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Asad Jooma on vault at the NCAA Championships. (Photo/UIC Gymnastics)

Inside Story: How UIC Cut Men's and Women's Gymnastics

By Dominic Smith and Satchel Hudson

Posted: Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019

Editor's note: Satchel Hudson is a former UIC gymnast. He now competes for the University of Illinois in Champaign.

“And then we were told very bluntly, that this would be our team's last season. It felt like something out of a bad dream.”  -- James Marden, 21, member of the UIC men’s gymnastics team.

On Aug. 31, the gymnastics program was informed that both its men’s and women’s teams were being released from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s athletic department.

“Fifteen years of hard work and sacrifice was being ripped away with no warning,” UIC gymnast James Marden said. “Our coaches who learned of this decision just 30 minutes before we did were never consulted during the decision-making process…”

With the program being around for 71 years, this is a huge surprise to not only the UIC athletes, but all the collegiate and recreational gymnastics organizations throughout the nation.

“The reality is that the costs associated for varsity athletic teams to operate at a high level is rapidly rising with no sign of slowing down,” UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis said in an official statement.

Two university officials — Amiridis and Athletic Director Garrett Klassy— said that the reason for this decision is to create a better student-athlete environment for each team that remains.

Timeline IconTimeline: Notable gymnastics program cuts

 “Our current model does not allow us to offer the tools to provide a positive experience for 20 teams and continuing to operate in such a way is irresponsible to all of our student-athletes,” Klassy said.

Klassy is in his second year here at UIC as athletic director. Prior to UIC, he served organizations such as the University of Oregon, AlabamaTulane, and the University of Wisconsin

Klassy broke the news to the team the morning of Aug. 31.

“This is the most difficult decision I have had to make in my career as an athletic administrator,” Klassy said in a statement.

In the last 30 years, 10 Division I gymnastics programs have been eliminated by athletic programs. Men’s gymnastics has been a main target for administrations to drop because they are not as popular as sports such as basketball and football.

At its peak in the 1970s and '80s, there were 250 men’s gymnastics programs in the nation.  After the most recent cut, it will be down to 15. A lot of athletic departments only made the decision to cut one of the teams, rather than both men and women like UIC.



Club Gyms Near UIC

Not only is this affecting UIC athletics and the remaining 15 collegiate programs, but the additional youth gymnastics organizations that feed kids through the Flames Gymnastics.

“They are being terminated as part of an initiative to reduce diversity in athletics and reduce opportunities for current and future student athletes,” said Laura Jungles, an alum of the UIC gymnastics program.

The elimination of the programs also impacts the school academically. Many of the recruits from Illinois had the satisfaction of getting an education and continuing their gym careers in the Windy City.

Fourteen men and women from UIC gymnastics are from Illinois. The only other college that has a gymnastics program in the state of Illinois is UIC’s sister school in Champaign-Urbana.

A number of qualified athletes are being turned down every year that want to compete and come to a Division I school like UIC.

“Everyone in that gym, wants to train hard because they want to take on the challenge,” said Charley Nelson, UIC’s head gymnastics coach. “Not because it’s going to get them a pro contract, not because of the perks or the benefits or the scholarship. They are in there because they love the sport, they love the opportunity, they love the camaraderie.”

Nelson said he believes that gymnasts all over the nation are training for the simple reason that they have an internal drive to want to achieve more. With the lack of funding that these programs attain all across the country, gymnastics is taking the biggest hit while additional programs reap the benefits. 



Reinstating the Program

In a meeting with the athletic director on Nov. 15, Marden discussed the idea of raising money in order to reinstate both programs. The number was $25.2 million, and the programs would have to raise it by March 16.

“25.2 million dollars in six months is not an attainable number,” Nelson said.

The reason that the athletic department came up with such a large number is because they want to reinstate both programs fully funded. According to NCAA rules, each men’s gymnastics team is allowed to give 6.3 scholarships and because of Title IX, each women’s team is allowed 12.

“Just because you are on a team, does not mean that you are on a scholarship," Nelson said. "There are limitations. On the men’s side, that would be going from zero to 6.3 total scholarships. On the women’s side, it would be going from about seven scholarships to 12.”

Not only would both teams have 18.3 full scholarships, but the program would also be fully endowed. All of the money that is allocated to any UIC team has to go through the University of Illinois Foundation. This foundation endows four percent annually, or just more than $1 million for the UIC program.

“You don’t spend x number of dollars, and then decide that you're Division I," Nelson said. "You come in and you train and you become Division I.”

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