Nov 6, 2020 | SPORTS | By Abigail Russell

A devastating outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic among college communities is the widespread cut of entire athletic teams and programs. According to NBC News, more than 1,500 division one student-athletes have had their program cut due to COVID-19 forced budget cuts. These cuts are occurring at 26 universities across the nation, impacting over 90 sports programs.

Typically, the majority of Olympic-sport committees pull almost all their athletes from these university programs to put together a Team USA. The loss of these programs, therefore, could be detrimental both to future Olympic teams and to young athletes with Olympic dreams. 

The sports hit the hardest are ones that typically earn Team USA the most medals. The most-cut sports are rowing, swimming, diving, tennis, track and field, and volleyball. NBC News reported that these USA Teams earned 147 out of a possible 216 medals in the past two summer Olympics.

Erik Shoji, a former Stanford volleyball player who went on to win the bronze medal, understands how devastating these cuts could be to future Olympic teams. He told NBC News, “To be on the national team, you’ve got to play in college.”

For many of these sports, there are very few post-college prospects, unlike sports like football or basketball, which have extensive professional leagues. These same sports, however, are almost always the ones that bring in the most money to colleges and universities, exempting them from cuts. It is a legitimate concern that these university-level program cuts will effect the country’s participation in some sports for these reasons. If playing in college isn’t even an option, why spend the first 17 years of your life committed to a sport when commitment to another sport could mean scholarship money or even a life-long career?

These cuts are pervading the Paralympic world as well. Sarah Wilhelmi, director of collegiate partnerships for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, told NBC news that the college system is “an absolute lifeline for our Olympic development teams.”

The Intercollegiate Coach Association Coalition is a group of coaches committed to saving broad-based college sports from COVID-19 budget cuts. One of their stated reasons for working to save these programs is because their elimination hurts the feeder system for American Olympic teams.

Groups like these are giving college programs hope, and only time will tell the real severity of the pandemic’s effects on Team USA. As of now, the International Olympic Committee’s decision to postpone Tokyo’s summer games until 2021 stands. Although that is certainly subject to change, whenever the Olympics are held again it will be amazing to see how athletes from around the world persisted amid these less-than-ideal circumstances.

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