USF Discontinues Tennis Programs

Dons tennis players’ scholarships will still be honored if they elect to stay at USF. Pictured: Moritz Hoffmann. Photo courtesy of Chris M. Leung/Dons Athletics.

Image by Chris M. Leung for USF Dons Athletics

On Friday, Apr. 5 in an email addressed to the USF community, university administration announced the discontinuation of the Dons men’s and women’s tennis programs, effective at the end of this season, on Apr. 27.

The letter was sent by both Vice President of Business and Finance Charlie Cross and Athletic Director Larry Williams. The email cited “taking steps to become more efficient and implement cost savings due to enrollment shortfalls” and “the significantly expanded support services required for NCAA Division I competition” for the programs’ discontinuation.

The tennis programs consist of 16 players and four coaches total, and for those players who are on scholarship, Cross and Williams stated that their scholarships will be honored if they decide to stay at USF. 

Cross and Williams stated, “USF’s tennis programs have represented the university exceedingly well over many decades. Our campus community and alumni are proud of the current teams and their hard work, commitment and achievements in Division I and West Coast Conference (WCC) competition.”

Tennis has had a lengthy history on the Hilltop. The men’s tennis program won one of USF’s 10 NCAA championships in 1949, and the women’s tennis team has been competing since 1987. From 2008 to 2010 the women’s team featured three-time consecutive WCC Champion Jennifer Heinsner.

Today, according to Williams and Cross, it costs more than $1 million annually to operate the programs. They stated that the money saved from the programs’ discontinuation will be put back into the university’s general fund, and the university “does not anticipate discontinuing any other Division I sports at this time.”

In an interview with the Foghorn, Williams spoke on the process of deciding which program would be cut, without disclosing which programs were being considered.

“You have to play basketball to be a Division I school so you can’t look at that one if you’re still committed to Division I,” he said. “But some of the other [teams] did make it on the list for consideration and we looked at a large number of different factors.”

USF does not have adequate on-campus facilities for tennis which results in the tennis programs having to practice and compete off-campus, usually at Golden Gate Park or the California Tennis Club.

“On-campus facilities and interaction with the campus life…that’s one of [the factors] and the fact that we are paying for transportation to another spot that we have to rent, you know, makes some of the programs… have less of a connection,” Williams said. “So, ultimately tennis emerged as the sport that probably had the least fit in all of our array. And, unfortunately, it was the one that was selected.”

As for the coaches, Williams added, “I will say that the university is being very fair with [the coaches] in helping them with the transition.”

The women’s team is led by Head Coach Peter Bartlett who is currently in his 26th season, and the men are led by third-year Head Coach JT Sundling. Bartlett also served as the men’s coach from 1997 to 2013.

“Much like we have honored the scholarship commitments, for the student-athletes, we will honor the contractual obligations that we have to [the coaches],” Williams said. 

Senior tennis player, Moritz Hoffmann, recounted the events leading up to his notification of the programs’ discontinuation.

“We got an invoice at 7 p.m. on Thursday, that we should all show up in the media room, but the reason why was not said,” Hoffmann said. “Then we showed up the next day at 8:30 a.m.… and then they let us know that the program was going to be discontinued.” 

Hoffmann said that the email to the USF community was sent just 30 minutes after the team’s meeting.

Regarding the announcement’s timing, Williams said, “I made the decision to announce it now before the end of the season so that players that desire to transfer to another school, have an opportunity to get in the portal now and start examining other options. I didn’t want to make commitments to incoming recruits, and I didn’t want to harm the current students who might want to transfer out.”

The WCC Championships are quickly approaching on Apr. 25, and the men’s tennis team is leaning on each other for support.

“Right now, the locker room feeling is – I mean, we’re all down,” Hoffmann said. “It’s sad to see that we aren’t gonna be able to continue but at the same time, I feel like as a team, we came closer together to get over this hump together. We try to…make the last few weeks memorable for all of us. That’s the main goal that we have.”

On Apr. 6, a day after the discontinuation was announced, the men’s team swept the University of California, Santa Cruz Banana Slugs 7-0 in Santa Cruz. On the same day, the women’s team lost to the Santa Clara University Broncos 4-3 in Santa Clara. The men’s team currently holds a conference record of 0-5 and an overall record of 6-11, while the women’s team is 0-3 in WCC play and 3-11 overall.

Hoffmann said, “I think it is sad to see that there was such little communication and that…we weren’t really given a chance… to prove ourselves to show that we can, for example, lower the costs, because that’s always a possibility.”

He continued, “[I wish we were] given a chance to show that we’re valuable assets to the community…because I think everybody that ever came out to a tennis match knows the environment and knows that it’s just fun to be there.”

Editor-in-Chief: Megan Robertson, Chief Copy Editor: Sophia Siegel, Managing Editor: Jordan Premmer, Sports Editor: Chase Darden

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