Coaches oppose merging men’s, women’s sports

by Elizabeth Putnam

Coaches from every University athletics team filed into the Gibson-Nagurski football complex Tuesday and declared opposition to rumored plans University officials will merge the men and women’s athletics departments and cut some non-revenue sports.

University officials are expected to announce Wednesday how they plan to overcome financial difficulties within the departments.

Athletics face a $21 million deficit and merging the two departments could save up to $1.2 million per year in administrative expenses, according to an athletics financial report presented in March to the Board of Regents.

In a letter signed by 22 coaches – representing all of the University’s sports – and sent to University President Mark Yudof and the Board of Regents, the athletics departments said they are urging University officials to delay the cuts.

“We believe cutting participation opportunities for sports is the most undesirable way to meet our financial challenges,” David Geatz, men’s tennis coach, read from the letter. “It should only be used as a last resort and is not an appropriate course of action at this time.”

Men’s gymnastics and men’s and women’s golf are the sports rumored to be cut under the plan.

John Roethlisberger, former Olympian and University gymnast in the 1990s, gave a plea to save the sport.

“We have an incredible tradition here in Minnesota,” he said. “I know that whenever I stepped out on the floor Ö I wanted to win because I wanted to come back to this campus with a championship.”

Melissa Arthur Ringler, women’s golf coach, said she heard rumors over the weekend the golf program was on the chopping block.

“I am just trying to stay positive,” Arthur-Ringler said. “It is hard to just sit back and wait to find out what decisions are made.”

In a statement released shortly after the press conference, Tonya Moten Brown, University vice president and chief of staff, said all options are still on the table.

“I understand that this is a very difficult and emotional time Ö we are absolutely committed to treating everyone impacted by any changes in intercollegiate athletics fairly,” Moten Brown said. “We have a financial responsibility and obligation to spend within our means, not just in athletics but throughout the University.”

Senior gymnast Bob Goss said cutting men’s gymnastics would end a 100-year tradition younger athletes dream of joining.

“It’s not a sport you just join. It’s a 15-year commitment,” Goss said. “I am confident we will be around next season.”

Although women’s gymnastics is expected to remain free of changes, co-coach Jim Stephenson said he is still concerned about the possible cuts to other sports.

“I see this as a continuation of the national trend, which is sentencing a large number of Olympic sports to a condition of obscurity,” said Stephenson. “Consequently, two negative things result – less participation from young athletes and less international success.”

Don Lucia, men’s hockey coach, said the athletics departments are looking at better ways to solve the budget problems, such as fund raising or finding ways to make more money through ticket sales at football and basketball games.

“We don’t pretend to have the solution to this problem,” Lucia said.

– Adam Fink and Tom Ford contributed to this report

Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected]