After months of speculation, University of Minnesota officials announced that they will merge the men's and women's intercollegiate athletics departments.
They also announced they will recommend eliminating three non-revenue generating sports programs, though a final decision isn't expected until June.
University President Mark Yudof says the search for a new athletic director will begin immediately. Meanwhile, head coaches from vulnerable sports programs say they're hoping to save their teams.
Last December, university officials documented a financial crisis in in the intercollegiate athletics. They say the university is spending $10 million a year subsidizing men's and women's sports teams and they expect that number to reach $21 million in five years if there are no changes.
The first step to stemming the projected losses is to merge the men's and women's athletic programs. Officials say that will save $4.4 million over five years. They also say they'll recommend cutting men's gymnastics and men's and women's golf programs. That's expected to save another $3.6 million over five years.
University President Mark Yudof says athletics will be in better shape over the long term. "I believe we have put intercollegiate athletics firmly on an upward trajectory. That's the point, it is not to disassemble it, it is to put it on an upward trajectory, that will make it stronger and make it more successful. Financial stability will allow the coaches greater flexibility in their programs and make the university a more attractive destination for student athletes, coaches and athletics staff," according to Yudof.
The merger has been anticipated for months. The U is one of only five schools with separate men's and women's programs.
Women's Athletic Director Chris Voelz and Men's Athletic Director Tom Moe both say they will not apply for the job.
Supporters of separate departments worry that women athletes will be overlooked in a combined department.
Yudof says he'll make sure women's sports will not lose any support.
"I want to reiterate my unwavering support for women's athletics and my commitment to ensuring that our new structure and new leader will value women's sports. We will not let women or their interests be drowned out," Yudof said.
Priscilla Faris, a member of the group Minnesotans Supporting University Student Athletes, says despite Yudof's assurances, she's still concerned. She says there's a hostile atmosphere towards women's sports at the U.
"I'm really suspicious that they do not have the women's athletics department well-being in mind," she said.
Faris and others are calling for outside scrutiny of the university's accounting. Supporters of some sports programs say the revenues and expenses put out by the administration aren't accurate.
Former men's golf coach John Means questions the numbers he's seen. "They're not accurate numbers," he said. "The golf program itself has enough money already to subsidize three and a half scholarships, and we only have four and a half scholarships, so some of the things they said just doesn't make any sense."
News of cutting men's gymnastics, and men's and women's golf broke late last week, sending head coaches into a frenzy of activity to save their programs.
Two-time Olympian and former Gophers gymnast John Roethlisberger has been one of the leaders to save the teams from elimination.
Roethlisberger, who is also a volunteer coach in men's gymnastics, says he's frustrated because he doesn't think the proposed remedies will solve the problem.
"I don't think they really went out and asked the public and the boosters and the alumni to get some ideas and new solutions to the problem. Are we just going to keep cutting and keep cutting? That's what really frustrates me," he said.
The steps to cutting teams start with the Board of Regents. By June, they are expected to determine how much the university is willing pay to subsidize sports. If the money is not there, Yudof's recommendations to cut teams heads to the Faculty Advisory Committee on Athletics for review.
The coaches say they will continue to fight to save their teams.More from MPR