UMN student-athletes, coaches and fans protest decision to cut sports

Student-athletes, coaches and fans gathered outside Athletes Village and marched to president Joan Gabel’s office in protest of the U’s decision to cut three men’s sports.

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Emily Pofahl

Protestors march past Northrup in protest of the potential cancellation of several men’s sports programs on Wednesday, Sep. 16. The protest march began in Athlete’s Village and ended in front of Morrill Hall, near President Joan Gabel’s office.

On Wednesday, student-athletes, family, fans and alumni gathered to march from Athletes Village, where athletics director Mark Coyle’s office resides, to Morrill Hall where president Joan Gabel’s office is located to protest the athletics department’s decision to cut three men’s sports.

This protest followed the surprising announcement by Coyle that the University will discontinue three men’s varsity sports: indoor and outdoor track and field, gymnastics and tennis. The athletics department cited financial hardships and Title IX compliance as reasons for making cuts. The decision is pending Board of Regents approval. The Board is expected to vote on the proposal in October.

The department estimates $75 million in lost revenue this year due to COVID-19. Cutting these programs saves the department $2 million in the fiscal year 2022 and $2.7 million annually once all student-athletes on athletics-based aid have graduated.

Mike Burns, the head coach of the men’s gymnastics team, has been an active participant in the fight against this decision. He has been active on Twitter, asking fans of the program to voice their disapproval of the decision with the Board of Regents.

Being at the march and seeing all of the support was really special to him, the gymnastics coach said.

“Bringing awareness is really important and this protest is being executed in a very respectful way. This shows the kind of class of the people that we have affiliated with the University,” Burns said.

Burns has had support from people in the gymnastics world locally, around the country and even internationally, to get his program back up and running. Now, it’s in the hand of the Board of Regents.

“These cancellations have a far, far more outreaching impact than an agenda item. There’s a lot of humanity to this decision and I hope they come to realize that from this protest and much more support we have gotten,” he said.

A number of student-athletes not affected by the U’s decision were also in attendance at Wednesday’s demonstration. Even without being directly affected, they came out to show support to their fellow student-athletes.

“As an athlete with our program still intact, you can’t imagine what it’s like for teams going through this struggle,” redshirt senior infielder Jack Wassel said.

Other student-athletes voiced their displeasure with the athletics department and said the financial impacts cited by the U are overstated.

“I think it’s good to get awareness out on what’s actually going on and [athletics director] Coyle has hidden behind a lot of lies,” said Owen Hoeft, a redshirt senior on the men’s cross country team, adding that he believes the department can find the money to revive the sports.

Burns was in favor of delaying the decision. All sports teams affected will likely have a spring season in 2021, and Burns said the University doesn’t have to rush a decision to handle this financial crisis.

“We’re going to have our season. Football just got voted in so that changes the landscape of the financial picture quite a bit,” Burns said, referring to the Big 10 Conference’s recent decision to bring back football in October. “So, I think some jets need to be cooled down. We need to have a chance to sit down, and take time to put a lot of brilliant minds to this issue. The result will be a solution to create a better output.”

Senior golfer Kate Lillie said it’s powerful how everyone, regardless of sport, joined together in unity to support everyone affected by the athletics department’s decision.

“If they don’t know that athletes outside of these programs are disagreeing with their decision and are empathetic towards the cause of bringing these sports back, then they will never listen,” she said.