A gut punch: Akron’s men’s golf team eliminated by budget cuts
That’s how David Trainor succinctly described the past 24 hours.
It all started Thursday morning on a videoconference with his athletic director, Larry Williams, who informed Trainor, the head men’s golf coach for eight seasons at Akron, that his program was among three teams being eliminated as part of school-wide budget cuts.
“The school has their reasons and I respect their reasons,” Trainor told GolfChannel.com on Friday morning via phone. “It’s a tough decision because my AD had to look me in the eye and tell me that my program that I had put blood, sweat and tears into was gone. He had to look the other coaches in the eye and say everything you’ve poured into this, it’s now gone. Those are hard conversations for an athletic director to have.”
Trainor knows; he had to have a similar talk with his players. Gathered with his team over Zoom, Trainor struggled to break the news.
“I was probably as emotional as any one of them,” he said. “The players, they obviously got gut-punched, but also I knew what I was doing and that hurt because I was about to put my eight players through the guillotine, and as a coach, that’s not something you ever want to do to your players.
“Like most golf teams, we’re a family, and I hate it for them, their parents and for the program.”
According to the university, Akron plans to cut $65 million from its yearly budget to accommodate the heavy economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, with athletics looking at a 23-percent budget reduction. That equates to about $4.4 million.
“We are very saddened that we have had to make this move, but it is important and necessary at this time,” Williams said in a statement. “This action aligns us with our Mid-American Conference peers in total number of sports and is part of our ongoing effort to realign university resources to ensure that we continue to invest in high-demand, high-quality academic programs and world-class facilities.”
There will be more cost-cutting measures, Williams said, though limiting scholarships, operational expenses and cost-of-attendance stipends hardly have the stunning effect of scrapping entire programs. The other teams disbanded were men’s cross country and women’s tennis, which brings Akron to 16 sponsored sports, the minimum allowed by the NCAA.
Last month, non-Power 5 conference commissioners lobbied the NCAA to waive that requirement, but that request was quickly denied. But the NCAA Division I Council’s decision will only save the remaining teams at Akron, not the three sports and 32 student-athletes that were affected Thursday.
Trainor asked about potentially fundraising to keep his program afloat. Last year, the university brought back baseball and added women’s lacrosse with the caveat that both teams self-fund their scholarships.
“But that wasn’t on the table,” Trainor said.
So, seven of Trainor’s non-seniors will now be desperately searching for a new home. Three of those players are already in the transfer portal, and though Trainor knows many other schools are facing similar financial constraints, he has received some emails from interested coaches.
“There’s not much scholarship money left,” Trainor said, “but I’ll be working hard to find them a good fit.”
Trainor has instructed his players to “cast a wide net” when looking for potential suitors. He plans on doing the same once his players are taken care of.
“He’s a great coach,” said one of Trainor’s coaching peers. “If he wants to stay in coaching, he’ll find a place.”
Earlier this week, Trainor figured his job was secure. The MAC announced that it was canceling many of its championships for next season, but golf was not among the sports listed. Trainor had also withdrawn from an event this fall to save the air travel cost and created a schedule that was very regionalized. (He’s heard rumblings from other coaches that some department heads will require teams drive to all events next season.)
“But obviously it wasn’t safe,” said Trainor, who expected “massive budget cuts” across the country as schools respond to a crippling pandemic. St. Edward’s, a Division II school in Texas, eliminated men’s and women’s golf last month. The CCSA, which oversees Division II sports in California, recently announced that all fall sports were being canceled.
Trainor hopes no other golf teams have to endure what he’s gone through in these rough past 24 hours. But after mustering the strength to send out a tweet, announcing what he described as “a terrible day for so many,” Trainor was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
He spent Thursday night responding to former players, parents, donors; people, who Trainor said, “really cared about the University of Akron and its men’s golf program.”
“Akron is a special place. It’s a good place,” Trainor said. “I appreciated my time at Akron. I appreciated the people, the administration, everybody involved with that university; it was all first class.”
Under Trainor, Akron accomplished many firsts. Charlie Bull became the first Akron golfer to play in an NCAA regional in 2012. Four years later, George Baylis won the program’s first MAC title. And last year, the Zips finally won their home event at Firestone, overcoming a seven-shot deficit on the final day. Trainor also guided three teams to the NCAA postseason.
All great memories.
“Things like that, they’re important,” Trainor said, “but as I told my wife yesterday, you know, as golf coaches, we don’t get into this to make millions … but for me, seeing the outpouring of support, what I made was a difference, and that means the world.”