The men’s tennis and men’s swimming teams at Arizona State are happy for the wrestling program. They really are. But wrestling’s stay of execution might make facing their unsettled reality that much harder.
While the wrestling team staged an unprecedented turnaround after finding the necessary funding — getting its program reinstated within 10 days of being dropped — the men’s tennis and swim teams still sit in limbo.
Both are currently staging fundraising efforts to save their sports, but they face the possibility of not suiting up in maroon and gold next season.
Although the operating costs are approximately $240,000 a year for each program, the athletic department wants stability. A $5 million endowment would permanently keep the programs because that invested money would earn enough interest to cover the yearly operating expenses.
The men’s swimming team has raised around $170,000 from 250 separate donors and would need a pledge that guarantees to cover all operating expenses for a number of years if the endowment isn’t reached.
“We don’t want to live paycheck to paycheck,” ASU senior associate athletic director Stephen Ponder said. “It’s pretty cut and dry. You’ve got to be sure that they’re going to be there (in the long run). We don’t want to false advertise (to recruits).”
Perhaps the athlete hit hardest by the ASU athletic department’s decision to cut the three sports was men’s swimmer Luke Herlehy, who had gone through it all just a year before at Ohio University.
Ohio cut men’s track, men’s swimming and diving and women’s lacrosse in 2007.
Herlehy lost his scholarship and was forced to walk on at Arizona State. Now, just more than a year after deciding to become a Sun Devil, it’s déjà vu.
“It really is unbelievable,” Herlehy said.
Once again, he’s left to pick up the pieces.
Herlehy swam his last collegiate race in 2007 for Ohio. He just didn’t know it until now.
The transfer to ASU cost him a semester’s worth of school credits and
Herlehy was forced to redshirt this season.
“I wanted to swim so bad,” he said.
Herlehy said it’s too late in his career to find a scholarship elsewhere and deal with the hassle of transferring again. He will stay at ASU for one more year to graduate before pursuing a master’s degree in law.
“ASU’s really left me with no option; I’ll probably have to retire,” Herlehy said. “I never expected it to end like this.”
Arizona State swim coach Mike Chasson said nobody on his team has plans to transfer at this point.
“Maybe a couple of them have some options, but they really don’t,” Chasson said. “Realistically, most of them are going to stay and use it as a redshirt year. The timing’s horrible. You don’t go looking for a new school on May 15. Teams that might have scholarships, they’ll have no interest in. Swimmers don’t go somewhere just to get a scholarship.”
Sprint freestyler Mohammed Madwa will race in the Olympics for his native Kuwait, but when he returns to Arizona there might not be a team waiting for him.
Madwa said he won’t transfer because he is only 23 credits shy of graduating.
“It’s not worth it,” he said.
Finding a new team has been a much easier proposition for the men’s tennis players.
Many schools have money still set aside for possible transfers or late signings, and the top seven players from the team have all fielded offers for next season. Schools ranging from Florida to UCLA have been calling.
“It was literally a feeding frenzy,” ASU men’s tennis coach Lou Belken said. “Eighty, 90 calls in 72 hours.”
One player staying at Arizona State will be T.J. Bellama. He is at the forefront of fundraising efforts to save the program, but will redshirt next season and graduate from ASU if the effort fails.
Bellama plans to play his senior season of tennis at an undetermined graduate school in 2009.
The uncertainty of it all may be the hardest part to deal with for the athletes. While trying to save their sport at ASU, they must also look out for their future.
Bellama said his teammates are trying to hold out but know they will have a decision to make very soon.
“I can’t imagine it’s an easy thing to do,” he said. “The roughest part of it is we’re not quite sure when. We don’t have a timeline to when we need the money.
“The guys want to make sure they’re being fair (to the colleges recruiting them). We’re going to try and raise the money. It’s tough to balance that. In some ways, I’m kind of glad I’m in the position I’m in.”