Reaction rolls in on Temple cuts

Some of the sports that received a death sentence are featured in a mural at Temple's North Philadelphia campus.
Some of the sports that received a death sentence are featured in a mural at Temple's North Philadelphia campus. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 09, 2013

The petitions are starting - the gymnastics community out of the gate first, trying to resurrect a sport that's been on Temple's campus since 1926 - with more outrage arriving from places you would expect, and can respect.

The Schuylkill Navy, in charge of rowing on the river, distributed an open letter expressing how it was "shocked and saddened'' Temple had gone from trying to build a new boathouse to dropping the sport completely, and how it supports all efforts to get the school to reconsider.

Temple's administration prepared for all that with military precision before it rolled out its announcement Friday that seven sports would be cut.

Somebody must have remembered what happened in 1994, when the athletic director announced 11 days before a board of trustees vote that baseball and gymnastics would be cut. Opposition quickly mounted, and the board decided to keep the sports.

This time, Friday's noon vote by the board of trustees, we're told, was unanimous and final. Coaches, athletes, and media weren't briefed until that vote was taken.

"We can't pretend that we don't have a problem and we're providing a great experience for our student-athletes,'' said Temple athletic director Kevin G. Clark.

Clark and others insisted that the more than $3 million saved by cutting men's track and field, gymnastics, men's and women's rowing, baseball, and softball, will be reinvested, "reallocated back to the remaining sports," Clark said, and that other sports experiences need to be enhanced.

The sports cut were primarily chosen for cost reasons, Clark said. The decision to cut baseball and softball, as opposed to soccer, for instance, was mostly due to facilities needs, the athletic director said. Temple is in the bottom third of the American Athletic Conference in operating expenses, he added. Playing a bunch of baseball games this season at Campbell's Field in Camden turned out to be a parting gift.

"We were just limping along and we were spread too thin," Clark said, speaking of all the nonrevenue sports.

He knew all about Temple's long rowing tradition, for instance, but with a new boathouse needed, with land needed to be purchased, Clark said, "at the end of the day we could have purchased the land, but we wouldn't have had the money to build the facility."

There was spin built into Temple's announcement. The school announced that 150 students-athletes were "directly impacted" by the decision. Those are the nonseniors in the affected sports. As if seniors aren't impacted as the sport at Temple implodes on them?

Only upon questioning backed up by Department of Education figures was it confirmed that the number of spots to be cut was 208. (Federal figures are 228, but let's give Temple number-crunchers the benefit of the doubt that they can count.)

And if you're going to count direct impacts, please do count the high school seniors who signed letters of intent in November, turning down other offers, which in many cases are no longer be there. Those Temple letters mean nothing now, the commitment one-sided.

Administrators also talked about Title IX compliance. Fair enough: The moves get Temple closer to compliance, at a school where women now outnumber men. Smart move to do it now. But these cuts weren't caused by Title IX concerns. You don't drop two women's sports that feature 84 student-athletes if Title IX is more than a secondary focus.

Temple folks also bent too far backward to stress this had nothing to do with football. Football shouldn't be blamed for this. If there was no football at Temple, money would not magically appear for these other sports. Untrue and unfair to the football players, who are under enough pressure. And please don't suggest Temple should drop down a level. Those schools lose more money. There is TV money coming in thanks to football.

However, to suggest football provides revenue for other sports, as Temple administrators did - football doesn't pay for itself, how can it pay for anything else? (OK, some of the apparel and sponsorship money would go away without football, but how much did other sports really benefit financially from any of that? Not enough, apparently.)

"Football runs the show in athletics, financially,'' Temple president Neil D. Theobald told me in August.

He meant nationwide, and that if revenues are to improve - if Temple is ever to stop losing $7 million annually on athletics - the only path to profitability is through football. Whether Temple can ever get there is the highly questionable part.

Will the Atlantic Coast Conference get its own television network running and someday decide it wants Philadelphia cable sets involved? Who knows?

A bigger question: Is Division I athletics for participants, or realistically, more to rally the students and alumni? (Noting that Temple's alumni stubbornly refuse to be rallied).

Even if this all was handled with precision, none of it was easy on a wet, gray December afternoon.

Asked if it was the hardest thing he'd done, Clark noted that he had been in the military for 23 years, faced some tough issues there.

"But to stand in front of young people and take their dream away . . ." Clark said, not finishing the sentence.


Schuylkill Navy responds

We are shocked and saddened by Temple University's decision to drop rowing from its sports programs. Temple men's and women's crew have an illustrious competitive history with the men winning an unprecedented 20 championship titles at the Dad Vail Regatta here on the Schuylkill.

We stand in support of Coach Gavin White and Coach Rebecca Grzybowski and, especially, the student athletes whose very last season may suddenly and unexpectedly be upon them.

Announced in 2012, Temple's initiative to build a new boathouse on the east bank of the Schuylkill and, as part of the proposal, to fund a substantial portion of the renovation of the Canoe House, was a hopeful and welcome sign to the rowing community that Temple's program continued to be a strong one.

The Schuylkill Navy supports all efforts to work with the University to reconsider this decision and to ensure that Temple boats continue their presence on the Schuylkill and rowing venues everywhere.


Margaret Meigs, Commodore, the Schuylkill Navy, www.boathouserow.com


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

|
|
|
|
|