Winston Salem State will drop its baseball program at the end of this season and intends to pursue golf, the school announced Friday. In an effort to increase scholarship dollars for its revenue sports, the University has decided to drop its baseball program for what they are calling an athletic department budget shortfall of $350,000 next year. This is hard to believe when state funding in North Carolina has increased by 9 percent from economic growth.
The athletic department based its decision on potential cost savings, facilities and travel requirements. But there were talks of gender equity issues that weren’t mentioned.
The school decided to eliminate one sport rather than spread the cuts across the entire athletic department because of concerns that doing so would hamper the ability of the teams to stay competitive. The elimination of baseball leaves Winston Salem State with 9 varsity teams, 6 of which are women’s programs.
The decision to cut baseball may be directly related to the NCAA’s Title IX gender equity requirements. The school wouldn’t have considered dropping baseball if it weren’t for the pending budget cuts. That is the language a majority of HBCUs administrations always state when they slice the budgets of baseball programs to cover the cost of others sports programs that overspend their budgets each year. Baseball always gets hit first and only.
With 54 percent of WSSU students are women compared to just 39 percent of its athletes, cutting women’s sports program wasn’t feasible. In my opinion, this could be a matter of equity and funding.
The current Rams baseball team has 35 players, but 26 are where five scholarships are spread out. The NCAA will let those with remaining eligibility transfer to other schools without sitting out a year. Those who remain at Winston Salem State will have their scholarships honored according to reports.
Anger, frustration, shock as players grapple with the pending loss of the baseball program. Many of the players were preparing to practice in preperation for the scheduled games over the weekend. When they checked text messages, they were all told that the school will cut the program at the end of the season.
Some of the players thought it was a joke until they met with head coach Kevin Ritsche, who has resurrected the program into a HBCU Baseball powerhouse. He has won six CIAA Conference Championships, taken the program to six NCAA Division II Regional Tournaments, has a 297-160 career record, four times crowned HBCU Baseball National Champions, currently ranked No. 2 in Black College Nines HBCU Baseball Top 10 Poll after it was dormant for 32 years.
Ritsche has been at the helm for the past nine seasons after being hired in 2010. He learned of the teams fate in an meeting with the interim athletics director George Knox. Right after the meeting he met with his players told them about the athletic department shutting down the program after this season.
The baseball program has had the biggest student-athletic success since 2010. They have garnered national attention each year. The Rams are currently ranked No. 7 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) NCAA DII Regional Poll with current record of 14-7. In 2017, the Rams were one game away from competing in the DII Championships. That year they won 40 ball games, most in programs history.
The elimination of baseball alone will not be enough from a budgetary or structural standpoint, but it was the step the university thought that needed to be taken to build the future structure of the athletics department. When it became clear that the university could not support baseball from a budgetary and structural standpoint, it was decided to simply make the decision in hopes of giving coaches and student-athletes ample time to pursue their careers elsewhere if they choose.
With the news of the baseball program’s end, WSSU intends to pursue men’s golf, which had been dropped as a varsity sport, but will resume in 2020.
WSSU’s final game at BB&T Ballpark will be played April 23 against Catawba.
Winston Salem State is the third HBCU Baseball program to be eliminated in the last two years. Concordia College Alabama cut its program at the end of the 2017 season. St. Augustine’s University, another CIAA member cut baseball just before the start of the 2019 season.