'It's called betrayal': UM swimming, diving goes to bat for rival, wears 'SAVE MSU' masks

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

As the Michigan State swimmers and divers are playing out what's likely to be their final season, the Spartans have found an unlikely ally in their chief rivals at Michigan.

Michigan hosted Michigan State men on Friday and Michigan State women on Saturday, in what could be the last meetings between the programs.

Michigan swimming and diving coach wears a Michigan State mask during Friday's meet.

And Michigan made it clear that the Wolverines are going to miss the competition. For both meets, Michigan coaches and athletes wore Michigan State face masks that were green and read "SAVE OUR SPORT" one one half, and a picture of the MSU rock painted "SAVE MSU SWIM + DIVE" on the right side.

"It's called betrayal. It's sad," said Mike Bottom, head coach of Michigan men's and women's swimming and diving. "It's not a very good statement by the athletic department.

"Swimming is not expensive, and there's a lot of alumni that would've supported every penny."

Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman announced in October that the university would be eliminating men's and women's swimming and diving. He cited financial and infrastructure reasons. It's the first sport eliminated by Michigan State in nearly 20 years. This is the programs' final season, barring a miracle lifeline.

Earlier this month, 11 current Michigan State female swimmers filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging the university is breaking the spirit of Title IX legislation. They want a judge to issue an injunction to keep the program afloat beyond this season.

There is precedent for such a move. In 2019, a judge ordered Eastern Michigan to reinstate women's tennis.

Then, last week, it was announced that last fall, the same semester the program was cut, Michigan State had the best collective GPA in the nation among women's swimming and diving programs, and the men's program finished sixth.

"It just doesn't add up," said Bottom, Michigan's head coach of the men's team since 2008 and the women's team since 2013. "If it was really about money, they've give a shot to the team, a year-and-a-half or two years, to raise endowments. They have some incredible alumni here."

Bottom said he felt inspired to speak out, because his counterpart at Michigan State, Matt Gianiodis, has understandably had to lay low given the sensitivity of the situation and his contract. Gianiodis has yet to speak publicly about the university's decision.

Michigan swimming and diving coaches, including Mike Bottom, left, wear Michigan State masks during Friday's meet.

On Friday, Bottom walked over to Gianidodis before the meet and made some small talk. Then, Bottom walked over to the stands where the Michigan State swimmers were and expressed his remorse over the university's decision. Then, a member of the Michigan State team asked Bottom if he'd be interested in wearing a Michigan State mask. Bottom said yes, and Michigan State provided enough for everybody.

Bottom, obviously, wasn't about to require his Michigan athletes wear Michigan State masks — there have been Michigan coaches over the years who have chided reporters for wearing green on campus — but everyone on the team willingly wore them.

The women did the same Saturday, and after both meets, Michigan swimmers started a "Go Green, Go White" chant poolside.

"These are great athletes and great people that deserve a shot, and, oh, Michigan's surrounded by water," Bottom said. "This is something that encourages young people to swim. It has a far-reaching effect, and Michigan State's team has a far-reaching effect both in swimming and diving.

"We appreciate them. Our rivalry is not like a lot of Michigan State-Michigan rivalries, in that we are a close community in the swimming and diving community. It's a rivalry, now, don't get me wrong, but it's friendly. When we finish, if this was a normal year, we'd probably have pizza together."


Twitter: @tonypaul1984