The Myth of the Non-Revenue Sport

East Carolina has cited the teams’ operating cost as justification for cutting the program, but that only accounts for half the financial picture. Just like every other collegiate Olympic sport, swimmers and divers bring dollars into the university’s coffers. They help meet tuition-revenue targets. They help balance housing budgets thanks to the room and board they pay. They are part of the solution for a university with a cashflow problem.

Far from being “non-revenue” programs, Olympic sports teams brings in significant revenue for their universities through tuition and fees.

Athletic Director Jon Gilbert said in a recent radio interview that cutting the teams means the school saves $1.6 million annually, which was the combined 2020-2021 budget for the two swimming and diving teams. However, the real savings would be less than half that due to the loss of more than $900,000 in tuition and fees paid by the 49 student-athletes lost to the cuts. Even worse: Gilbert’s figures ignore the true cost of running the teams.

Before the teams were cut, their operating budget had already been reduced to $1.3 million. A more recently proposed budget, drafted with guidance from ECU Hall of Fame Coach Rick Kobe, takes the sum far lower — approximately $875,000. That means the teams’ expenses would not only be entirely offset, they also would generate new revenue for the school thanks to the students’ payments.

The argument put forward by ECU’s administration is like a family trying to balance their household budget looking only at their monthly bills, without ever considering their income. The decisions coming out of such a distorted pictured would be misguided, at best, but it’s exactly what East Carolina has done.

It’s also worth noting that, according to a report provided during the ECU Board of Trustees July 9 meeting, the university lags 133 students behind its enrollment target. That deficit is likely to grow as 49 students — and their associated revenue — affected by these cuts are forced to choose between their school and their sport.