COLUMBIA — The pandemic has affected every college athletic program, with South Carolina projected to face an estimated $58 million loss from its previous budget. Athletics director Ray Tanner has repeatedly said cutting sports is the last thing he wants to do and the Gamecocks thus far haven’t.
USC president Bob Caslen echoed that sentiment during a Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday.
“One of the options was to cut teams, like the equestrian team, the swimming team(s), the men’s soccer team, like Clemson did,” Caslen said. “Intercollegiate athletics at this level is so tremendously important, not only to our university, but to bring people together. But it’s also so important to our athletes that have incredible talents, and they’re using their talents for the betterment of their education. And what a great thing that is.”
It was the first time anyone associated with USC had mentioned specific sports under consideration for closure. Those sports encompass approximately 139 student-athletes.
Clemson recently cut its men’s track and field program, plus cross country, as a result of the pandemic. Many other schools have shuttered their non-revenue sports as well.
“In the end we may have to do it, but I just wanted to share with you my own personal story about NCAA athletics and my participation in that and how important I think it is for our athletes,” Caslen said.
Many immediately took to social media to point out that USC is on the hook for a buyout to fired football coach Will Muschamp. That price tag, while still being negotiated, could be as much as $15.8 million and that’s not including his staff, nor the cost of hiring new coach Shane Beamer and his staff.
That money, many reason, could be used to save those sports, but it’s not that simple. First, those four sports were under discussion to be cut long before Muschamp was fired, sources told The Post and Courier. Second, if Muschamp’s buyout money was entirely funded by private donors, it wouldn’t have any further drain on athletic finances.
What is draining is the COVID-affected lack of football revenue. USC played five home games at 15 percent capacity, instead of seven home games near 100 percent. It’s the equivalent, Caslen said, of playing one home game all year.
Yet he and Tanner each competed in college sports. Tanner played baseball at N.C. State and Caslen played football at Army. They each know the value of being a student-athlete.
“I had to ask myself, ‘What’s the difference between a woman diver on the 10-meter board, ready to do a triple flip, than the starting quarterback of the Gamecock football team?’” Caslen said. “She’s using her talent for the betterment of herself, for her future, she’s getting an education because of her talents. She’s doing this for the teams, doing this for the university and for the community. So why would we want to deprive her of that tremendous opportunity?
“And I wouldn’t. If it was up to me, I’d want to try and expand that.”