Maggie Valley — (WLOS) The East Carolina men's swimming and diving team would have entered the 2020-21 season as defending American Athletic Conference champions after taking home the schools fourth title in February. That reign ended on May 21st when the school announced the elimination of four sports programs, including both the men's and women's swimming and diving teams.
"Really shocking. They never gave us any heads up on this decision and it kind of came out of the blue," said sophomore Johnny Darguzas from Maggie Valley, who competes in the 200m butterfly, 500m freestyle, and 400m IM for the Pirates.
The squad did not wait long to rally. A week after the announcement, a petition with more than 16,500 signatures called for the return of the program. Donors had pledged around $350,000 from supporters and the massive ECU aquatics alumni base. The program has been around for 66 years and boasts more than 600 former athletes. The Pirates have won two national titles in program history, as well as 15 individual national championships.
"Right now, they [ECU] are pretty set on not re-starting this program, and that would be devastating to all of us," said Darguzas, who graduated from Tuscola High School. "It would honestly mean a lot to get back in the pool and race next season."
In addition to the men's and women's swimming and diving programs, both tennis squads were eliminated as well. In a press release, East Carolina University claimed the cuts are part of a bigger plan that will save $4.9 million on the long run. The NCAA requires Division I FBS schools to sponsor a minimum of 16 sports including a minimum eight women's and six men's sports. ECU will remain at 16 sponsored sports.
According to Darguzas, the university has not responded to repeated inquiries about what amount of donations it will take to revive the program. All scholarships will be honored for the remainder of the student-athletes four undergraduate years. Under NCAA transfer rules, students are immediately eligible for competition when the students' original institution discontinues the sport in which the student practiced or competed.
The move affects 68 student-athletes like Darguzas, including recruits who have committed to ECU.
If you want to donate to the program-saving efforts, you can offer at pledge by emailing SaveECUSwimAndDive@gmail.com . You can stay up to date on the movement on Twitter and Instagram at @SaveECUSwimDive .