Bill Beekman: Decision to cut MSU's swim program won't change after $32M gift

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Michigan State athletics was celebrating Friday the $32 million gift it received from former basketball player and United Wholesale Mortgage president and CEO Mat Ishbia, but that influx of money will have no effect on the fate of the swimming and diving program.

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.

On Friday, Beekman reiterated the plans to cut the swimming and diving programs had not changed.

Michigan State announced in October it was cutting men's and women's swimming and diving at the end of this season.

“As Mat so eloquently said, part of his vision has been to affect all of our student-athletes, past, present and future,” Beekman said. “So for our swimming student-athletes that either are currently with us and decide to stay with us to finish their degrees, the Spartan For Life fund and program that we're starting will obviously be of great benefit to all student-athletes, including our swimmers and divers.

“But fundamentally, our decision to end the program at the end of this season remains.”

While the bulk of Ishbia’s donation ($20 million) is going toward expansion of the Skandalaris Football Center to include improving the football auditorium, expanding the weight room and creating new player lockers, informal meeting spaces as well as a dining and nutrition area, another $2 million will help create the Spartan For Life Fund focused on leadership and career development to serve as a springboard for all student-athletes to find employment after graduation and to assist with life-long career opportunities.

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“I want to make sure this gift touches every student-athlete at Michigan State, and it's not only current, but past, present and future,” Ishbia said. “That’s what the Spartan For Life program is all about. There's so many great Spartan owners or companies or people that are hiring, and we need to connect the student-athletes. So, there’s been a lot of time really making sure that, if you're a student-athlete at Michigan State, we’re going to make sure we connect you to wherever you are in the country.

“We have a great network of people, and we're going to make sure that everyone's connected and we're going to really spend a lot of time on that because once you become a Spartan, you're part of the family.”

Another $2 million was allocated for the men’s basketball program, leaving roughly $8 million of “excess money” that the athletic department will use at its discretion.

“Athletic director Bill Beekman, who is a huge part of this -- and I finally felt like there's a leader in the athletic department -- he says, ‘Let's think about long term. Let's win long term,’” Ishbia said. “I'm proud that there's going to be millions and millions of dollars left for him and Coach Izzo and Trustee (Brian) Mosallam to be able to make an impact on all sports. Whether it's the women's soccer team, the men's baseball team, whatever it is, we want to make sure we can make an impact on every student-athlete here at Michigan State.

“I’m hoping that the gift is large enough that we can make a contribution of football, basketball, the Spartan For Life Fund, but then all sports, and I'm proud of that opportunity to really feel like I've impacted all student-athletes at Michigan State.”

The swimming and diving programs are currently competing in their final seasons and have been pushing the university to reconsider. And while it doesn’t sound like there’s any plans to do so, there is some hope for the program.

Last 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.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau