SESD responds to Gilbert interview

East Carolina Athletic Director breaks his silence, sets fundraising target that exceeds the teams’ budget, and ignores common-sense path for saving decorated programs

July 6, 2020 (Greenville, NC) — East Carolina University Athletic Director Jon Gilbert, who has refused to meet with those working to save ECU’s decorated swimming and diving teams, broke his silence June 30 during an interview with WTIB-FM’s “Talk of the Town.”

Gilbert described a fundraising level — $1.6 million annually — that would be needed to bring the teams back. His figure is the same level of funding allocated to the two teams for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. However, it’s already known that the teams can operate with significantly less funding.

The proposed 2020-2021 budget, prior to the teams being eliminated, was $1.3 million, and they could remain viable with further cuts to bring their combined budget to less than $1 million annually, based on a proposal submitted last week to the administration. This — combined with the tuition and fees paid by team members, along with payments from the NCAA — would make the teams a break-even budget line for the university overall. Further, as much as $800,000 in annual support for the program comes from the Pirate Club, meaning that much of the expense Gilbert cited does not come from university revenue. 

“The administration is knowingly establishing an unrealistic standard for reviving the teams,” said Lindsay Takkunen, one of the leading forces behind Save ECU Swimming & Diving (SESD). “They know it would not take $1.6 million to bring these teams back. It’s clear they are more interested in justifying their decision to abandon these student-athletes than considering any option that keeps the teams alive. We know this is a solvable problem if ECU’s leaders would simply be willing to talk.”

During the WTIB interview, Gilbert made no reference to the concerns over the Minges Natatorium facility — which ECU Athletics describes as one of the best of its kind in the state — that he cited as the primary factor in closing the programs during his May 21 press conference. Following that statement, subject-matter experts such as the executive director of the College Swimming & Diving Coaches Association of America responded that the Minges pool meets or exceeds all standards for NCAA Division 1 training and competition.

Alumni, former coaches, and other supporters associated with the SESD campaign have raised more than $700,000 in pledged donations to restore the teams. Campaign organizers continue to request a direct conversation with Gilbert and Mitchelson about pathways to keep the teams alive. Those requests have been ignored, except for initial responses in May that said the decision will not be further discussed. As a result, the SESD campaign has expanded its outreach to include the UNC System Board of Governors, members of which indicated in late June that they would encourage Mitchelson to talk with SESD representatives. Those recommendations, too, appear to have gone unheeded by ECU’s administration.

Alumni and students aren’t alone in calling for the teams’ return. More than 20,000 people have signed a petition to bring them back, and stories of the program’s prestige continue to saturate the East Carolina community.