The ax that has felled men's sports programs at a number of colleges around the country has now struck close to home - at the University of Toledo.
UT announced yesterday that it is dropping three men's sports - swimming and indoor and outdoor track and field - effective with the end of this academic year.
In announcing the cuts, university President Daniel Johnson blamed the loss of the three programs on a weak economy that has led to lower state revenues and a subsequent continuation of cuts in funding to higher education. The implications of the federal Title IX law and its equity considerations also played into the decision, UT Athletic Director Mike O'Brien said.
“These difficult economic times are forcing schools across the nation to make some tough choices about spending,” Dr. Johnson said. “Several other institutions have already announced similar cuts, and I believe many, many more will follow. It is absolutely necessary for us to take this step, as much as it hurts.”
The move is expected to save $500,000 in salaries, scholarships, and expenditures, UT officials said. Men's head track coach Kent Baker and men's assistant swimming coach Steve Riegler will lose their jobs, and 59 male student athletes now will be without a sport.
Swimming coach Brian Sharar will keep his job because he will coach the women's team.
Mr. O'Brien said a wide range of cuts in the athletic department have been under consideration during the past few years, while the elimination of sports has been on the table for just six to nine months, and the ultimate decision to drop the three men's sports was made only two to three weeks ago. The coaches from the affected teams were told on Friday, and they met with their athletes later that day.
UT eliminated wrestling at the end of the 1993-94 season.
“We have reached a point where it is no longer possible to fund 19 sports at the varsity level,” Mr. O'Brien said. “It is simply not possible to make cuts in our sports programs and expect them to stay competitive within the Mid-American Conference,” he said. “The only alternative left is to eliminate sports programs.”
UT will have 16 remaining sports, the minimum number required for membership in NCAA Division I. Mr. O'Brien said men's track and swimming were the only ones considered for elimination.
“We threw a lot on the table, and not necessarily just sports,” he said, “but looking at our entire department, whether it be sports programs or various areas, I can't say we looked at any other sport.”
While continuing to offer football, baseball, softball, men's and women's basketball and women's volleyball, UT meets minimum requirements for membership in the Mid-American Conference.
After the three men's programs are gone, Toledo will have 393 student athletes - 190 male (48.3 percent) and 203 female (51.7 percent), putting it in compliance with Title IX.
Title IX, passed by Congress in 1972, is a federal law that bars sex discrimination by schools that receive federal money. In its latest interpretations, schools must offer scholarship opportunities roughly equal to the school's overall male and female populations.
A UT-funded study of gender-equity compliance, released in February, concluded, among other things, that “UT is not providing intercollegiate level participation opportunities to female student-athletes in substantial proportion to the enrollment rate of female students.”
“It's well known that athletics has had a deficit for a number of years,” Mr. O'Brien said, “and we're also under the mandate by the university to fall within our budget, and that with the gender-equity study that is ongoing, they both played a part in this.”
The university recently announced a $1 million project to upgrade and repair the 12 tennis courts and the track on the main UT campus and the soccer field on the Scott Park Campus, but Mr. O'Brien said those funds are coming from a gift specifically designated for those areas and therefore could not be used to maintain the programs that have been cut.
Dr. Johnson said he and Mr. O'Brien will seek the endorsement of the UT board of trustees on the elimination of the sports at its April 30 meeting. The cuts are part of an overall athletic-reform plan as UT prepares its budget for the start of the fiscal year July 1.
“We're looking at every division - including instructional programs - where we can go to find appropriate savings,” Dr. Johnson said. “It gives none of us here any pleasure to have to do this.”
Dr. Johnson put the onus on the state legislature to help the universities work out of the budgetary crisis.
“This is a major public policy question, as I've been saying for the last year and a half, for the state of Ohio. When do we stop, when is enough, enough?” Dr. Johnson said. “I think we need to turn this around. Our public officials who lead this state have got to know that the decisions they're making have real consequences when it comes to programs.”
Toledo will honor the scholarships of the current athletes until their eligibility ends, including the incoming freshmen who have signed letters of intent with UT. Under the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, athletes whose program has been discontinued are allowed to transfer to any other institution without penalty or loss of eligibility.
UT had enjoyed moderate success recently in the eliminated programs - the Rockets finished third in the MAC last spring in the men's track championships, and the swimming team was 7-5 overall, 3-2 in the MAC, and third in the league meet this season.
A year ago, Bowling Green State University dropped four men's sports - tennis, swimming, and indoor and outdoor track - in a dramatic attempt to address budget concerns and get in compliance with the mandates of Title IX. BGSU athletic director Paul Krebs said yesterday he has a great deal of empathy for his UT counterparts.
“Even though we've gone through the same thing, I would hope that nobody else would have to experience that,” Mr. Krebs said. “Unfortunately, the shock and surprise that people are feeling now will eventually turn to bitterness. I'm sorry to hear about it.”
Mr. Baker, who has been at Toledo for 14 seasons as head track coach, said he has been concerned about the situation since Bowling Green dropped its men's program.
“We were shocked. We saw it happen at B.G., and we felt for them, but you never figure it's going to happen to you,” Mr. Baker said. “Obviously we're upset and disappointed, but I know it was a last resort. It's just that in this case, it hit pretty close to home.”
Fresno State and West Virginia both underwent similar cuts in recent weeks. Fresno eliminated men's soccer, men's cross country, and indoor track and field and the women's swimming and diving team. It will add women's golf. West Virginia dropped men's tennis, men's track, men's cross country, and its rifle team.
“What makes it so hard is that this is just such a painful thing for a university to have to do,” Mr. Baker said. “This will be our last season of men's track at Toledo and that is hard to take.”