New Orleans to restore tennis, men's swimming in '08
NEW ORLEANS -- The University of New Orleans is bringing back three athletic programs that were wiped out by Hurricane Katrina before the 2005-06 academic year.
Men's and women's tennis, as well as men's swimming and diving will be back starting next fall, the university announced Friday.
The three teams will be the first of nine suspended sports programs to come back.
"This is exciting news, because it marks the first tangible steps to restore our program to NCAA Division I standards," UNO athletics director Jim Miller said. "Athletics is an important part of student life and the university's revival."
UNO, a four-year state university whose campus sits on the south shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain, had 15 sports before Katrina struck.
While the storm swamped and devastated neighborhoods all around the university, the campus, which sits on relatively high ground near a major levee, had only minor flooding and was able to reopen in a diminished state for the 2006 spring semester.
There was widespread wind and rainwater damage, however, leaving major portions of the sports complex off-limits pending extensive repairs, including Lakefront Arena, which houses the school's primary basketball stadium and swimming pool.
The university reopened with an NCAA exemption allowing it to temporarily sponsor only six Division I sports instead of the minimum 14.
UNO retained men's and women's basketball, baseball, volleyball, women's swimming and men's golf.
The basketball and volleyball teams have been using an older gym on campus with wooden, rollout bleachers, while the women's swim team has had to borrow Tulane's pool. The baseball team was the first to return to its regular, on-campus field during its 2006 season.
Lakefront Arena is expected to reopen in the late spring of 2008.
The tennis teams will play at the new 26-court University Tennis Center, construction of which began several days before Katrina and has been completed since the storm.
Miller said he has begun interviewing prospective tennis coaches and hopes to hire one within the next two months. Head swimming coach Randy Horner will oversee the addition of a men's program to the women's program.
The addition of men's swimming has national significance because UNO will become the first NCAA Division I institution to add a men's swimming program in more than two decades.
"This is a very significant event, one that we believe will signal a turning of the tide in the struggle to maintain and expand the sport of intercollegiate swimming," said Dr. Phil Whitten, president of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America.
UNO's waiver from the NCAA requires the university to attempt to add an additional five sports by the 2010-11 academic year.
Miller said the rate at which more sports return will depend on revenues, meaning university enrollment must grow sufficiently and that the department must increase its own income through ticket sales, sponsorships and donations.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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