Gopher Athletics cutting men’s track and field, men’s tennis, men’s gymnastics

Gopher Athletics is cutting men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), men’s tennis and men’s gymnastics as a result of "future sustainability issues, both financial and Title IX related."

The cuts were announced in an all-staff call Thursday afternoon.

The sports being terminated will be allowed to compete if there is a 2020-2021 season.

The cancellation of fall sports combined with the loss of revenue from the halted spring season leaves Gopher Athletics facing a projected $75 million deficit for the fiscal year.

The University of Minnesota had been carrying 25 sports – fourth-most in the Big Ten Conference – with an overall budget that ranks eighth.

In addition to dropping sports, the University is implementing a "Personnel Cost-Reduction Plan".

This plan will see academic professional and administrative employees take a 10-percent pay cut. Civil service and labor-represented employees will see 17-day furloughs. Employees making $40,000 or less won’t be included in the cuts.

Eight positions within the athletic department, but not among the sports being cut, will also be eliminated.

Some of Gopher Athletics’ highest-salaried employees previously agreed to salary reductions. Coyle, and head coaches P.J. Fleck, Hugh McCutcheon, Bob Motzko, Richard Pitino and Lindsay Whalen all agreed to cuts earlier this year. Those cuts will be extended through the fiscal year.

The following is an open letter sent to the Gopher Athletics Community on Thursday by University President Joan Gabel and Athletic Director Mark Coyle:

An Open Letter to the University of Minnesota Athletics Community

We are writing to you today with difficult news.

For years, Gopher Athletics has operated like most Minnesotans – by humbly doing more with less. Minnesota has diligently sponsored 25 varsity sports, which is the fourth-most in the Big Ten Conference, on a budget that is only the eighth largest. Despite this imbalance, we have taken great pride in offering and excelling in a broad-based athletic department, one that has claimed 76 regular-season conference titles in 20 different sports since 2000.

For the past few years, we had forecasted future sustainability issues, both financial and Title IX related, and although we have directed our efforts to address these challenges while maintaining our current sport offerings, we knew we would be faced with a difficult sports sponsorship decision at some point.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the Big Ten’s decision to postpone fall 2020-21 sports has greatly increased the financial concerns. Our athletic department is now facing a projected loss of revenue of approximately $75 million just this fiscal year. This is a significant deficit and one that will have an impact for years to come. At the same time, we remain steadfast in our commitment to provide Title IX gender-equitable participation opportunities that are closely aligned with our male and female undergraduate enrollment percentages. We are mindful that our sport programs have worked to adjust their participation opportunities to keep pace with our growing female undergraduate population percentages.

As a result, we have determined that Athletics is no longer able to financially or equitably sustain 25 varsity programs, and pending approval of the Board of Regents, we will discontinue men’s indoor track and field, men’s outdoor track and field, men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis at the completion of their 2020-21 competition season. Should health and safety precautions allow, these teams will have the opportunity to compete during the 2020-21 season.

Our goal for the last few years was to create a nimble athletic department, one that was self-sufficient, competed at the highest level and provided a first-class experience for our student-athletes. We experienced record-level fundraising during the last several years and reduced our operating budgets during both FY19 and FY20. When COVID-19 struck, we adjusted and members of our executive team and several head coaches volunteered for two separate pay reductions. We previously reduced $5 million from our FY21 budget and implemented hiring and spending freezes. Despite these financial efforts, we can still no longer sustain 25 programs.

In addition to the financial challenges and gender-equity commitments, we also considered community impact, local and national interest, competitiveness, and sport sponsorship at the Big Ten and NCAA Division I level when making this decision.

We understand that this is devastating news for impacted student-athletes, coaches and staff. We also recognize the ripple effect this decision will have on all of our student-athletes and on former letterwinners, alumni, donors, family, friends and fans who have participated on and cheered for these four programs over the years. We did not make this decision lightly.

Members of the impacted teams will continue to have access to athletic, academic and mental health support throughout their 2020-21 competition season. We will also continue to honor all existing scholarships for individuals who choose to complete their undergraduate degree at Minnesota, while still offering them access to academic advising, sports psychology and necessary access to athletic medicine. We will also assist any student-athlete who decides to transfer and will support them through the transition process.

We have been honest with our student-athletes, staff and campus leadership about the severe financial ramifications our department is facing. We are also aware that this decision directly impacts lives and the livelihoods of many, while forever changing the landscape of Gopher Athletics.

Personnel Cost-Reduction Plan

In addition to adjusting our sport offerings, we are also announcing a personnel cost-reduction plan for Athletics. This is in addition to the University’s previously implemented furlough and pay-reduction plan, which members of the athletic department already participated in. Most academic professional and administrative employees will be subject to a 10 percent reduction in appointment, while civil service and labor represented employees will be furloughed for 17 days. These impacts will continue for the remainder of the fiscal year. Employees who make $40,000 or less will not be impacted.

The athletic department is also eliminating eight positions in addition to those that will be eliminated because of program discontinuation. The department anticipates a savings of $1.3 million this fiscal year related to its personnel cost-reduction plan.
It was previously announced that Director of Athletics Mark Coyle and head coaches P.J. Fleck, Hugh McCutcheon, Bob Motzko, Richard Pitino and Lindsay Whalen volunteered for a 10 percent salary reduction. That reduction will now be extended through the entire fiscal year and will result in a savings of an additional $1.2 million.

