GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) — Just three months ago, the ECU men's swimming and diving team was celebrating its fourth AAC championship in the last six years. Now the program is no more. Captain Ben Barden shares his thoughts on what he calls a "surprising" decision.
"We were on top of the world, and then we come down to this news?" said Barden in a FaceTime interview with Tyler Feldman. "It's terrible."
That terrible news came out Thursday. Financial problems and COVID-19 forced ECU to make a very tough decision to drain the water out of its championship swimming pool.
"These student athletes did absolutely nothing wrong," said interim chancellor Ron Mitchelson during Thursday's press conference. "While these decisions have been horribly difficult for us, they are equally necessary."
68 student-athletes and nine coaches were impacted, including swim captain Ben Barden. He swims the backstroke and butterfly and says he was surprised by this decision.
"I'm shocked and frustrated at the decision that was made," said Barden. "It's sad to see this falling on student-athletes who are such good people."
Jon Gilbert is taking ownership. He's apologizing. But he's cleaning up a mess that was left behind by those in charge before him.
"Words are not enough, but I apologize to you," said Gilbert during Thursday's press conference. "This is not news that I want to be delivering to you today. However, I understand our financial realities and that East Carolina is not able to support 20 athletic programs at this time.
But no matter what he says, it will never take away from the fact that four programs were cut, including one of ECU's most decorated.
"Sadly, it just goes to show that you can win all the championships you want, but at the end of the day, it's really about money, which is really a rotten thing, and there's some people who should be ashamed of that," Barden added.
Money? A major factor. ECU will be saving nearly $5 million.
"The current state of the [Minges Natatorium] facility, and the money that would be needed to invest in the facility in the future played a large factor," Gilbert explained.
"We trained in a pool that was way out of date," said Barden. "It wasn't state-of-the-art by any means. We shared locker rooms with the club team, with scuba classes. We never had a fancy pool, but we always found a way to make it work and pull together as a group."
In talking with his teammates, Barden says the overall feeling is not good right now.
"The consensus is pretty much across the board just disbelief; frustration," said Barden. "We feel betrayed by ECU athletics."
But in the end, the soon-to-be senior is keeping a positive outlook.
"Once a Pirate. Always a Pirate," Barden said.
Barden says he has some thinking to do but will likely stay at ECU to finish out his degree.
ECU says it will honor every single scholarship for any of the 68 student-athletes who decide to stay and earn their degree at ECU.