MILWAUKEE — The University of Illinois at Chicago swim and dive team finished fourth overall in the Horizon League conference championships this weekend.
But they almost didn’t compete at all.
Less than a day before the start of competition, the league board agreed that UIC athletes would be eligible to get in the water.
This was great news for Jeff Wiedoff, a UIC junior from Pewaukee, and his teammate, Cory Michalek, a UIC freshman from Wales.
TMJ4 News spoke to both swimmers three days before the championship when they had little hope of being able to compete.
“My initial reaction to this news was nothing but shock,” said Jeff Wiedoff of the decision to keep UIC athletes out of the water.
“I was immediately filled with disappointment and sadness,” Cory Michalek said.
Here is what happened.
The University of Illinois at Chicago recently announced that it is leaving the Horizon League for the Missouri Valley Conference.
But, the UIC failed to give the Horizon League a year’s notice, a violation of the league’s statutes.
In addition to a $500,000 fine and other restrictions, athletes — like Wiedoff and Michalek — are banned from conference championships if the school violates the exit notice period.
UIC said it abides by all other restrictions and only wants relief from the rules that would prevent its students from participating in conference tournaments.
The Horizon League Board of Directors reviewed UIC’s request for relief, but agreed to uphold all sanctions.
That changed last Tuesday. In a statement, here’s what the Horizon League had to say:
“The response from the UIC leadership was disappointing, dishonest and inconsistent with the values of our League. were going to take no action to restore the eligibility of their student-athletes – including making a simple request to the Missouri Valley Conference to enter in 2023. Thus, our Board chose to exercise its authority to grant student-athletes an exception to the agreed settlement.
UIC responded with management comments:
“On behalf of our student-athletes, we thank the Horizon League Board of Directors for making this decision,” said UIC Athletic Director Michael Lipitz. “Our student-athletes are thrilled and grateful to have the opportunity to fully participate in their respective sports as UIC completes its final year of membership.”
“We appreciate the leadership of Commissioner Julie Roe Lach and the Board members, who have helped us achieve the best possible results for our student-athletes and for the League,” said UIC Chancellor, Michael Amiridis.
Rules are in place to protect all schools within an athletic conference. And in 2013, the UIC voted in favor of the rule that athletes could be banned from conference championships.
When a team leaves, especially on short notice, it has an impact on the schedule and the opponents. It can also cost money at a conference.
Before the reversal, Wiedoff and Michalek said they were mostly concerned about their senior teammates, some who wouldn’t have had another chance to compete.
“How much effort they [seniors] every day I think they deserve a championship encounter,” Michalek said.
The UIC men’s and women’s teams both finished fourth overall.
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