Plagued by financial problems for the past several years and facing a crucial academic accreditation audit this fall by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the University of Mobile announced in early March that it is temporarily suspending their menís and womenís tennis programs.
"This is not an elimination, itís a temporary suspension," said Dr. John Runda, Mobileís Director of Athletics. "The status of the tennis programs will be reviewed after we receive the results of the audit. Hopefully, this will only be a one year suspension."
Already on academic probation and facing the loss of accreditation, Dr. Runda explained that all areas of the University, not just the athletic department, have been under review for quite some time. "Taking into consideration the Universityís overall financial strategy, we decided that, from an athletics standpoint, the suspension of the tennis programs was the most prudent decision we could make." Dr. Runda refused to discuss specific details of the academic probation but did emphasize that demonstrated fiscal responsibility was a major determining factor in whether or not the University of Mobile kept their SACS accreditation.
Derrick Racine, the Rams tennis coach, who was named to replace the retiring Skeeter Carson at West Florida a month before the suspension was announced, was understandably melancholy about the decision. "Obviously, itís sad to see such successful programs shut down. But I know the powers that be did what they felt was best for the University as a whole."
Having won three National Championships (men in Ď93, Ď97 and women in Ď94), and finishing in the top three each of the last six years, Mobile has been, arguably, the most dominant NAIA program of the 90ís. Currently ranked 1st (men, who are the defending champions) and 2nd (women), Mobile has a chance to take a piece of NAIA tennis history with them.
"No NAIA program has won the menís and womenís championships in the same year," said Racine, who came to Mobile from Valdosta State where he was a player and later served as an assistant. "It would be a great way to go out but, with our tournament format, youíve got to have a lot of luck to pull off a double championship."
Dr. Runda, while emphasizing that financial savings were the major determining factor in the decision to suspend tennis, also admitted that the status of the coach and the current student/athletes were also taken into consideration. "With Derrick leaving and (between the two programs) having six seniors graduating and several others, who had already told us of their intention to transfer, the impact on our students-athletes will be minimal," he explained. "In fact, we timed the announcement so we would have plenty of time to help our four remaining student/athletes plan their futures."
It would be a script Hollywood wouldnít believe if Racine and his Rams could pull off a double championship the day before they turn out the lights on the tennis programs. Mobileís shut down, however, no matter how temporary is a major setback for small college tennis.
Reprinted with permission from "Bob Larson's College Tennis Weekly."
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