The University of Washington announced Friday it is eliminating its men's and women's swimming programs to save money because of the economic downturn.
The school said the swimming programs are the sixth-highest expense among its sports programs, and the decision should save about $1.2 million a year.
"I have enormous empathy and sadness for our student athletes. It's very painful and I hope I never have to do it again," athletic director Scott Woodward said. "But it was imperative to help fix the long term financial picture of our department. We're still fourth in number of sports we offer in the Pac-10. This is something we had to do in short term."
Hampering the Huskies financially was the lack of an on-campus venue for swimming competitions. Husky Pool was built in 1937 and has only six, 25-yard lanes. For bigger meets, the teams had to travel to King County's aquatic center in Federal Way, about 25 miles south of the school.
The teams were also at a disadvantage in Pac-10 and NCAA competitions because Washington doesn't have a diving team, due to
a lack of facilities.
Right now, most of the department's focus is on finding ways to renovate aging Husky Stadium and Woodward said there were no future plans for an on-campus pool that would help the swimming programs.
According to the U.S. Department of Education's Equity in Athletics data, Washington had 20 men's swimmers and 23 women's swimmers during the 2007-08 school year. Washington's athletic Web site listed 19 men and 15 women on the 2008-09 roster.
The department, which needs to cut a total of $2.8 million from its budget, also expects a number of employee layoffs in the coming weeks, Woodward said. There will be travel reductions of about 10
percent, among other cost cuts.
"Baring another economic meltdown nationally or some unforeseen event, we're not looking at cutting other sports," Woodward said. "I hope we don't have to go through this again."
The decision to cut swimming reduces the number of intercollegiate sports at Washington to 21. Without the UW programs, the Pacific-10 Conference will have five men's swimming programs and eight women's teams.
Woodward said Washington would do everything possible to help the students and coaches affected by the decision. It will honor all existing scholarship agreements, but also grant permission to other schools to talk to the athletes about transferring.
"We are clearly operating in a time of economic distress and we are forced to make decisions that will help us maintain long-term financial stability," Woodward said.