The Boise State baseball team returned to play this spring to much fanfare after going dormant for 40 years.
The celebration lasted all of 14 games.
Boise State announced it is cutting its baseball program on Thursday, along with its women's swimming and diving program, as part of $3 million in cuts that will be made by the athletic department due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey said the elimination of the two programs will account for about $2.2 million of those cuts, with other athletic programs also making contributions to help cover the budget shortfall.
“We're probably not even done trying to save money and find different ways to create revenue because the darn future is just so unclear,” Apsey said. “Who knows what the fall is going to look like, not just from an athletic perspective, but enrollment on campus, state support and those kind of things. We were very fortunate to get to that number, but I still think we need to find ways to save as much as we can and generate different kids of revenue going forward, not knowing what the future is.”
Student-athletes from both sports were informed Thursday morning via an email and a follow up text message alerting them to the email. Later in the morning, each team held their own Zoom calls to discuss the decision.
Boise State will continue to honor the scholarships from both programs, including incoming 2020 signees. Student-athletes who wish to transfer will also be supported by the school and will be immediately eligible at their next school, according to NCAA rules.
“We have some very unhappy kids, very sad, wondering what they are going to do next,” Apsey said. “I'm not sure there's a worse thing an athletic department or AD can go through. When you're taking away an opportunity of a sport from a young person, who's put their heart and soul into this thing their whole life, and then you tell them they can't do that at the school they love, you can imagine the mood of the meeting.”
Boise State is just the latest of more than a dozen NCAA Division I schools that have had to cut athletic programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Apsey said the decision to cut the two sports came down to cost as well as lack of athletic facilities.
Boise State had planned to build a baseball stadium, which Apsey said it will no longer be pursuing without a team, and played its home games this season at Memorial Stadium. While the swimming and diving team practiced in a pool at the school's Kinesiology Building, it held its home meets at the Boise City Aquatics Center at West Boise YMCA.
“Those two sports, they're very expensive to run,” Apsey said. “That, I think, had a lot to do with the decision. Obviously both sports having challenges with facilities as well, in a time like this when we're not able to spend millions and millions of dollars on facilities because of what's going on in the world contributed to that decision.”
Boise State started the swimming and diving program for the 2006-07 season, and the team finished seventh at Mountain West Championships in February. The baseball program was much newer.
Boise State announced in April 2017 that it was cutting its wrestling program in order to make way for the baseball team, which the university dropped as a varsity sport in 1980.
Gary Van Tol was named the coach of the team the following November, building a roster to begin play this past spring. In its first season in 40 years, the Broncos had a 9-5 record before the pandemic canceled the season following an 11-game home stand.
Apsey said he shared the news with Van Tol earlier this week, and while the coach wasn't pleased, Apsey said he handled it “very, very professionally.”
“I think about our time at the University of Texas when we kicked off the season and it was so awesome,” Apsey said. “I was so proud of our staff and our student-athletes going and competing. I've just seen the work that's been put in by him especially, and then his staff and student-athletes. It was a really tough conversation, but he was unbelievable.”
A phone call placed to Van Tol by the Idaho Press early Thursday afternoon was not returned.
Apsey said with the pandemic still ongoing, he doesn't think the budget challenge is over. While he said it's too early to tell what will happen over the coming months, Apsey said more cuts certainly are possible.
“I would be untruthful if I told you this is over,” Apsey said. “I don't know exactly what that looks like, I don't know if that includes other programs or bigger cost-savings or whatever that may be. We're anticipating more. I think it's irresponsible not to anticipate that. But I don't have the exact way to say 'this else we're looking for.' We're looking at everything in our department and we have been over the last four months. That's not going to change.”