College Athletics: Athletes thrown for loop by numerous program cuts

DAVE PURPURA
dpurpura@thisweeknews.com
Olentangy Orange graduate Alex Kenish competes in the Division I state cross country meet last fall. Kenish, who is entering his freshman season at the University of Akron on a track and field scholarship, also was planning to compete in cross country before the program was cut because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Brode White played in just two of the first seven games for the Furman men’s lacrosse team this spring, but the freshman from New Albany felt like he was starting to make his own way in both sports and academics despite the season being canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Then came May 18, when because of pandemic-related budget cuts, White’s team became a victim in a trend of college sports cutbacks across the country.

“I was making a lot of friends. I felt comfortable,” said White, who recorded four shots and one ground ball in limited time. “Now with the seniors getting another (year of eligibility because of an NCAA waiver), it makes it tough to transfer, especially if you want to play Division I again.”

Furman, which also had former New Albany player and freshman Luke Muter on its roster, has been the only Division I men’s lacrosse team to be cut.

>> Part 1: Multitude of programs sidelined amid pandemic <<

In all, 1,217 teams across the country at all levels had their 2020-21 seasons canceled as of July 23, according to mattalkonline.com. A total of 288 teams from Division I to community colleges, 31 of which are in Ohio, have been cut since late March.

At least 40 athletes from the ThisWeek coverage area, including Muter and White, have been affected, although some of them have found new schools at which to compete.

Upper Arlington graduate Anna Marie Reynolds was preparing for her senior tennis season at Wright State when that sport was cut June 3, along with softball and men’s tennis. Reynolds was giving lessons at Swim and Racquet Club when she was called to join a Zoom meeting and heard the news 10 minutes before it was released to the public.

“I didn’t want to teach more. I wanted to go home. I had two hours to go, then I went home and saw my parents and just cried. It was a hard night,” said Reynolds, who considered and rejected the idea of transferring. “I love Wright State. It’s my home. I’ve accepted this but when I go back and see my teammates, it’ll be really hard.”

Olentangy Orange graduate Alex Kenish questioned his commitment to Akron when that school cut men’s cross country, men’s golf and women’s tennis May 14, despite his signing to primarily run in track and field.

“It got me thinking a bit. I was afraid the same thing would happen to track,” said Kenish, who won each of the past two Division I 800 meters indoor state championships and was fifth in the 800 at the outdoor state meet as a junior. “Cross country was never really my main focus. I’m just hoping to go there and do well in the 800 and possibly the (1,600).

“I am worried, because I know Akron has cut a lot. I am hoping to stay there, but we’ll have to see. I didn’t think these (cuts) would happen, but (Orange) coach (Adam) Walters said he could see more of it happening. It’s been happening everywhere, it seems like.”

Kenish, who retained his scholarship because it is for track, plans to run four cross country meets this fall as an unaffiliated competitor.

“Coach Walters and I had the same view – just stick around and see what happens,” Kenish said.

Athletes find new homes, futures

The loss of so many teams created a potential supply-demand issue, with too many athletes who wanted to keep playing now vying for too few spots.

“(The question is) is there room and what is the financial impact?” said Dr. Bonnie Tiell, a sports management professor at Tiffin who has been tracking cuts nationally. “A scholarship that could have gone to an athlete coming out of high school might go to a senior coming from another college instead.”

Former Westerville Central softball star Cami Compson, who helped the Warhawks to their first Division I state tournament as a junior in 2019, had committed to Wright State as a sophomore only to see that program become the only Division I softball team in the country to be cut.

Less than two weeks later, she committed to Pittsburgh with the help of her high school and travel coaches and some Panthers coaches whom Compson had known from their days at Ohio State or Ohio University.

“It was crushing, maybe even more than not getting to play (my senior season at Central), because it was so sudden,” Compson told The Columbus Dispatch. “I’m thinking ‘Now what?’ ”

Recent Dublin Scioto graduate Gavin Wigg, who had signed with the Cincinnati men’s soccer team before it was cut in April, committed to Western Michigan about a month later.

Groveport baseball star Trey Mantle had signed to play at Urbana but was forced to find a new home when the school announced its closure in April. He committed to Bethany College in West Virginia on June 18.

“The (recruiting) process was not fun the first time, and it’s not fun the second time,” Mantle said before committing to Bethany. “With Urbana closing so late, it was hard to find a school that still had some money to give, which plays a huge role in finding a school.”

Some athletes opted not to continue competing. Akron golfer Quinn Patterson, from Upper Arlington, and White were among those who decided to switch schools, as both have returned home and will attend Ohio State in the fall.

“I hate to say I’ve moved on, but I have in a sense because I’ve started to plan for the fall. But the biggest thing … is financially,” Patterson said. “I was in such a great financial position at Akron with a scholarship and now that I lost that and coming to Ohio State, even though it’s an in-state school and not the most expensive place, it’ll be more of a financial struggle for my family and I. We had planned out the next four years. We’d made a budget for everything and made some life decisions. I bought a car.”

White said high school athletes will have to work harder to play in college because fewer opportunities are available.

“It’s going to get tougher,” he said. “If football season doesn’t happen, a lot of colleges run with their revenue from football so there could be more trouble. It might be the first step in a domino effect. You don’t know, so you just keep training in case something good happens.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave