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Credit: Chase Sutton

Coach Mike Scnur could only watch as Ivy League rival Dartmouth cut its swimming program. 

Even with the assurance that Penn's team won't be cut, this season may be the most trying of the 29 that he has spent with the program.

For sports programs across the Ivies, shocking news came in early June when Brown decided to cut 11 of its varsity sports, citing an effort to make its teams more competitive in the Ivy League. In early July, Dartmouth cut five of its varsity sports, swimming included, and Stanford cut 11 as well.

“I feel terrible for the coaches and for the athletes at Dartmouth ... If they were going to cut them, they should’ve done it in February, so they all could’ve transferred and continued their careers. What they did was really unfair to those kids,” said Schnur. 

Unanswered questions linger around other aspects of athletics, such as when seasons will return and how team practices and training can be arranged. 

Schnur has long spent his days walking the steamy pool decks of Sheer Pool, watching his swimmers complete their sets. Now all he can do is talk to them on the phone.

“I’ve never made so many phone calls in my life,” Coach Mike Schnur said. 

In a continuing period of doubt and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, coach Schnur and Penn swimming are taking advantage of the downtime by recruiting, keeping in touch, and remaining hopeful to compete soon.

Unable to coach his athletes in person, Schnur has dedicated the majority of his time to recruiting with assistant coaches. It’s been time well spent, as he says they finished recruiting their high school class of 2021 and have begun their high school class of 2022. His players, in the meantime, have been studying hard, as 75% of the women’s team posted 4.0 GPAs in the spring. 

Like other sports leagues, companies, and cities, coach Schnur is bombarded with questions regarding the nature of his team’s future. It’s difficult for him to only be able to repeatedly answer with “I don’t know” when seniors ask him if their careers are over. 

Yet, he forces himself to remain optimistic about the chances of sports returning and focuses on positives, such as the fact that neither the Ivy Championship nor National Championships — both in the upcoming spring — have been canceled yet. 

Information on decisions made by the Ivy League is relayed quickly to Schnur by Penn's administration. After a two-day buffer, that information is then given out to the student-athletes through a Zoom call with Dr. Calhoun.

“I think everyone on our team and just about every Penn student is bored to death at home and misses their friends," said Schnur. "Penn is a place we all love and want to come back to.”

Upon returning in the fall, practices will be held within the guidelines set by the Ivy League and Penn Athletics, currently set for one hour, five days a week. If all goes as planned, practice times will gradually increase as the months pass. 

Swimming is somewhat lucky during this time, as it is a sport that is naturally socially distanced with one swimmer per lane.

For these reasons, swimmers may have a decent shot at competing this season.  

“This is a year that is just going to be a challenge on so many different levels," said Schnur. "The teams that handle this the best will be better off long term.”