Cuts leave tennis players frustrated, disappointed with athletics department

Men’s tennis was one of three sports proposed for cuts alongside men’s indoor and outdoor track and field and men’s gymnastics.


Image by Courtney Deutz

Fourth-year Jackson Allen returns the ball on Friday, March 22, 2020 at the Baseline Tennis Center.

The annual NCAA compliance meeting for the Gophers’ men’s tennis team started with a good luck message from athletics director Mark Coyle.

A day later, when players found out that men’s tennis would be one of three men’s programs cut by the University, they were shocked.

“I had absolutely no idea,” fourth-year Kaleb Dobbs said. “All that happened was we got an email saying we needed to be on a Zoom call in 45 minutes and it was going to be with our athletic directors, and we had no idea what it was going to be about.”

Men’s indoor and outdoor track and field and men’s gymnastics were also cut by the athletics department. The decision was a result of a projected $75 million loss in revenue for the department. Coyle also said these men’s sports were cut as part of compliance with Title IX as the University’s undergraduate demographics continue to shift.

As the coronavirus pandemic continued to worsen, speculation grew regarding the possibility of program cuts as multiple universities made similar cuts within their athletics programs. Stanford University was one of the first major schools to do so, announcing in early July that the school would be cutting 11 of its varsity sports.

Student-athletes are now left with a dilemma: stay at Minnesota, a place they’ve called home for years, or continue playing collegiate tennis elsewhere. Minnesota will honor the scholarships of any players who choose to stay at the University to earn an undergraduate degree. Men’s tennis has four and a half scholarships available, so most players are on a partial scholarship.

Third-year Sebastian Vile said he and underclassmen do not necessarily want to leave Minnesota but are more than willing to explore their options.

“The younger guys have had conversations,” Vile said. “We all recognize that we don’t want to do college tennis with any other group of guys — we’re all super close. But as much as we want to stay together for college and continue playing tennis together, we have also realized that is no longer going to be an option.”

The news is also disappointing for coaches of the program. Head coach Geoff Young was expected to coach his son Gavin in the 2021-22 season as an incoming first-year. Instead of that opportunity, Young will now be forced to think about what his future in tennis might be, the players said.

The way the athletics department handled the situation frustrated many members of the team. Fourth-year Jackson Allen said the University was using reasons like Title IX or necessary budget cuts as excuses for making the cuts when excessive spending is the issue. Allen also thought the University should have made budget cuts across many sports rather than completely cut the three men’s programs.

Minnesota is saving $2 million in fiscal year 2022 from these cuts, in addition to 10% salary reductions from head coaches P.J. Fleck, Hugh McCutcheon, Lindsay Whalen, Bob Motzko and Richard Pitino along with Coyle and eight position cuts within the department.

“As part of the athletics department, you see the excessive spending every single day,” Allen said. “And when they tell you they have to do it because of financial hardships, you just know it’s not true.”

Specific examples of excessive spending Allen noted included the hotels different teams stay at, the budgets teams have for meals and the private flights available for some programs.

Dobbs was not only disappointed for his teammates and coaches but for other high school tennis players in the Midwest who wanted to play at a school like Minnesota and now have less of an opportunity to do so. Being from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Dobbs said he had always dreamed of playing at a Midwestern Division I school, and being a Gopher was a dream come true.

“I think what really stinks is that any up-and-coming kid who plays tennis and wants to play at that next level, now if they want to play at the top level, they have way less opportunities to do that,” Dobbs said.

If the tennis season is not canceled because of COVID-19, the men’s team will still be able to compete in the spring. Fourth-year players like Allen and Dobbs will try their best to focus on playing at a high level for their final season. As for players who will still have eligibility after this season like Vile, preparing for this season will be unlike any other before.

“Speaking on behalf of all the younger guys, now they either have to quit the sport they came here to play, or they have to pick up and move everything, which is a lot more than people realize,” Dobbs said.