In short, we have tried to find a way to avoid these difficult decisions. Unfortunately, we could not overcome the challenges presented by these unprecedented times.

We fully understand that these decisions will have a significant impact on our student-athletes and employees, especially those who are directly affected. We will continue to explore ways to mitigate our deficit and will continue to support our remaining student-athletes and staff.

Sincerely,

Joan T.A. Gabel, President
Mark Coyle, Director of Athletics
Minnesota Athletics Program Discontinuation Frequently Asked Questions

What decisions were announced today?
Today, we announced the difficult decision to discontinue our men’s indoor track and field, men’s outdoor track and field, men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis programs at the conclusion of their 2020-21 competition season. The four impacted teams will have the opportunity to compete during their 2020-21 competition season provided health and safety circumstances allow. We also announced a personnel cost-reduction plan that starts in October and continues through the fiscal year. These actions are pending Board of Regents approval.

What was the process that led to the decision to discontinue these programs?
We continuously review our program from a financial standpoint as well as a gender-equity standpoint. Our ongoing fiscal challenges have been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Big Ten’s decision to postpone the fall 2020-21 season. Our athletic department is now facing a projected loss of revenue of approximately $75 million just this fiscal year. This is a significant loss and one that will impact our athletic department for years.

In order to address the initial financial impact of the pandemic, Athletic Director Mark Coyle and the department’s five-highest earning coaches volunteered to take two sets of pay reductions. In addition, other head coaches and senior administration members have taken pay reductions as well. Athletics also implemented a hiring and spending freeze and eligible staff members participated in the University’s furlough and pay-reduction plan. Athletics is projected to save an additional $1.3 million through its proposed personnel cost-reduction plan. These cost-containment measures are in addition to Athletics-implemented budget reductions implemented since FY19, with approximately $5 million dollars of cost saving adjustments in FY21 alone.

Why were these four sports chosen for discontinuation?
Once we determined that we simply are no longer able to sustain 25 sports financially, we reviewed our overall sport offering with an eye toward a sports sponsorship model that would provide sustainable, competitive and equitable participation opportunities for our remaining programs. Due to recent shifts in our female and male undergraduate demographics, we also needed to take steps to ensure compliance with our commitment to provide gender-equitable participation opportunities for our students consistent with federal law requirements. We also considered community impact, local and national interest, competitiveness, and sport sponsorship at the Big Ten and NCAA Division I level.

Why is this being announced now?
We are announcing now due to the impact of COVID 19. While there is never a good time to announce sport eliminations, we wanted to announce the decision as soon as it was made and with time to allow our student-athletes to fully explore their academic and athletic options.

Is there any sort of fundraising effort to save these sports?
We have tremendous donors who are extremely generous and, as a department, we have experienced record-level fundraising during the past several years. However, as this decision is a combination of financial sustainability and Title IX commitment, we do not believe there is a realistic fundraising goal we could set that would address all the challenges that led to this decision.

What does this decision say about the stability of Minnesota athletics?
For years, Minnesota has been one of the most resourceful athletic departments in the country. Twenty different Gopher teams have won a combined 76 conference titles since 2000. We are also continually ranked as one of the highest academically achieving public schools in the nation with regard to Academic Progress Report (APR) and Graduation Success Rate (GSR) and have led the Big Ten for the last five years in the number of Academic All-Americans. We do things the right way and are making decisions that we believe are necessary for our department as we move forward.

Will you honor existing athletics scholarships for those student-athletes affected?
Yes, we will honor all existing scholarships for individuals who choose to complete their undergraduate degree at Minnesota.
What is the impact of these changes on gender equity and Title IX?

The decision to eliminate four men’s sports, combined with roster adjustments in women’s programs, will result in female and male participation numbers that closely align with our undergraduate campus enrollment percentages, which is approximately 54% female and 46% male. By having our program offerings mirror our changing student population, the University will be ensuring that we are providing full, effective, and equitable participation opportunities for our female and male student-athletes.

How many student-athletes are affected by the decision to discontinue four programs?
This decision impacts 58 student-athletes.

How does the discontinuation of four sports impact diversity within the athletic department?
Our University and athletic department are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. The elimination of these four programs does not change that commitment. The athletic department’s goal of diversity and inclusion is to foster an environment in which all members of the Athletics community are treated equitably, contribute fully to the athletic departments mission, and embrace and model the department’s values.

How will the affected student-athletes be supported?
We will continue to provide the student-athletes of these four programs with athletic, academic and mental health support throughout their 2020-21 competition season. We will also honor all existing athletics scholarships for those affected student-athletes who choose to complete their undergraduate degree at Minnesota, while still providing them with access to academic advising, sports psychology and athletics-related sports medicine services. Should a student-athlete decide to transfer, we will support them through the transition process and will grant them their full release from the University.

What will happen if competition resumes (with appropriate health and safety conditions) and if one of the teams is unable to field a roster for the upcoming season as a result of today’s decision?
The 2020-21 competition season will be the final opportunity for these four programs to compete at the varsity level. We will continue to honor student-athlete scholarships and will work with coaches if a program is unable to compete during 2020-21.

How much money will be saved as a result of the program discontinuation?
We anticipate a savings of $2 million in FY22 and an annual savings of $2.7 million once all student-athletes currently on athletics-based aid have graduated.

How would potential savings be used in the future?
Financial savings will help the department balance its budget.

How much money will be saved in FY21 as a result of the personnel cost-reduction plan?
We anticipate a savings of $1.3 million this fiscal year.