MILWAUKEE — The University of Illinois-Chicago Swim and Dive team finished fourth overall at the Horizon League Conference Championships this weekend.
But they almost didn't compete at all.
Less than a day before the meet began, the league board agreed 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 with both of the swimmers three days before the championship, when they had little hope that they'd be able to compete.
"My initial response upon hearing this news was nothing but shock," said Jeff Wiedoff on the decision to keep UIC athletes out of the water.
"I was instantly filled with just disappointment and sadness," said Cory Michalek.
Here's what happened.
The University of Illinois-Chicago recently announced it's leaving the Horizon League for the Missouri Valley Conference.
But, UIC did not give the Horizon League a year's notice, a violation of league bylaws.
In addition to a fine of $500,000 and other restrictions, athletes — like Wiedoff and Michalek — are banned from conference championships if the school violates the notice period to exit.
The UIC said it was in compliance with all other restrictions, and that it only wanted relief from the bylaw that would keep its students out of conference tournaments.
The Horizon League board reviewed UIC's request for relief, but agreed to uphold all penalties.
That changed last Tuesday. In a statement, here's what the Horizon League had to say:
“The response from UIC leaders has been disappointing, disingenuous, and inconsistent with our League values. At the end of the day, our League’s Board of Directors realized that UIC leaders were not going to take any action to restore eligibility for their student-athletes – including by making a simple request to the Missouri Valley Conference to enter in 2023. So our Board chose to exercise their authority to grant the student-athletes an exception to the agreed-upon bylaw.”
UIC responded with comments from its leadership:
"On behalf of our student-athletes, we thank the Horizon League Board of Directors for reaching this decision," said UIC Director of Athletics Michael Lipitz. "Our student-athletes are thrilled and appreciative 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 members of the Board, which helped us achieve the best possible outcome for our student-athletes and for the League," said UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis.
Bylaws are in place to protect all schools within an athletic conference. And in 2013, UIC did vote in favor of the rule that athletes could be banned from conference championships.
When a team leaves, especially on short notice, it impacts scheduling and opponents. It can also cost a conference money.
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] put in every single day, I think they deserve them a championship meet," said Michalek.
UIC Men's and Women's teams both finished fourth overall.