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'A very sad day': Cash-strapped MSU cuts men's, women's swimming and diving; savings near $2M

Matt Charboneau Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Facing a budget shortfall of $30 million-plus, cash-strapped Michigan State announced Thursday night it is cutting its men’s and women’s swimming and diving programs following the 2020-21 season.

The move was declared in an open letter signed by athletic director Bill Beekman and President Samuel Stanley.

Beekman said he met with the team around 4 p.m. to deliver the news, calling it “my most emotional moment is as their athletic director.”

Michigan State has cut men's and women's swimming and diving.

“Many tears were shed,” Beekman said. “A very, very challenging, difficult conversation to have with the young men and women who dedicated, frankly, the majority of their lives to their to their sport. And you've all at some point heard me talk about our focus on success on the field of play, in the classroom and in life. And although our programs have struggled in the pool, as it were, they have succeeded in every respect in their studies in the classroom and in preparation for doing great things in their futures.

“So, an extraordinarily difficult decision. A very sad day for me personally, obviously for all of them and their coaches and for Spartan athletics.

"But I think at the end of the day, the right decision for Spartan athletics.”

Scholarships will be honored beyond this year for those student-athletes that choose to finish their undergraduate degree at Michigan State. Contracts for all coaches will be honored through June 30, 2021. The decision affects 59 athletes and four coaches.

This is the first time Michigan State has cut a sports since ending its men's gymnastics program following the 2000-01 season. Other sports cut in Michigan State's history include men's fencing after the 1996-97 year, and men's lacrosse, which ended after the 1995-96 year. Boxing also ended as a varsity sport in 1959.

"Discontinuing a sport is one of the most difficult decisions for an athletic director and university leadership,” Beekman said in the original statement released on Thursday. “It has a significant impact on members of our community, and when they hurt, we all hurt. While the decision we make today is final, we will continue to support our student-athletes and affected staff the best we can.”

Beekman told reporters Thursday night there are no plans, at this point, to make any additional program cuts. This move could eventually save close to $2 million a year.

For the 2018-19 fiscal year, men's swimming and diving had a budget of $757,063 and women's had a budget of $977,224. Each team pays less than $200,000 for salaries. Matt Gianiodis coaches both teams, and has for 16 seasons. Gianiodis declined to speak with reporters Thursday, and swimmers weren't made available for comment.

Michigan State is the second Division I school in Michigan to cut a sport since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, Central Michigan eliminated men's indoor and outdoor track and field, saying it will save $600,000 a year in the long run.

Michigan State also is the third school in the Big Ten to cut sports since the start of the pandemic, joining Iowa (four sports) and Minnesota (three).

In mid-September, when the Big Ten announced it was going to play an eight-game football season with a bonus ninth game, Beekman suggested that, combined with other cost-cutting moves, the revenue from even a shortened season would allow Michigan State to come close to breaking even on its budget.

The athletic department has furloughed several staff members recently, including former football coach Mark Dantonio, who now has a $100,000 annual contract to serve as a brand ambassador, and Jamie Baldwin, SID for swimming and diving.

But cutting the swimming and diving program helps more in the long run than immediately, Beekman said.

“Certainly it does help us in the out years, financially," he said. "That was one component of a decision and it certainly wasn't the only factor.”

Under Gianiodis, who has been with the programs for 22 years and head coach for 17, 42 varsity records have been broken. Michigan State has been represented at the NCAA Championships in 2004, 2005, 2010, 2012 and 2017.

Gianiodis has coached Spartans swimmer to the 2004 South African Olympics, the 2006 Puerto Rican team nationals and the 2012 Olympic trials. 

But the program had obstacles, first among them being that Michigan State's indoor pool is not regulation size, and its outdoor, Olympic-sized pool at IM West recently closed.

“We spent the last number of months trying to really explore every option and think through every possibility,” Beekman said. “We did work very hard to explore every option and unturn every stone and think through every idea — sometimes wild and harebrained as things might be — in an effort to see if there was a way through this.

“But when the factors piled up between the cost crunch of the virus, the real inability for us to have facilities that allow us to recruit top-tier student-athletes with the lack of a 50-meter pool and the weight of the decision, really the question began to answer itself.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984