Supporters of Clemson swimming will be making a last-ditch effort Thursday to save the program, which Clemson President James Barker decided to phase out at the end of the 2011-12 academic year.
Barker's decision to cut men's and women's swimming, as well as men's diving, was based primarily on the fact that the school can't afford to build a 50-meter pool facility, which is considered a necessity for the program to be competitive.
Women's diving was spared to satisfy requirements of Title IX, a federal law designed to provide equal athletic opportunities for women in college.
Barker's decision sent shock waves through regional swimming circles, particularly current and past Clemson swimmers and divers and families of those athletes. They responded with letters asking for Barker to reconsider his decision, and created a saveclemsonswimming.org website and a Facebook page with 16,000 followers.
Barker responded with a May 11 letter diplomatically acknowledging the outpouring of support and the contributions of the athletes but stressing that his mind was made up.
"This was a difficult decision. It was not made lightly and it will not be revisited," said Barker in the letter. "We live in a world of real constraints and hard choices. That is as true today for Clemson University as it is for every family and every business enterprise. The pursuit of excellence in one arena requires the setting of priorities and goals that, inevitably, affect other areas of life."
Supporters of the programs -- established at Clemson in 1918 -- countered that, while a 50-meter pool would be beneficial, it is not critical for the program. NCAA meets are held in 25-yard pools, the size of the pool at McHugh Natatorium at Fike Fieldhouse.
On Thursday, current and former swimmers, parents and other supporters plan to ask the Clemson Board of Trustees to consider placing the issue -- specifically reviewing Barker's decision -- on the agenda of its July meeting.
One of the organizers, Adam Tepe, says the program's benefits have ripple effects that may be hard for many to understand. Tepe -- who grew up in Cincinnati, swam for Clemson from 1999 to 2003 and now lives in Columbia -- says the program helps recruit student-athletes with high academic standards and an intense work ethic to the state and take their swimming skills and interest into the communities, which are increasingly in need of people to promote swimming for safety and health reasons.
And while other NCAA schools, such as Syracuse and Duquesne, have cut swim teams, Tepe says that the programs are hallmarks of top public colleges. Of the top 25 public schools in the U.S. News and World Report ranking for 2010, 21 schools had a men's swim team and 23 have a women's program. Other colleges in the state with swimming and diving programs include South Carolina, College of Charleston and Limestone College.