Pepperdine cuts sports teams


The university cuts its women’s swimming and dive team, and the men’s track team.

By Olivia Damavandi / Staff Writer

Affected by the nation’s economic recession, Pepperdine University’s Department of Athletics on Friday announced the termination of its women’s swimming and diving team and its men’s track team. The athletic cuts are part of a plan, which includes the layoffs of nine athletic department employees and limitations on team sizes and on all departments’ budgets, to reallocate $850,000 to help alleviate the school’s expenses.

The university will honor the scholarships issued to student athletes for the remainder of their college careers under the conditions they maintain sufficient grade point averages. The coaches’ contracts will not be affected because they are renewed annually.

“It is with great regret that we came to this conclusion,” Pepperdine Director of Athletics John Watson said Monday morning. “But the current economic realities dictate that budget cuts must be made.”

However, Watson later on Monday said the women’s swimming and diving program over the weekend obtained enough funding ($150,000) “from parents, friends and institutional dollars” to continue for one more season.

Regarding the university’s decision to cut the women’s swimming and diving team and the men’s track team, Watson said, “We reviewed each of the athletic programs that we offer, taking into account such things as conference membership, level of competition and financial impact to the institution, and this is what had to be done.”

The two discontinued teams are not part of Pepperdine’s primary conference affiliations, the West Coast Conference and the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. The women’s swimming and diving team competes in the Pacific Collegiate Swimming and Diving Conference, an affiliation of NCAA and NAIA programs on the West Coast. Pepperdine’s men’s and women’s track teams compete as independents.

The swimming and diving team cut incensed coaches, athletes, families, friends and fans from all over the country who over the weekend sent numerous donations to help keep it together, Nick Rodionoff, 35-year Pepperdine swimming and diving head coach, and his wife Carrie said Monday.

“It’s amazing the amount of support we’ve gotten over the past few days from people we don’t even know,” Rodionoff said. “Our phone didn’t stop ringing for two days.”

Both Rodionoff and current Pepperdine swimmers Rachel Cote, an incoming sophomore, and Marissa McDaniel, an incoming senior, said Monday the discontinuation of their team came as a complete shock.

“It felt like someone hit me in the head with an ax,” Rodionoff said. “I couldn’t even talk or sleep for a couple of days. I really felt that it was going to shatter a lot of lives, not only our kids but also the parents who believe in the university.

“We are the most economic team on the campus,” he continued. “We have 35 kids and four scholarships. We spend less per student than any team on campus.”

When she heard the news, McDaniel said she “really didn’t think it was completely real,” but “cried hysterically” after confirmation from Carrie Rodionoff last Friday.

“I’ve been swimming since I was five,” McDaniel said. “It’s the sole reason I came to Pepperdine: to swim with Nick and finish my career at a well-respected division one school.

“I wasn’t able to come to terms with the fact that was going to be my last season,” she continued. “The parents of kids who just signed on were outraged because they chose to go to Pepperdine because of swimming.”

“It’s great that my full athletic scholarship will be honored, but I earned it to swim for Pepperdine, not just go to the school,” Cote said, adding that she plans to transfer to another university if the program is discontinued after next season.

“I think it [news of the discontinuation] should have been brought to our attention a long time before so we could have tried to start making money to start funding our program, but the athletic directors gave us no time to plan for our futures,” Cote said.

The future of the swimming and diving program at Pepperdine is not set in stone, as other universities, such as Stanford, have independently funded sports teams. However, Rodionoff explained that a privately funded team will probably not be able to afford to issue scholarships, which will make it much more difficult for the program to recruit future athletes who are being offered full rides from other schools.

Watson said the team would need an endowment to continue, “but in this economy I don’t see that significant of a gift being made.”

In response to whether Pepperdine would reinstate the discontinued teams if or when the economy improves, Watson said it is more likely the university will place more focus on strengthening its current programs.

For now, Rodionoff said his main concerns are the futures of his student-athletes and the upcoming season.

“I think for us it’s not just a team,” he said. “These kids really have bonded together the past four years, and they really contribute to the campus. Half the team is on the honor roll. They’re good kids and swimming is a huge part of their lives.”

“We’re just going to keep fighting until we can’t fight anymore and hopefully we will get enough funding,” Cote said. “We’re swimming for a purpose now. We’re going to show Pepperdine what we can really do and show that the Pepperdine swim team isn’t something that you can just replace.”