Gophers’ athletics department cutting women’s roster spots along with three men’s sports

Following the protest on Sept. 16, new developments have risen in the fight for men’s track and field, gymnastics and tennis — most notably planning to cut women’s roster spots.


Kamaan Richards

Regent Michael D. Hsu attends a scheduled Board of Regents meeting on Friday, Sep. 13, 2019.

Matthew Kennedy

On Sept. 10, Minnesota athletics director Mark Coyle announced plans to cut three men’s sports, including indoor and outdoor track and field, tennis and gymnastics, starting in the 2021 academic year. On Oct. 9, the Board of Regents will vote on this decision, either pushing it through or starting from square one.

The department cited financial and Title IX concerns in making its decision. The department projected a $75 million loss in revenue if no sports were played this fall. The University has also seen growth among women in its undergraduate enrollment, forcing the department to cut men’s roster spots to meet Title IX compliance. However, after cutting three men’s sports, the department expects to cut 41 spots in women’s sports to fall back into compliance. The U expects to cut 57 men’s roster spots with the elimination of the three sports.

Cutting three men’s programs put the roster spots at 59% women and 41% men. The University needs 54% women and 46% men to respect current gender percentages who attend the University to allow equal opportunities and meet Title IX compliance.

The cuts on the women’s side include cross country losing 14 members, rowing losing 15, swimming and diving losing eight and the track teams losing 18. Other sports like softball, golf, and gymnastics will also lose a few roster spots as well.

One of the coaches affected by this proposal was Mike Burns of the men’s gymnastics team. Burns has had a long successful career as the head coach of the program, including a tremendous season last year, where the Gophers finished second at the NCAA championships for the fourth time in program history, and the best team finish since 1990. He’s been in favor of rethinking this plan. If there has to be cuts for sports, don’t kill the entire program, cut roster spots to reduce scholarship money given out to student-athletes.

“If you have skin cancer on someone’s face, you don’t cut the whole head off altogether,” Burns said.

The Gophers are one of 15 remaining collegiate gymnastics clubs for current and future Olympic athletes to practice and compete for.

Former members of these programs have voiced their opinions and are coming up with mathematical solutions to fix the issue. Don Carper, an alum of the men’s gymnastics program who has a background in data science and business intelligence, has proposed a popular solution. This plan would add eight women’s spots while reducing 38 roster spots for men. This could save 24 roster spots for men’s sports while still letting prestigious programs stay afloat and continue to give kids opportunities to continue their athletic careers at the University and stay on the team if already committed to Minnesota.

“You can always trim the fat. Don’t punish the students, you can always make cuts internally. I know that they did 10% pay cuts/headcount reductions but there is a lot of more frivolous spending if you look into the meat of the U’s financial decisions,” Carper said. “For example, no knock on this team but the football program spent $1 million on just to feed the team last season. I’m not quite sure what they are eating, and that’s much more than 115 of me would consume in a year.”

Another wrinkle in this predicament is the return of the biggest revenue booster for the University’s athletics department. Football is back. So, this announcement by Coyle and a vote in the October Board of Regents meeting before the season starts on Oct. 24 may be premature from a budgetary standpoint. According to former women’s cross country coach Gary Wilson, it’s a “whole new ballgame.”

Michael Hsu, a member of the Minnesota Board of Regents who is in favor of a new plan is also not sure why this decision is happening before the football season commences.

“I feel like this [cutting women’s sports] is part of their original plan, this isn’t a new development. The new development is that football is back. There will be much more money coming into our revenue stream playing nine games [versus] the usual 12 with no fans than not playing at all,” Hsu said.

With football returning after the decision by Coyle was made to cut men’s gymnastics, track and field, and tennis coupled with public backlash of removing roster positions on women’s sports teams should prove a challenge for the Board of Regents. The future of Gophers’ athletics will be decided on Oct. 9.