Following its September discussion of the proposed discontinuation of four Gopher Athletics programs, on Friday the University of Minnesota Board of Regents voted in favor of a revised proposal from the athletics department—one that will discontinue the Gopher men’s gymnastics, men’s tennis and men’s indoor track and field programs following the 2020-21 seasons. Gopher men’s outdoor track and field, which was proposed for discontinuation in earlier discussions, was not included in this revised plan. It will be re-evaluated in a department-wide update expected to come before the Board next spring.
“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,” said Board Chair Ken Powell. “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.”
As part of the approved plan, the three affected programs will have the opportunity to compete in their respective 2020-21 seasons, should health and safety precautions allow for that to occur. Regardless of competition, Gopher Athletics will honor the scholarships of all impacted student-athletes throughout their undergraduate studies, as well as ensure continued access to academic advising, sports psychology and other mental health resources and athletic medicine. Student-athletes who elect to transfer will be supported by the department throughout that process.
The recommendation to discontinue these programs focused primarily on the financial challenges facing the athletics department, but was also mindful of the University’s commitment to honor its Title IX obligations. Gopher Athletics also considered community impact, local and national interest, competitiveness and sport sponsorship at the Big Ten and NCAA Division I level.
Gopher Athletics currently sponsors 25 different varsity programs, which is the fourth-most in the Big Ten. Those 25 teams and their student-athletes have enjoyed leading academic and athletic success, even as the department’s budget has hovered around the conference’s eighth-largest. This imbalance between total budget and the number of sponsored Gopher sports has been well-documented and monitored closely in recent years.
This financial imbalance has been exacerbated by the ongoing complications presented by COVID-19, which has disrupted regular operations and schedules across all levels of NCAA competition. Despite resumption of the Big Ten football season later this month, which will help address some of these financial challenges, Gopher Athletics currently projects a COVID-19 financial impact between $45 and $65 million.
Gopher Athletics leaders shared in September that the continued growth of the female undergraduate student population on the University’s Twin Cities campus understandably creates a need to ensure proportional opportunities for its male and female student-athletes. Besides eliminating the three programs, the athletics department plans to continue managing roster sizes of both its men’s and women’s programs in an effort to continue to provide meaningful participation opportunities.
“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.”
These cost-saving measures are the latest from Gopher Athletics. At its September meeting, the Board approved the department’s personnel cost-reduction plan, which layered additional changes to appointments, furloughs and position reductions on top of already implemented, University-wide furlough and pay reduction initiatives. The department had previously adopted all campus-wide cost reduction measures, as well as hiring and spending freezes and two separate voluntary pay reductions for its top earners. These reductions and savings come on top of two consecutive years of reduced operating expenses and increased revenues.
As part of its discussion about the revised proposal brought forward at Friday’s meeting, the Board requested that Gopher Athletics continue to examine its operations and return with an update next spring.
The Board also:
- Approved a proposal for the University to fund a COVID-19 saliva testing program for University students systemwide. This mirrors a similar program, which provides access to one free, mail-in saliva test to faculty and staff, thanks to a partnership with Governor Tim Walz and the State of Minnesota.
- Approved Gabel’s recommended biennial budget request to the State of Minnesota for the University’s 2022 and 2023 fiscal years.
- Approved Gabel’s recommended six-year capital plan and 2021 state capital request.
- Received the final report from the Academic and Research Planning Work Group, which was tasked last April by Gabel to consider how to advance the University’s mission in those areas during and after the pandemic.
- Heard updates from leaders on each of the University’s five campuses on their strategic enrollment work, which is guided by campus enrollment management plans previously endorsed by the Board.
- Received an update on how COVID-19 has affected the University’s finances.
- Approved a fundraising agreement between M Health Fairview and the University of Minnesota Foundation.
- Approved a one-year extension of the Twin Cities dining services contract with Aramark, an action predicated on the ongoing work of the University to fully consider and consult with key stakeholders on its future campus dining services options.
- Discussed potential measures for the University Progress Card, a tool used to drive University-wide performance and set clear targets for measuring success and enabling oversight of aspirational goals set by the Board and the University’s administration.
The Board of Regents is scheduled to meet next on Dec. 10-11, 2020. Visit regents.umn.edu for more information.