SEATTLE -- The Seattle Pacific University athletic department will discontinue its women's gymnastics program effective immediately, Athletic Director Jackson Stava announced Monday.
In addition, the Falcons Gymnastics Center will cease operations and not be used to conduct gymnastics youth camps. Along with halting intercollegiate competition, the youth club team will no longer be sponsored by SPU.
The decision to discontinue gymnastics came following an extensive review of the state of that sport in the NCAA Division II structure. Although the assessment and decision began prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and rests on its own merit, the adverse effects the pandemic on the program's funding model expedited this decision.
"The landscape of collegiate gymnastics has changed drastically since this program's inception and current financial realities have forced us to accelerate a process of evaluating the long-term viability of gymnastics at Seattle Pacific," Stava said. "Through this evaluation the university has determined the need to discontinue the gymnastics program at this time."
When Seattle Pacific instituted its gymnastics program, it joined a competitive and active landscape. However, the sport has experienced significant downsizing at the NCAA Division II level where only five other schools sponsor women's gymnastics and those nearest to Seattle are more than 2,000 miles away, in Denton, Texas (Texas Woman's University) and St. Charles, Missouri (Lindenwood).
A total of 11 schools annually competed against SPU to qualify for the National Collegiate Championships, an event that has been hosted by USA Gymnastics since 1987 after the NCAA discontinued sponsoring a Division II championship. Included in that list of USAGym competitors were five Division I schools, which adopted the lower scholarship limits required for Division II members, along with Division III Centenary College.
"This decision has certainly been both agonizing and heart-wrenching as it impacts our student-athletes, coaches, alumni and university community in significant ways," said Stava. "While difficult, this decision has been deliberate and made with great thought and diligence in an effort to ensure the long-term future success of Falcon athletics."
Scholarships for current gymnastics student-athletes — including grants awarded to incoming students beginning in fall 2020 — will be honored for the four years of their SPU undergraduate tenures. Student-athletes who would like to join another institution's roster will be released without penalty and are free to transfer immediately.
The gymnastics practice facility will be re-purposed for another function to enhance the campus and athletics community.
There is no ideal time to implement a challenging decision like this. The announcement was made immediately following the spring quarter to enable the impacted student-athletes as much time as possible to find another institution where they can continue competing in gymnastics, if they choose to do so.
The SPU athletic department and university staff are committed to providing support to these student-athletes through the transition process. Members of the athletics compliance staff, academic staff and leadership team are available to discuss scholarship, transfer information, academic advisement and counseling resources.
The university is grateful to head coach Sarah Jean Marshall and her two assistants, Kaytianna McMillan and Ellen Smith, for leading the program through a truncated 2020 season that was stopped in early March due to the pandemic.
"Our primary concern moving forward are the people impacted by this decision. Our student-athletes and coaches have been incredible ambassadors for Falcon athletics and have excelled in competition, in the classroom and in the community," Stava said. "We will honor the athletic scholarships of any impacted student-athlete through their graduation from Seattle Pacific and will also aid in their ability to transfer and compete elsewhere if they so desire.
"This is a difficult day for Falcon athletics and the university community as a whole as SPU gymnastics has contributed in many ways to this university over the past 47 years. I am sincerely grateful to all who have participated in and supported SPU gymnastics over the years. We will continue to celebrate the success and legacy of this program in the years to come."
The university will continue to field 12 athletic teams: men's and women's basketball, men's and women's cross country, women's rowing, men's and women's soccer and women's volleyball, along with both indoor and outdoor men's and women's track & field.
Seattle Pacific has sponsored gymnastics since the 1974 season. The program has a proud history of producing outstanding alumnae, including women who earned 32 individual national championships and 221 All-America awards.
The Falcons fantastic legacy in the gymnastics arena featured three national team champions: 1986 (NCAA Division II), 1992 (USAG) and 1997 (USAG).
Those championship banners will continue to be displayed in Brougham Pavilion and the gymnasts will be considered in the SPU Hall of Fame selection process to recognize their significant achievements.