Yudof announces athletics merger

Elizabeth Putnam

University President Mark Yudof and Vice President and Chief of Staff Tonya Moten Brown unveiled their proposal Thursday to reduce the two athletics departments’ $21 million deficit.

The three-phase plan will merge the athletics departments and recommends cutting men’s gymnastics and men’s and women’s golf. The proposal will also add $1.25 million in investments to improve financial management and fund-raising efforts.

“Throughout this process we have tried to be sensitive to the concerns raised by student-athletes, coaches, boosters and friends of the University,” Yudof said. “We’ve worked hard to balance those with our institutional values and priorities, including our stewardship responsibility and our primary academic mission of the University of Minnesota.”

The recommended cuts of the three teams came a day after nearly 300 athletes and team supporters rallied in front of Morrill Hall and two days after University athletics coaches stood in solidarity at a press conference in opposition to the rumored cuts.

Moten Brown said several factors – including the revenue each team brings in – were researched in the decision to cut. Considerations included fan attendance, Minnesota scholarship recipients and high school
participation in each sport.

“Given our financial challenges, however, we believe the University is simply not in the position to
sustain all 23 sports programs and remain competitive in all sports,” Moten Brown said.

Before the cuts are finalized, the plan will go to the Advisory Committee on Athletics and then to the Board of Regents for review Friday. Although the regents are not required to approve the plan, Yudof said he hopes it receives their support.

The University is falling in line with a national trend of cutting sports programs to make ends meet, Yudof said.

“We are not immune at the University of Minnesota. I wish we were, but we are not,” Yudof said.

Other institutions facing similar situations include the University of Wisconsin, Iowa State and the University of Massachusetts.

The cuts will have no significant effect on current athletes with scholarships. Yudof said the University will honor the scholarships and will allow the athletes ease in transferring schools.

However, Moten Brown said high school senior athletes wishing to compete in the three sports and who have signed a letter of intent are “stuck” until final decisions about the cuts are made. After signing a letter of intent, an athlete is not allowed to even speak with other institutions.

The athletics departments’ merger – ending 29 years of separate departments – will be complete by July 1. The University is one of five NCAA Division I schools with separate departments.

“The lack of coordinated
financial planning between the men’s and women’s departments, the absence of consistent management decisions and strategies and the failure to jointly evaluate and consider the long-term impact of financial decisions have played a significant role in contributing to the financial challenges we are facing today,” Moten Brown said in her speech.

The decision to merge the departments will eliminate the positions of current athletics directors Chris Voelz and Tom Moe. Their contracts end June 30, but Voelz will become an assistant consultant to assist in merging the two departments.

The University plans to open a nationwide search for a new athletics director immediately.

Yudof said the new athletics director will have strong financial knowledge and must be equally supportive of both men’s and women’s sports.

The possible merge became headline news in December, when the Board of Regents was presented with an athletics financial report outlining a $31 million budget shortfall. In March, a second refined report showed a $21 million budget shortfall.

The plan also outlines a moratorium on all nonessential facilities. No new atheltics facility construction or remodeling will occur until 2005.

Yudof said the plan is a big step toward the responsible management of athletics, while limiting impact on student-athletes.

“We require colleges, departments and administrative units to live within their budgets and prohibit deficit spending,” Yudof said. “Intercollegiate athletics, for all of its contributions, should not be treated differently in this regard.”