UAlbany to discontinue women’s tennis program after 2016 season
By Troy Farkas
The University at Albany Athletic Department will not offer women’s tennis beyond the 2016 spring season.
The announcement, made last week by Athletic Director Mark Benson, came after two America East programs, UMBC and Hartford, discontinued their programs within the last calendar year.
UAlbany has followed suit, determining it is in the best interests of the university to drop the program.
Benson and his staff have worked in the past few months to find a new conference for the UAlbany tennis team. They reached out to other conferences to see if UAlbany could join as an associate member, but no suitable options were found. The possibility of becoming an independent program also was on the table, but because UAlbany would be unable to win a conference championship to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, that option was nixed.
“We are here to graduate student-athletes and win championships,” Benson said. “It’s a big reason why athletes play college sports.”
The team found out about the news the day after Benson and his staff made the decision to discontinue the program. They first informed Head Coach Gordon Graham, and then at a routine team meeting the next morning, Graham delivered the news to his players.
“It totally came from nowhere,” said Mirielle Hermans, the lone senior on the team. “I was really surprised.”
The team will play out the rest of the 2016 season. But with nothing to play for beyond this spring, the Great Danes will look to go out with a bang.
“The team is more determined to win the America East to show everyone they made a mistake,” Hermans said.
As a senior, the decision does not affect the immediate future of Hermans. However, the other eight women—seven of whom were born in other countries–will have to decide if they want to stay at UAlbany to earn a degree or seek tennis opportunities at other schools.
Benson said the school will honor the scholarship of any of the women if they wish to remain at UAlbany. If a player decides she will transfer to play tennis at another school, UAlbany will provide her with a “blanket release,” meaning the school will willingly release the player and allow her to look at other schools, according to Benson.
In most transfer situations, a student-athlete must sit out a year before playing in games for their team, while still attending classes. But in this situation, any UAlbany tennis player who transfers will be immediately eligible to play.
Benson said it’s “too early to tell” if some of the players will leave, despite UAlbany already receiving inquiries about several players. Hermans meanwhile said it would be “logical” for a current freshman or sophomore to seek tennis opportunities elsewhere.
Graham declined to comment to the Albany Student Press, but in an official statement released to the school, he said: “I appreciate that UAlbany administrators had a tough decision to make and that they did what they thought was in the best interests of the university. Naturally I am disappointed; sad for the players, my assistant coach and our many loyal fans. This program has made great strides in the last five years. And before we sign off, we are on a mission to win the last America East tennis championships.”
“Coach has worked so hard and he’s getting it taken away from him,” Hermans said. Benson said the school will honor the contract of the head coach as well as the assistant, Petra Ferancova.
The Athletic Department will reallocate existing funds into areas that will strengthen their Title IX position, the 1972 provision prohibiting sexual discrimination in education. Residual funds will also go to other areas that will benefit all student-athletes from a student welfare perspective, according to the press release.
UAlbany (9-5) has four more regular season matches, with the last one coming on April 16. The first three will be at home. The America East Conference Tournament is scheduled for April 22-24 at UMBC. If UAlbany wins the conference, they will advance to the NCAA Championships, which begin in early May.