The University of Minnesota announced plans today to cut its men’s gymnastics team, along with two other men’s sports, due to the financial hardships placed on the Golden Gophers’ athletic program during COVID-19.
The 2020-2021 season will be the last for Minnesota men’s gymnastics, men’s track and field (outdoor and indoor), and men’s tennis, pending the approval of the Board of Regents.
In a letter sent out Thursday (read the entire letter below), University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel and Athletic Director Mark Coyle said, “Minnesota has diligently sponsored 25 varsity sports, which is the fourth-most in the Big Ten Conference, on a budget that is only the eighth largest. Despite this imbalance, we have taken great pride in offering and excelling in a broad-based athletic department, one that has claimed 76 regular-season conference titles in 20 different sports since 2000.”
The letter continues, “The COVID-19 pandemic and the Big Ten’s decision to postpone fall 2020-21 sports has greatly increased the financial concerns. Our athletic department is now facing a projected loss of revenue of approximately $75 million just this fiscal year. This is a significant deficit and one that will have an impact for years to come.”
The sports being cut were chosen to stay compliant with federal guidelines and Title IX regulations. The university said in a statement, “This will result in female and male participation numbers that closely align with our undergraduate campus enrollment percentages, which is approximately 54% female and 46% male. By having our program offerings mirror our changing student population, the University will be ensuring that we are providing full, effective, and equitable participation opportunities for our female and male student-athletes.”
The cuts affect 58 current student athletes at the University. All student athletes that compete in those programs will have their scholarships honored should they chose to complete their undergraduate degrees at the school.
The Minnesota men’s gymnastics team has 21 Big Ten Conference titles to its name, with the most recent one coming in 1995. The team has been ranked second in the NCAA three times, including its runner-up finish in 2018.
Two Gophers have been crowned NCAA individual all-around champions: Newt Loken (’42) and John Roethlisberger (’91,’92,’93). Twelve Gophers have earned individual event titles, including 2019 NCAA parallel bars champion and current U.S. national team member Shane Wiskus.
An Open Letter to the University of Minnesota Athletics Community
We are writing to you today with difficult news.
For years, Gopher Athletics has operated like most Minnesotans – by humbly doing more with less. Minnesota has diligently sponsored 25 varsity sports, which is the fourth-most in the Big Ten Conference, on a budget that is only the eighth largest. Despite this imbalance, we have taken great pride in offering and excelling in a broad-based athletic department, one that has claimed 76 regular-season conference titles in 20 different sports since 2000.
For the past few years, we had forecasted future sustainability issues, both financial and Title IX related, and although we have directed our efforts to address these challenges while maintaining our current sport offerings, we knew we would be faced with a difficult sports sponsorship decision at some point.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the Big Ten’s decision to postpone fall 2020-21 sports has greatly increased the financial concerns. Our athletic department is now facing a projected loss of revenue of approximately $75 million just this fiscal year. This is a significant deficit and one that will have an impact for years to come. At the same time, we remain steadfast in our commitment to provide Title IX gender-equitable participation opportunities that are closely aligned with our male and female undergraduate enrollment percentages. We are mindful that our sport programs have worked to adjust their participation opportunities to keep pace with our growing female undergraduate population percentages.
As a result, we have determined that Athletics is no longer able to financially or equitably sustain 25 varsity programs, and pending approval of the Board of Regents, we will discontinue men’s indoor track and field, men’s outdoor track and field, men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis at the completion of their 2020-21 competition season. Should health and safety precautions allow, these teams will have the opportunity to compete during the 2020-21 season.
Our goal for the last few years was to create a nimble athletic department, one that was self-sufficient, competed at the highest level and provided a first-class experience for our student-athletes. We experienced record-level fundraising during the last several years and reduced our operating budgets during both FY19 and FY20. When COVID-19 struck, we adjusted and members of our executive team and several head coaches volunteered for two separate pay reductions. We previously reduced $5 million from our FY21 budget and implemented hiring and spending freezes. Despite these financial efforts, we can still no longer sustain 25 programs.
In addition to the financial challenges and gender-equity commitments, we also considered community impact, local and national interest, competitiveness, and sport sponsorship at the Big Ten and NCAA Division I level when making this decision.
We understand that this is devastating news for impacted student-athletes, coaches and staff. We also recognize the ripple effect this decision will have on all of our student-athletes and on former letterwinners, alumni, donors, family, friends and fans who have participated on and cheered for these four programs over the years. We did not make this decision lightly.
Members of the impacted teams will continue to have access to athletic, academic and mental health support throughout their 2020-21 competition season. We will also continue to honor all existing scholarships for individuals who choose to complete their undergraduate degree at Minnesota, while still offering them access to academic advising, sports psychology and necessary access to athletic medicine. We will also assist any student-athlete who decides to transfer and will support them through the transition process.
We have been honest with our student-athletes, staff and campus leadership about the severe financial ramifications our department is facing. We are also aware that this decision directly impacts lives and the livelihoods of many, while forever changing the landscape of Gopher Athletics.
Personnel Cost-Reduction Plan
In addition to adjusting our sport offerings, we are also announcing a personnel cost-reduction plan for Athletics. This is in addition to the University’s previously implemented furlough and pay-reduction plan, which members of the athletic department already participated in. Most academic professional and administrative employees will be subject to a 10 percent reduction in appointment, while civil service and labor represented employees will be furloughed for 17 days. These impacts will continue for the remainder of the fiscal year. Employees who make $40,000 or less will not be impacted.
The athletic department is also eliminating eight positions in addition to those that will be eliminated because of program discontinuation. The department anticipates a savings of $1.3 million this fiscal year related to its personnel cost-reduction plan.
It was previously announced that Director of Athletics Mark Coyle and head coaches P.J. Fleck, Hugh McCutcheon, Bob Motzko, Richard Pitino and Lindsay Whalen volunteered for a 10 percent salary reduction. That reduction will now be extended through the entire fiscal year and will result in a savings of an additional $1.2 million.
In short, we have tried to find a way to avoid these difficult decisions. Unfortunately, we could not overcome the challenges presented by these unprecedented times.
We fully understand that these decisions will have a significant impact on our student-athletes and employees, especially those who are directly affected. We will continue to explore ways to mitigate our deficit and will continue to support our remaining student-athletes and staff.
Joan T.A. Gabel, President
Mark Coyle, Director of Athletics