Regents back athletics cuts, await Yudof’s decision in June

by Elizabeth Putnam

The athletics turmoil is far from over, but the roster of team players contributing to the final outcome grew Friday to include the Board of Regents.

The regents unanimously accepted the plan the University unveiled Thursday to tackle the financial burdens facing the athletics programs. The plan includes merging the men’s and women’s athletics departments and possibly eliminating men’s gymnastics and men’s and women’s golf.

The regents’ acceptance allows them to spend the next two months discussing how much money the University is willing to give to support athletics.

Athletics receives $10 million annually in subsidies – an amount expected to increase each year due to construction debts and lower-than-anticipated football revenue.

This amount will be a factor in University President Mark Yudof’s and University officials’ decision regarding the fate of the three sports programs facing elimination.

The cost to save the three teams looms at $18 million over the next five years, Yudof said.

Implementation of the University’s plan began immediately with a national search for a new athletics director.

As the historic changes to University athletics were laid on the table, some regents expressed concern about dropping sports and questioned the role each team and the NCAA have in changing that outcome.

“I have trouble with the elimination of any sport, especially
low-profile sports,” said Regent Anthony Baraga. “I think some of these things need to be brought to the national level.”

Baraga said athletics have “spread out of control” and the NCAA needs to grasp expenditures better during a time of nationwide uncertainty in the field.

“We can load all of our basketball players or football players on a plane, send them to Hawaii to play ball and stay in a good hotel,” Baraga said. “The rest of the population doesn’t get this treatment and the athletes do.”

Regent Richard McNamara, University alumnus and three-year letter winner for the Gophers football team from 1954-56, said dropping sports is a “terrible” solution. But he said there is still time to try to save the teams before Yudof makes his final decision in June.

“It’s a major problem, but they bought some time,” McNamara said. “I can relate to it closely. I owe a lot to the school, and I’m behind student-athletes.”

Although on paper the University’s plan cuts $8.5 million from the $21 million deficit, Vice President Tonya Moten Brown said the deficit could decrease if money management is controlled and fund raising is increased.

Questions still remain unanswered about how high-profile sports such as football and basketball can revive athletics financially.

Some regents questioned the role of football revenue as a possible source of additional funds.

Moten Brown said the University is planning an in-depth marketing study to evaluate men’s football’s revenue potential.

Regent William Hogan said he is hesitant to “open a can of worms” by looking into a Gophers football stadium as a potential revenue generator.

“Where is (football) played, and how do we deal with it?” Hogan said. “There are external factors out of our control.”

Regent David Metzen, a University alumnus and former Gophers hockey captain in 1964, said the plan is just the beginning of a long-term fix for athletics.

“If athletics is done right, it’s one of the greatest marketing tools we have,” Metzen said. “An athletic program at something like the University of Minnesota is like the front porch. It’s what people see; it’s our image; it’s our first impression.”

Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected]