Regents to hear Gophers sports budget woes

Justin Ware

Amid budget shortfalls, the University is evaluating the financial future of its athletics departments and weighing options, including the elimination of sports programs.

University officials will provide details on the athletics departments’ financial troubles at a Board of Regents meeting Friday. But regents and coaches agree the process of planning the future for men’s and women’s athletics departments is still in the primary stages.

University baseball coach Jon Anderson said he isn’t surprised to hear of the shortfalls because of poor financial planning in the past.

“The University needs to determine what type of athletic program they want and take it from there,” Anderson said.

The University overspent by reacting too quickly when handling the 1999 basketball scandal and constructing women’s sports facilities to avoid Title IX lawsuits, Anderson said.

He also said the University has been forced to put major financial emphasis on the football team because of a national trend of relying on football programs to carry the economic weight of athletics departments.

“We can’t look at six or seven Saturdays and determine our budget from that,” Anderson said.

“Step one will be to have an in-depth review that will take place this Friday,” said Board of Regents Chairwoman Maureen Reed. “We’re going to be in all-ears mode and questioning mode.”

Reed said there are a number of options but said any speculated action at this point is “all in the rumor stages.”

Anderson mentioned the possibility of merging the men’s and women’s departments to form one athletics department.

“The competition shouldn’t be ourselves,” he said, “Men and women should not be competing against each other.”

Jean Freeman, University women’s swimming and diving coach, said the idea of combining the departments does not have support from University President Mark Yudof.

“Merging the departments will not make a difference for what the budget shortfall is,” Freeman said.

Anderson said having two separate departments detracts from the collective mission of University athletics and lends itself to financial problems.

“I think having two departments with two different leaders is causing the programs to go in two different directions,” he said.

Freeman said part of the reason women’s athletics is losing money rests on society’s promotion of men’s athletics, which siphons away fan support.

“(Athletics programs) make money on gate receipts and TV revenues,” Freeman said.

Women’s athletics currently receive little to no television coverage, she said.

Although Freeman said the current findings are just a report and people should not jump to conclusions, both she and Anderson said the possibility of eliminating programs is very real.

“As soon as people see we’re cutting back, they wonder if that means cutting sports,” Freeman said. “It could, but it could also mean many other things.”

Anderson said the first thing any business does when it is in financial disarray is attempt to increase its revenues. If that doesn’t work, the business might be forced to decrease some of its spending.

In the University’s case that would mean decreasing programs, Anderson said.

“It’s more damaging to have a bad program than no program at all,” he said.

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