Not one splash: OSU swimmers still heartbroken over 2019 swim team cut

Langton Pool is located in the basement of Langton Hall, photographed on Feb. 23. The facility was once used by the Oregon State women’s swim team that was discontinued after the 2018-2019 season.
Langton Pool is located in the basement of Langton Hall, photographed on Feb. 23. The facility was once used by the Oregon State women’s swim team that was discontinued after the 2018-2019 season.
Taylor Cockrell

“I could only feel tears going down my cheek, I felt empty and hopeless, I could not understand what was going on. It was very tough, especially because if you practice a sport for 15 years and someone else decides for you to end a chapter of your life, (it) makes it even harder to accept,” said Arianna Letrari, a former Oregon State University swimmer.

After OSU decided to eliminate the swim team on March 4, 2019, 21 student-athletes and two coaches were left devastated and filled the room with tears, Letrari said, after hearing the news from OSU Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Scott Barnes.

The program was running for 46 years before then, as OSU’s existing pool soon did not meet National Collegiate Athletic Association standards. Barnes announced to the team that in order to be fair to all sports, implementing a $20 million on-campus pool is out of the question and the only solution was to cut the program, according to the OSU news release.

It’s unclear what standards were not being met, but some pool standards include the pool being 25 meters in length and 60 feet in width (for short-course swimming), a minimum depth of seven feet and a minimum of six lanes, according to the NCAA website.

Being a retired swimmer myself, I felt for these women stripped away from their beloved sport. I wanted to reach out to find out more about why the team was cut, and if the team would ever be started up again. Although I didn’t get a response from Barnes or the OSU Athletic Department, I got in touch with some swim team alumni.

The swimmers got a call to come in for an all team meeting that fateful day in March, many of which thought they were “in trouble,” former swimmer Felicia Ellington said, for something given how serious this meeting sounded.

“We’re all kind of just sitting around a table, it was just a terrible vibe,” said Ellington, formerly Anderson, an Olympic trials qualifying swimmer, who specialized in 100 back, 200 back, 50 freestyle and all relay events.

“You could just tell something was wrong,” Ellington recalled. “We were all just sitting there for five to 10 minutes and then our coach (and) the assistant coach walk in and sit down at the head of the table. And then like immediately after Scott Barnes walked in and then we were all dead silent.”

Ellington said Barnes jumped right into the news and stated he hated having to cut the program. After explaining the decision, Barnes asked if there were any questions from the team.

“Everybody was very emotional,” Ellington said. “A lot of tears. People were asking ‘Why?’ and things like that. I can’t really remember what he said but yeah, he basically gave us like five minutes of his time and walked out of the room.”

The team then was informed that their scholarships would be honored and they were eligible to transfer if they wish. Ellington recalled that around four to five swimmers transferred, but Letrari said it was about “half and half” of those who stayed and who transferred.

Letrari is from Italy, who came to OSU from 2017 to 2019, specifically to swim for the women’s team. She specialized in the 100 butterfly, 200 fly, 200 freestyle and 200 individual medley.

The team held home meets at the Osborn Aquatics Center in Corvallis, and practiced at the Langton Hall pool. Ellington commented that they should’ve been practicing at the pool in the Dixon Recreation Center anyways.

She also said they were under contract with the city’s aquatic center and believed there were some concerns about keeping their pool up and running for the team.

“We definitely didn’t have the best facilities, competition wise,” Ellington said.

Although the pool would’ve cost a decent amount to build, that kind of money has been spent on other sports at OSU, like the recently built Reser Stadium for the football team, which cost $162 million to build, according to AP News.

“Some brought up Title IX, meaning the same amount of women’s teams as men’s teams have to be represented, “ Letrari said. “But Barnes immediately stated that they were not going against it.”

According to a financial report by College Factual, the average sports aid awarded to men was $17,996, compared to $14,359 for women at OSU. Just by looking at these numbers, perhaps another comment to be made about Title IX is in question.

“This is not the first program that (Barnes) cut. He cut it at University of Washington as well and I think another one before that. It’s like his favorite thing to do to slash budgets is to cut women’s swim teams,” said Ellington.

Upon further research, I found that the UW swim team discontinued in 2009, according to the UW Athletic website, but Barnes affiliation with the school was from 2005 to 2008. I could not find any other information relating to Barnes cutting additional women’s swim teams.

According to Swim Swam, from the years 1993 to 2013, over 35 United States college swim teams have been cut, due to swimming likely being the first sport choice to be cut in order to reduce spending costs. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of swimming cuts skyrocketed.

Ellington attended OSU from 2016 to 2019, and swam alongside Letrari. Ellington had been swimming competitively since she was five and up until the end of her college career. She swam at OSU for three years and finished her year of eligibility at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, Ellington didn’t get the chance to go to the Olympic trials. Even though her swimming career didn’t end like she initially planned, Ellington said she “wouldn’t change it for the world.”

“I love the Oregon State swimming program and I don’t have anything ill to speak,” Ellington said. “I think them cutting it was unfortunate and I hope that one day it comes back. It was an amazing program and an amazing experience … I don’t hold any ill will against Scott Barnes.”

Hopefully, one day, the Oregon State University Women’s Swim Team will be reinstated for upcoming college swimmers desperate to make a mark, or a splash, on their college campus.

Was this article helpful?
Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Daily Barometer Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *