ALBANY (CN) - Four aspiring tennis greats brought a federal class action Friday against the State University of New York at Albany for disbanding their team just before championships.
“The decision to end women’s tennis at SUNY Albany left the players – all but one of whom were foreign students – in limbo,” the complaint states. “For the foreign players, the option was to withdraw from defendant SUNY Albany, give-up their visas, and return to their countries of origin, only to restart the process of applying to universities with the hope of gaining admission, obtaining scholarships, winning a spot on another tennis team, and securing a new visa, all before the next season began. The women could have stayed at SUNY Albany and kept their scholarships. But these women are athletes, who trained from an early age to play tennis, who were recruited by SUNY Albany to play tennis, and who came to defendant’s campus to play tennis. The choice to stay and forego their dream – a choice that their male counterparts would never be required to make – was not a real choice or a viable option for these plaintiffs.”
SUNY Albany’s decision to shutter its women’s tennis program began in secret, according to the complaint, shortly after the hiring of Mark Benson as athletics director.
Though Benson allegedly lacks experience directing an NCAA Division I program, such as the SUNY Albany women’s tennis team, he has a reputation for packing stadiums with paying fans.
This was in desperate need at Albany, which was just about to open its 8,500-seat multisport complex in January 2013 when it learned that the New York Giants ended their 16-year run of conducting summer drills at the school, according to the complaint.
Along with four of the nine players who made up SUNY Albany’s female tennis team, Friday’s complaint is led by coach Gordon Graham.
The complaint says Benson informed Graham in March 2016 that SUNY Albany would terminate the women’s tennis team, opening up its $365,000 operating budget for redistribution.
Graham said he could not keep Benson’s secret from the players as they prepared for the America East Conference Championships, slated for May 2016.
“He had recruited them from around the world and plaintiff Graham knew they would be devastated,” the complaint states.
Graham and his assistant coaches then took the players to Benson himself. “After that meeting a furious Benson screamed at and threatened Graham,” the complaint states.
The players offer a theory about why Benson kept his actions secret: “to deprive [them] of any effective opportunity to contest the decision.”