UPDATE: University of Minnesota Board of Regents votes to cut 3 men’s sports programs

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UPDATE: The University of Minnesota Board of Regents on Friday voted to cut three men’s sports programs.

The board voted, 7-5, to eliminate the men’s indoor track and field, gymnastics and tennis programs following the 2020-21 seasons. Outdoor track and field was not eliminated but will be re-evaluated in a department-wide update in the spring.

The university has said the decision is due to financial constraints in the athletic department amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The athletic department said it projects the pandemic impact to be between $45 million and $65 million, currently.

At the same time, Athletic Director Mark Coyle said there has been an increase in female students at the U so women are now under-represented. Coyle told the Board that to comply with Title IX they either need to cut men’s programs or add women’s sports.

“We need to address underrepresentation and unfortunately we are not in the financial position to add any teams,” said Coyle.

According to the U of M, the cuts will save the University $2 million to $3 million.

The Board discussed the resolution for more than two hours before making a decision.

“This damage was self-inflicted and this will get worse if we approve this today, the blowback will be,” said Regent Michael Hsu.

Regent Darrin Rosha proposed a motion to delay the vote to analyze how preserving the outdoor men’s track and field team would affect both Title IX and the budget.

Some hoped taking more time to review the options would allow board members to find funding for the three programs.

“Guess what? The Regents are in charge of the budget and we can find the money to add sports if we want to but we need time to solve it,” said Hsu.

Others voiced concerns that delaying a decision would create problems for athletes hoping to make a decision on National Signing Day in November.

Regent Steven Sviggum also stressed the urgency for a balanced budget.

“We have two problems that have to be addressed, athletic finances and the second is Title IX,” he said. “This is a pained approach, pain for everybody but we have to have a plan, we have to move forward […] A delay at this time, a delay on this sesolution will only compound the problem we have before us.”

The Athletics Department also pointed to the U of M currently sponsoring 25 varsity programs, fourth-most in the Big Ten, despite having a budget ranking near eighth in the conference.

"This is an incredibly difficult decision, particularly because of its effects on outstanding students, coaches and staff. We remain here to support them through these changes," said University President Joan Gabel. "But this is one of the most challenging moments in the history of our University community by any measure, and it demands unprecedented considerations at all levels of our University, including Gopher Athletics. These changes are painful, but are necessary so the department can build a sustainable plan for the future."

According to the University, the decision will affect 34 athletes. Fifiteen of those men are expected to graduate this spring or summer.

“It’s a sad day,” said Coach Steve Plasencia. “To see the tennis program and the gymnastics program completely go away is difficult.”

A former Gopher athlete he has also trained runners at the University of Minnesota for more than two decades. Plasencia is the head cross country coach and assistant track and field coach.

“I know that there’s many people that have said they’re Gopher supporters that are not going to be Gopher supporters tomorrow,” he said. “I think everyone will be reassessing what they think about all of the things that have gone on.”

Plasencia told us losing the indoor track team will cost the entire running program.

“Definitely, when other universities offer the opportunity to run indoors,” he said.

Former Gopher runner Obsa Ali agrees. He graduated in 2019 from the program after winning a National Championship in the steeplechase in 2018.

“It’s going to be hard to recruit people who want to be competitive at a Division 1 level,” said Ali. “If I knew the university I’m going to does not have an indoor team it would be hard for me to commit to that university because I don’t want to sit indoors and watch my competitors compete.”

“Any competitive athlete would not want to do that and they knew that, when Mark Coyle made this decision.”

Ali sat in the front row during the meeting, critical of the process leading up to this point.

“The lack of transparency speaks a lot for how they operate in there,” he said.

We asked Plasencia if he believes Coyle’s explanation for the cuts was adequate.

“I think a lot of the things that have come forward have been designed to try to make the cuts happen,” he said.

"While these decisions are necessary for the long-term sustainability of Gopher Athletics and the opportunities it will offer student-athletes in the years to come, I feel deeply for those who are affected by these changes today," Board Chairman Ken Powell added. "As we reviewed the department’s financial challenges over the last few years, it was clear that significant change was needed, with consideration of our Title IX and other public responsibilities. I know Mark Coyle and his leadership team will move forward from today with compassion for those directly affected and caution as they chart out a successful path forward for Gopher Athletics through the challenges they presently face."

Former gopher and Olympian Ben Blankenship had this to say about the decision:

Original story:

Friday, the decision of whether to cut a number of men’s sports programs at the University of Minnesota will go before the Board of Regents.

The programs that would be cut include men’s track and field, men’s tennis and men’s gymnastics.

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

The university has said the decision to cut the sports is due to financial constraints from the pandemic. The cuts are expected to save the University of Minnesota $2 million to $3 million. According to the university, it is facing a $75 million deficit from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meeting begins at 8 a.m.

This is a developing story. Please continue to follow KSTP for updates.

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