The Seattle Pacific University athletic department will discontinue its women’s gymnastics program effective immediately, Athletic Director Jackson Stava announced Monday.
In addition, the Falcons Gymnastics Center will cease operations and not be used to conduct gymnastics youth camps. Along with halting intercollegiate competition, the youth club team will no longer be sponsored by SPU.
The decision to discontinue gymnastics came following an extensive review of the state of that sport in the NCAA Division II structure. Although the assessment and decision began before the COVID-19 outbreak, the adverse effects the pandemic had on the program’s funding model influenced the decision.
“The landscape of collegiate gymnastics has changed drastically since this program’s inception and current financial realities have forced us to accelerate a process of evaluating the long-term viability of gymnastics at Seattle Pacific,” Stava said.
The sport has experienced significant downsizing at the Division II level, where only five other schools sponsor women’s gymnastics and those nearest to Seattle are more than 2,000 miles away, in Texas and Missouri.
A total of 11 schools annually competed against SPU to qualify for the National Collegiate Championships, an event that has been hosted by USA Gymnastics since 1987 after the NCAA discontinued sponsoring a Division II championship.
“This decision has certainly been both agonizing and heart-wrenching as it impacts our student-athletes, coaches, alumni and university community in significant ways,” said Stava.
Scholarships for current gymnastics athletes — including grants awarded to incoming students beginning in fall 2020 — will be honored. SPU gymnasts seeking to continue their careers at another institution will be released without penalty and are free to transfer immediately.
The gymnastics practice facility will be re-purposed for another function.
Seattle Pacific has sponsored gymnastics since the 1974 season. The Falcons’ legacy includes three national team champions: 1986 (NCAA Division II), 1992 (USAG) and 1997 (USAG). Its gymnasts earned 32 individual national championships and 221 All-America awards.
The program’s head women’s gymnastics coach was SPU alum Sarah Jean Marshall, who was also named NCAA Division II Gymnast of the Year for the Falcons in 2007. A three-time captain and eight-time All-American, Marshall joined SPU’s staff as an assistant coach in 2010 and was elevated to head coach in 2019. Monday’s statement read that “the university is grateful to head coach Sarah Jean Marshall and her two assistants, Kaytianna McMillan and Ellen Smith, for leading the program through a truncated 2020 season that was stopped in early March due to the pandemic.”
SPU will continue to field 12 athletic teams: men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, women’s rowing, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball, along with both indoor and outdoor men’s and women’s track & field.
The Associated Press reported on May 30 that 97 teams had been eliminated by four-year colleges this offseason in the wake of COVID-19, and that number has certainly grown since. The Power Five conferences — including the Pac-12 — have yet to cut a program, though alterations to the college football season might make that outcome unavoidable as well.
“I think everything is on the table for how we would mitigate a devastating loss, which would be no football season and/or some sort of expectation where you still have to operate some portion of your program and still provide opportunities for students but wouldn’t have a revenue sport funding it,” University of Washington athletics director Jen Cohen told The Times last month. “That being said, (cutting sports) is not something that we’re talking about right now.
“There’s other ways you can look at it. You can look at shortened seasons. I think some people may look at suspension of programs versus dropping programs. It’s so counter to who we are. The thing that makes us so special is the diverse number of sports and student-athletes that we have and how good they are — how high-quality they are in their sports and in the classrooms. So we’ll fight like hell.”
Unfortunately, SPU women’s gymnastics became college athletics’ most recent casualty on Monday.