ensuring the coaches and recruits that they would be deployed at a later date.

After a while, Zack and the parents of the recruits protested against the waiting time and finally put pressure on the SDSU to finally send the NLIs to the recruits.

However, this was not the end. The players were promised that the scholarships would remain intact over the next four school years and that they would continue to have priority access to classes despite their status as athletes.

This, too, was a struggle for preservation. Shortly after National Girls and Women in Sports Day, the players learned in a nightly email that they had lost access to priority registration for classes.

Unfamiliar with the email, Zack said he found out instead the morning after when the active team members, emotionally, showed it to him after receiving the email the previous evening.

“I think that was the most annoying thing for women,” said Zack. “They already felt, I would say undervalued but not appreciated, that their team was being cut.”

Viewing the distance as the school showing less support, Zack said he had reached out to former rowing commissioner Jenny Bramer to reverse the decision. Eventually the school gave in, giving back priority access and some full or slightly reduced scholarships to the athletes.

“The question of the whereabouts of the scholarship for those who were already enrolled at SDSU and in the team is unclear,” Zack said in an email. “At one point the AD (Athletics Director) stated that those who received a full scholarship would no longer receive the cost of the scholarship attendance grant. They traced that back to objects of mine. “

According to the athletes, poor communication was a key factor in the numerous questions the athletes had, which led some to wonder if the university was even looking after their plight.

“At my urging, the sports director promised to write an individual letter to each student athlete letting them know what their current scholarship would be and how long it would be valid,” said Zack. “To the best of my knowledge. these letters were never produced. “

These thoughts of uncertainty lasted into the last season. The remaining athletes who did not drop out of the season said they came into their final season to top off their sport with a powerful swan song.

The emotions were still high during and after the season. Even with a schedule of three races – as opposed to a schedule of 10 races (13 counts) in the 2019-2020 season – athletes still found it difficult to row, knowing the end was near.

“I think it was very good at the beginning, it was a very ‘let’s go out with a bang, let’s show the attitude’,” said one player. “Trying to keep that mindset, trying to maintain the intrinsic motivation and drive of this team has been excellent in the past … it’s not ‘for free’ but there is no end result. It was very difficult.”

The team said they tried different ways to revive their team but each attempt was met with the same denial and reaction that the decision made was final.

The University of Connecticut women’s rowing team was also discontinued during the same period. Unlike SDSU, UConn temporarily reinstated their team after athletes and coaches filed a lawsuit alleging the school violated Title IX, a federal law that allows equal access to women in education, including athletics , guaranteed.

The situation at Uconn differs from the SDSU in that an ESPN article detailing the reinstatement showed that UConn had increased attendance to circumvent Title IX laws and the school had participation gaps. UConn’s inflated numbers resulted in fewer scholarships being rewarded, according to the ESPN article.

In an interview with the Union-Tribune, Wicker named the increasing enrollment of men in undergraduate studies – which recorded around 45 percent – as the reason why the SDSU had to take the step.

Under Title IX, universities must meet at least one aspect of a “three-prong test” in order to meet the requirements of Title IX. The most common “trick” is to offer opportunities to participate that are “essentially proportionate” to the full-time students.

However, the Citizens’ Rights Office made a clarification on Title IX in 2003, condemning the truncation of sports teams, men or women, by stating that “nothing in Title IX requires the truncation or truncation of teams in order to comply with titles IX to prove. and that team elimination is a detrimental practice. “

For the time being, the former rowing team only has memories of better days and past races.

When asked for comment, SDSU Athletics declined to comment. Wicker didn’t respond to an email from The Daily Aztec asking for comment.

The SDSU rowing team would train in Mission Bay, which still has a tool shed. (Katelynn Robinson)
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