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Minnesota coaches urge university to wait on program cuts
By Marisa Helms
Minnesota Public Radio
April 9, 2002

Coaches at the University of Minnesota strongly urged school administrators to delay eliminating any sports. University President Mark Yudof's office is expected to release details of a plan to restructure the men's and women's athletic program. Changes could include merging the men's and women's departments and eliminating several non-revenue sports.

John Roethlisberger, a two-time Olympian and former Gophers gymnast, joined the coaches and grew emotional as he pleaded for an extension. His father, Fred, coaches men's gymnastics, a successful but money-losing program reported to be at risk. (Listen to the news conference.)
(MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)

For months, university officials have been considering options for reducing deficits in intercollegiate athletics that they say are $10 million a year and growing. One likely recommendation is the merger of the men's and women's athletic departments. Officials expect the move will save $1 million or more a year, not enough by itself to satisfy university administrators.

As coaches from all sports programs stood shoulder to shoulder, men's tennis coach David Geatz told reporters if that should happen, the coaches believe any decision to cut programs should be the responsibility of new leadership.

"It should only be used as a last resort and is not an appropriate course of action at this time. There are ways to solve the financial challenges without eliminating participation opportunities," he said.

Only three sports programs at the U of M make money - men's football, men's basketball and men's hockey.

An unconfirmed newspaper report says university President Mark Yudof will recommend eliminating men's gymnastics and the men's and women's golf programs. Those programs cost substantially more money than what they bring in to the U.

Two-time Olympian and former Gophers' gymnast John Roethlisberger held back tears as he spoke about saving those programs.

"We have an incredible tradition here in Minnesota, 100 years of gymnastics. And then you put on top of that golf and the traditions they've created. Golf has created a U.S. amateur champion, created an NCAA champion, and this weekend we'll see our British Open champion compete at the Masters. And I know as he pulls that Golden Gopher headcover off his driver this weekend, there'll be thousands of Minnesotans going, 'He's one of me, he's me, that's me, I'm a Gopher,'" said Roethlisberger.

As coaches from all sports programs stood shoulder to shoulder, men's tennis coach David Geatz told reporters if the men's and women's athletic departments are merged, the coaches believe any decision to cut programs should be the responsibility of new leadership.
(MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)

Roethlisberger's father, Fred Roethlisberger is head coach of the men's gymnastics program.

The senior Roethlisberger says he wants to see more research into the athletic departments' budget problems. He says the report by vice president Tonya Moten Brown, which provides the basis for restructuring, only presents one picture.

"I really do not feel a well-put-together picture has been created, and that an independent group or a reporters' group, or an investigative report on how we got where we're at, would just tell all sorts of tales," he said.

Roethlisberger distributed his own report which he says he gave to Brown and the Board of Regents. He refused to discuss the report's details. He says it includes allegations of excess personnel costs, "runaway salary increases," and a lack of cost controls in the so-called arms race to recruit athletes. His report states cutting his program won't solve any of those problems and that the model of a totally self-supporting athletic program is inappropriate.

Tonya Moten Brown released a statement that gave no assurances to the coaches. And shortly before the coaches' news conference, Yudof said the university needs to make changes so it can seen as responsible and accountable with its resources.

"Obviously there are many people who are utterly devoted to those programs for whom it is a black day when they're in jeopardy. So you try to be sensitive about it, and not do anything foolish, but ultimately we need to position ourselves to make the case that we do handle money well, and we can maintain our academic focus," Yudof said.

About the time the athletic department recommendations come out Wednesday, opponents of eliminating sports programs plan to hold a rally on campus.

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