Golf, men’s gymnastics get reprieve

Courtney Lewis

For now, men’s gymnastics and men’s and women’s golf have been granted a reprieve.

The teams will be permitted to compete next year, allowing supporters time to acquire the necessary funds to keep them afloat, University officials announced Friday.

The athletics departments must collectively raise $900,000 by June 30. After that, the merged athletics department must find an additional $1.8 million by February for the three teams to continue competing until June 2005.

If the goals are not met, the three teams will be eliminated in July 2003.

University officials announced April 11 they would be eliminating the three teams for a five-year cumulative savings of $3.6 million in effort to lessen the athletics departments’ $21 million deficit.

University President Mark Yudof said the athletics departments have been inquiring about how much money they would need to keep the teams.

“It’s something I’ve been pondering,” Yudof said Friday. “People wanted a hard and fast number. Today, I put that number down on paper.”

Tonya Moten Brown, University vice president and chief of staff, said officials have been fielding calls from supporters asking for more time.

“We have been in constant
communication with parents, students and the athletics departments,” Moten Brown said. “We took all of that into consideration.”

But it was a letter sent Thursday to University officials from the Minnesota House of Representatives requesting the administration keep the men’s and women’s golf teams at least long enough to try to find the funds to save the teams that had “significant influence,” Yudof said.

“The letter from 86 legislators focused my attention,” Yudof said. “It didn’t say, ‘fund.’ It just asked to give a reasonable amount of time.”

The letter asked the University to give the private sector time to provide funding for the golf programs, said Rep. Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka.

“There is a rich golf history at the ‘U’. We’ve produced some of the best men and women’s golfers in the world,” Abrams said. “I felt it was important that tradition be continued.”

Abrams said Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, was also drafting and distributing a similar letter in the Senate.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said gymnastics was not included in the letter because of the declining numbers of men’s gymnastics teams in the country.

“Golf is one of the fastest growing sports for young people in the state,” Kahn said. “We should have more sports, and we should not be eliminating golf.”

With a possible 16 percent tuition increase and a $23.6 million legislative cut from University funds, Moten Brown said the administration doesn’t want taxpayers to pay for the sports teams through University subsidies.

“They’ll still have some real challenges next year,” she said.

High school seniors recruited to the University will be able to compete next year and students who passed on full scholarships to other universities could take advantage of that invitation if the three departments are cut, Moten Brown said.

“They are both students and athletes, but they are students first,” Moten Brown said. “By allowing them one more year, it gives them time to think about their future.”

Amy Schmucher, a women’s golf recruit and high school senior, is now forced to re-evaluate her options again, said her father, Brian Schmucher.

“This has been real hard for her, and she is glad the program will be around next year,” Schmucher said. “She is still working on gaining her release from the school but she hasn’t decided her future yet. We will sit down as a family on Monday and decide where to go next.”

Men’s gymnastics coach Fred Roethlisberger said he is happy his sport and his athletes were given another year to compete, but he said he is approaching the additional season as only an extended timeline to raise funds.

“It’s saying, if you guys can take care of the programs for three years, maybe other solutions will come forward in that time,” Roethlisberger said. “I was optimistic along the way. Now, I’m especially happy for the guys on the team.”

Yudof said the University Foundation would aid in fund raising to save the teams.

“In the short-run, the foundation will render assistance,” Yudof said. “In the long-run, we will put the full muscle of the foundation behind it.”

When asked what would happen if the fund-raising efforts fall slightly short, Yudof said, “If these two goals aren’t forthcoming, then the programs will be eliminated.”

 

– Adam Fink and David La Vaque contributed to this report.

Courtney Lewis welcomes comments at [email protected],
Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected].