UC Riverside won't cut sports, will remain at Division I level despite pandemic

UC Riverside's leadership explored cutting its entire athletics department a year ago to save money amid the financial constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, however, the Big West school announced that it had saved the athletics department, which will continue to operate at the Division I level.

"We are not cutting any sports," UC Riverside athletic director Wes Mallette told ESPN.

UC Riverside's challenges were compounded by its position as one of America's most subsidized programs -- with more than 90% of its annual revenue coming from student fees. The school's chancellor, Kim A. Wilcox, told students via video in July that the financial challenges "don't leave us in a very optimistic position."

Mallette said the school's plan involves a three-year push to find solutions for its budget that will include "reductions" in some areas.

Schools around the country have wrestled with financial concerns over the last year, but low- and mid-major programs have been challenged to find ways to salvage entire programs, or in the case of UC Riverside, their departments. The University of Hartford is reportedly exploring a move from Division I to Division III athletics to ease financial strain.

"As the work of this group nears its completion and the decision to move forward at the Division I level has been made, I want to remind everyone that the road ahead will require much from all of us," Mallette said in his address to student-athletes. "The path forward will include a reduced organizational staffing model with additional reductions forthcoming. To face these continued challenges, we must remain focused. Everyone must be 'all in' as we continue to build our program. The long-term viability for athletics requires that level of commitment from all of us."