University of Minnesota cuts three men's sports programs
The University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents voted 7-5 Friday in favor of eliminating three men’s sports programs — gymnastics, tennis and indoor track and field — at the end of the academic year, but outdoor track and field will remain after being taken off the chopping block moments before the meeting.
Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle has said the reasons for the cuts were to help the school become more Title IX compliant and to help lessen a revenue shortfall due to the downsizing of schedules, particularly in football, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Both numbers associated with those reasons went down Friday compared to the Gophers’ original proposal on Sept. 10. The cost savings dropped from $2 million to $1.6 million, and the number of affected student-athletes decreased from 58 to 34, according to Coyle.
When Coyle shared the new, smaller dollar figure for savings during the mostly virtual meeting, a collective groan was heard from student-athletes watching inside the board room in the McNamara Alumni Center.
The subtraction of outdoor track and field for elimination was presented to the board at the “last minute” before its monthly meeting and led to a motion from Regent Darrin Rosha to postpone the vote given the lack of time to review what became a moving target.
The motion failed in a 7-5 vote; it was the exact same divide for the overall vote on cutting the sports. The Regents initially postponed a vote at the September meeting.
University president Joan Gabel supported the new proposal in her introduction of Coyle’s presentation. She said they were “very sadly” proposing the cuts, while acknowledging “significant feedback” from the university community.
Representatives for the affected sports program led rallies, wrote letters to Regents and other officials and put together proposals to make their teams self-sufficient.
In May, the university estimated a $75 million revenue shortfall if no sports were played in 2020, and with the return of the college football season in late October, deputy AD Rhonda McFarland said the university will lose roughly $45-$60 million because of fewer football games available for revenue in media-rights deals and because of no expected ticket and seat licensing revenue for home football games at TCF Bank Stadium.
“The numbers are totally off,” said Adrienne Levy, an associate lawyer at Nesenhoff and Miltenberg, a firm representing members and alumni of the men’s gymnastics program. “The amount saved doesn’t square with this claim of the need to close a budget shortfall because the money saved is so miniscule.”
Coyle said the sports program cuts are one step the department has taken. He said the Gophers have removed $9.5 million through a variety of means and will need to take out a loan through the university to make up some of the remaining difference.
“Given the financial reality and Title IX compliance, this difficult decision had to be made to ensure long-term sustainability for athletics,” Coyle said in his presentation.
Discussion lasted nearly two hours, with debate toggling back and forth.
“It is a compromise,” Regent Richard Beeson said. “As with all compromises, it leaves everyone rather empty. I certainly feel that way. I want to make particular mention of the men’s tennis, gymnastics and indoor track programs and their current and past coaches, boosters who have done great work and have done nothing to deserve the demise of their sport.”
Coyle said there are a handful of other Big Ten and Pac-12 schools that field an outdoor track and field team without an indoor team.
But Regent Mike Kenyanya expressed concern about an adverse recruiting impact of having only an outdoor track and field team and no corresponding indoor season.
Gymnastics coach Mike Burns wrote a 26-page plan to make his program a self-sustaining club-style outfit that would alleviate the budgetary reason for its cutting. It was submitted to the Board of Regents.
Coyle, during his presentation, said “fundraising is an unrealistic option.”
In its September announcement, the university’s news release made a minor mention of roster adjustments for women’s programs. That will include roughly 40 roster spots in rowing, track and field and cross country, which will bring their sports closer to the average size of teams across the NCAA.
“The story of cutting women’s slots is disturbing,” regent Michael Hsu called. “But more disturbing is the fact that we weren’t transparent about it.”
Coyle clarified in a video call with reporters that when taking into account graduations and spots not recruited, he said it would affect about five women student-athletes.
But cutting both men’s and women’s athletes doesn’t make substantive changes relating to Title IX, the gender-equity law. The Gophers listed 295 male and 234 female student-athletes in 2019.
“The time and energy that has been spent drafting emails, letters and raising money, the damage has been done to our Gopher family, and it didn’t have to be,” Hsu said during the debate. “This damage was self-inflicted. This will get worse if we continue on and approve this (on Friday). The blowback will be huge.”
Nesenoff & Miltenberg will consider filing a lawsuit on behalf of members of the men’s gymnastics program, but Levy declined to say in what capacity.