Pitt will shutter its women’s tennis program after the 2019 season, the school announced on Thursday.
The team has seven athletes, four of which are seniors. Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke said that the three underclassmen will have their scholarships honored at Pitt if they choose to remain. By NCAA rule, student-athletes that have their program terminated can transfer without restriction. Pitt had an open scholarship entering this season, but did not fill it.
“This was an extremely difficult decision that was reached only after considerable research and evaluation,” Lyke said in a press release. “We have a responsibility to provide our student-athletes with the finest opportunities to compete and achieve at the highest levels. That, unfortunately, has not been the case with our women’s tennis program.”
Pitt’s tennis program was one of two without an on-campus facility and played its home matches at Oxford Athletic Club in Wexford. The Panthers were 7-16 last season and 0-14 in conference play.
“Our analysis concluded this is a hard but necessary decision to ensure the best student-athlete opportunities for growth and success in the future,” Lyke said. “I have personally pledged to each member of our tennis program that they will have our University’s full support and assistance as they consider their future academic, athletic and personal pursuits.”
Lyke announced in November that Pitt will be adding women’s lacrosse for the 2020-21 school year. In making that announcement, Lyke said at the time that no other sports were slated to be eliminated.
“We have nine men’s sports right now and this will make it 11 women’s sports,” she said. “That’s where we’re at right now and we’ll always evaluate where we’re at and where we should be.”
Sources told Pittsburgh Sports Now that Pitt needed the women’s lacrosse program, which carries 12 full-scholarship equivalents, in order to maintain Title IX compliance.
It’s not clear if Pitt will remain Title IX compliant without the women’s tennis program. A Pitt athletics spokesperson referred questions regarding Title IX compliance to the university communications department.
Other schools that have closed women’s sports programs have been sued for doing so. North Dakota was hit with a class-action lawsuit after dropping women’s ice hockey.
Eastern Michigan, where Lyke was athletic director from 2013-17 before she came to Pitt, was sued in 2018 after cutting four sports: men’s swimming and diving, wrestling, women’s tennis and softball. The school agreed to reinstate the women’s teams after a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit.
UPDATE, 8:00 P.M:
A university spokesperson offered the following statement in response to PSN’s inquiry as to whether or not the university expects to be Title IX compliant after adding women’s lacrosse and dropping tennis:
“The University remains committed to Title IX and to ensuring that we provide our women athletes with the opportunity to participate, be competitive, and have a top-notch student-athlete experience. And we continue to look for ways to provide these high-quality experiences for an increasing number of women on our campus. That is one of the reasons we are excited about adding women’s lacrosse to Pitt — a rising sport, with surging interest among girls and young women across the country. This program will enable us to give more women a chance to compete in the ACC and have an exceptional student-athlete experience while also obtaining a world-class Pitt education.”