On December 1, Lindenwood University announced it would be cutting ten athletic programs, including its national title-winning women’s gymnastics team. The university said the decision came after an assessment of their athletic department’s sustainability.
Notably, the decision was made just 17 months after Lindenwood officially joined the Ohio Valley Conference in its transition to NCAA Division I, which is set to be complete in 2026-27.
“This decision is a result of a thorough assessment of our athletic department’s sustainability, aligning with our commitment to upholding the high-quality academic and athletic experiences that define our university,” a press release said.
The news also comes after the team won its fourth USA Gymnastics Women’s Collegiate National Championship in the spring.
Not taking no for an answer
Now parents and alumni of the reigning USAG title holders are pulling together to raise funds, hoping they can persuade the university to retain the program.
“Ultimately, why we’re trying to do this one is we’re trying to save Lindenwood gymnastics,” said Patrick McMullan, organizer of the Save Lindenwood Gymnastics movement. “That program was the example for not only women’s gymnastics but for new college teams that people were pointing fingers at for a long time and all the sudden it’s gone. So that’s reason one and two. And the third one, possibly most importantly, is just the legacy of that team.”
McMullan is no stranger to the team’s success and legacy, with two of his own daughters competing four years for the Lions. His support for the program runs deep.
In 2013, the program had a strong start to its history by becoming the first university to add a gymnastics team in a decade, and the team has continued making waves since. As the Lions approach what is set to be their final season, supporters are determined to find a way to keep the program from being cut despite the university stating that fundraising would not help save any of the teams on the chopping block.
“Donor support would not impact the final decision,” the university said in an FAQ section published soon after the announcement. “The reduction of these sports was determined by several factors, such as facility considerations, compliance, fiscal sustainability, geographic competition scheduling opportunities and a comparison of the number of sports sponsored by schools in the Ohio Valley Conference.”
Gymnastics Now reached out to the university following the efforts made by the Save Lindenwood Gymnastics movement, but they declined comment, directing us to their original statement on the matter of raising funds.
Despite the bleak prospects, nothing is stopping the group from continuing to try to save the program.
“To be clear, Lindenwood has published on December 1, 2023, that no donations will change this decision,” McMullan said. “Our opinion is such that this is their answer because no one has come forward with a dollar amount for them to consider.”
The goal is to have $500,000 in pledges by December 31, so the group can then take that proof of commitment to the administration and say, “Now will you let us have a seat at the table?”
Against all odds
The group believes the $500,000 initial goal is enough to demonstrate support for the team, but that’s just 20% of the ultimate goal.
“Our strategy is this: we’re gathering pledges, not money, right now. We want to find out what level, just base, that we can develop,” McMullan said.
As of publish, the page has more than $145,000 pledged, which is considerably less than the $2.5 million the group is hoping to raise, but considering how quickly the amount has racked up since their mission began, it’s still notable.
“Do I think that the odds are in our favor? No. I don’t. They are stacked against us for the reasons that the school outlined in their press releases,” McMullan said. “But Lindenwood gymnastics fans and alumni, and the kids that competed, these are kids that persevered and these are families that supported that perseverance and they achieved and were achievers. And so if there’s a fanbase and a support group that can potentially [raise the funds], I believe – in those sports that can at least present a case – it’s us.”
It’s hard to ignore that the cuts come on the back of the school’s transition to Division I, which is part of the reason McMullan and others are upset about the announcement.
“To say that we’re disappointed, I’m not going to hold back,” McMullan admitted. “Someone has to be responsible for making this change to Division I, saying that no programs would be affected and, two years later, you just cut ten teams.”
Forever a family
So how is the movement racking up pledges? McMullan said the team’s alumni have stepped up.
“Over half the alumni gymnasts were on an initial kickoff call, so they’re adulting, which is cool,” McMullan said. “They were on this parent call that we had… and they’re out there hustling themselves to get people to pledge and say we’re going to do this.”
Pledging money is one thing, while actually donating is another, so it begs the question: is there any concern that those pledging will not follow through on their initial commitment? McMullan says no.
“As a person that’s leading and organizing it, I know who’s putting the pledges, and I’ve pledged, our family has pledged, the alumni, like I said, I bet we’re at two-thirds already of the alumni that have pledged the money,“ McMullan said. “I’ll even stress this is: the alumni [are] willing to pledge more, but we’re trying to see what our foundation is.”
In terms of concerns over Title IX issues, McMullan said there are others looking into that so his group can stay focused on getting pledges and getting through to the university.
“I think if there’s a sport that would have a chance for them to even consider, it would be us,” McMullan said. “And maybe that sounds selfish and self-promotive, but again, that team is an example of success and a glowing representation of what Lindenwood has been about.”
While the Save Lindenwood Gymnastics movement will continue fighting against the odds, McMullan acknowledged that this isn’t something they’re going to drag out. Meaning if the university isn’t going to budge on the decision and/or the funds aren’t there, the group will instead focus on supporting the 20 gymnasts who will be donning the black and gold for one last season in 2024.
Until then, they’re going to do everything they can to save Lindenwood Gymnastics.