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Eastern Michigan University will cut four varsity sports

Virginia Gordan
Michigan Radio
EMU VP and Director of Athletics Scott Wetherbee becomes emotional as he announces cuts.

Softball, wrestling, men's swimming and diving, and women's tennis are the four varsity sports at Eastern Michigan University that have been scheduled for the chopping block at the end of the 2018 spring season. 

According to EMU officials, the move is part of the university's efforts to address serious budget challenges that are in part attributable to declining student credit hour enrollments and steep declines in state appropriations.

After the change, EMU will have 17 sports remaining, seven men's and 10 women's. EMU officials said EMU will remain part of the Mid-American Conference despite the elimination of the four varsity sports.

The action affects 58 male student-athletes and 25 female student-athletes.

At a press conference today, an emotional Scott Wetherbee, EMU vice president and director of athletics, said the university charged his department with cutting its yearly budget by $2 million. He said that's about a 10% reduction to the athletic budget, including salaries, operations, and scholarships.

Wetherbee said in reaching a decision about what sports to cut, officials considered factors like facilities, program costs, endowments, past and potential success, and comparison of sports sponsored by MAC schools.

Wetherbee said helping the affected 83 student athletes is the top priority.

"Obviously this is a low moment in my professional career," said Wetherbee tearfully. "Twenty five years ago, I went through this. They cut my sport. I sat in their seat. So I know exactly how it feels. So it hurts. It hurts a lot."

Wetherbee said EMU will assist the affected student-athletes if they choose to transfer to other schools, and EMU will honor their athletic scholarships if they decide to stay to finish their degrees.

Wetherbee said eight full-time coaches will also lose their jobs at the end of the academic year. 

"I feel handcuffed," said Wetherbee who was hired at EMU eight months ago. "I walked into a terrible situation. I knew the budget was bad. I just didn't know it was going to be this bad."

Wetherbee said EMU's president and board of regents directed him not to trim the football program because "we all agree we want to stay in the Mid-American Conference and want to be an FBS Division 1 football team." 

Judith Kullberg, EMU professor of political science and president of the EMU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, slammed the decision to cut the four sports.

"It's about time that Eastern Michigan University administrators took a hard look at the money we spend on athletics. But today's announcement to cut four sports is the wrong call," said Kullberg in a written statement. "This decision needs further review – not by out-of-touch administrators, but through consultation with students, faculty and staff."

Some EMU faculty and students have called on the university to spend less on football and to drop out of Division 1 football.

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