Monday, January 25, 2021

Beekman elaborates on what went into MSU's decision to cut men's and women's swim and dive

October 23, 2020
A Michigan State swimmer concentrates before the women's 200 butterfly. Michigan State hosted the swim and dive meet against Oakland on January 18.
A Michigan State swimmer concentrates before the women's 200 butterfly. Michigan State hosted the swim and dive meet against Oakland on January 18. —
Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

In a surprising move Thursday afternoon, MSU announced that men's and women's swim and dive would no longer be sponsored as a varsity sport at MSU.

The decision came during a pandemic that has cost the university a $54 million decline in revenue from last year, MSU President Samuel Stanley said last week.

"At four o'clock today I met with our swimmers and divers in what was, maybe, so far, my most emotional moment as their athletic director," athletic director Bill Beekman said in a press conference Thursday. "After great consideration, lengthy consideration, of a number of factors, we made the decision to end our swimming and diving varsity program at the end of this academic year."

Beekman said the conversation was extremely challenging but per the release signed by Stanley and Beekman, the decision was inevitable.

The Spartans' only Big Ten swimming title came in 1957. MSU's announcement is the first time its has cut a sport since ending the men's gymnastics program following the 2000-01 season.

But what went into the decision?

"MSU Athletics is facing a financial crisis unlike any we’ve ever seen in college athletics," the release that annuonced the cut of the swimming programs said. " Our best-case scenario this year projects a revenue shortfall in excess of $30 million.  Our worst-case scenario would more than double that number."

Other Division I schools across the country have made similar decisions, but the only other in Michigan: Central Michigan University.

CMU announced late last spring that it would be cutting men's track and field, a decision that the university said at the time would save it just over $600k, according to a report from The Detroit News.

This similar decision by MSU nearly triples that amount in savings, according to the release, the two swim and dive programs cost an annual amount of roughly $2 million.

According to NCAA Membership Financial Report, during the 2018-19 season, the two totaled $2,073,461 in expenses.

While this number will not be immediately made up, the decision saves MSU roughly that amount following the end of the academic year.

The release stated there were no current plans to cut more varsity sports.

"I think that when we think about our budget this year, with assuming that we play all nine games and assuming that every other Big Ten team plays all nine games, because the TV revenue is an all-in proposition, we get one-fourteenth of the pool then that will help significantly, we will still be down somewhere in the neighborhood of $35 million assuming we don't have fans in the stands," Beekman said while discussing if the department can break even. "It is my hope that should the TV revenue be fulsome that we could continue to break even."

Beekman said that there were a number of continuing expenses that will "tail" for a number of years.

But there were a number of other factors that went into the decision as well, Beekman said.

Facilities also played a role, the lack of a correct size indoor pool and inability to use the outdoor pool were a factor.

"That was a significant factor," Beekman said. "When you look across the Big Ten at the swimming facilities, virtually every place the swimming pool that is used by the varsity swim program is a function of the university's intramural and student recreation services programs. And that's the case here at Michigan State as well."

The athletic department is responsible for buildings like Munn Ice Arena and Spartan Stadium, but isn't for IM West, where the practice and competition pools for the programs are located.

"That runs through other units on campus," Beekman said.

IM West, on the west side of campus, has an outdoor pool that has seldom been used over the past few years.

A standard in the conference for competition pools, Beekman said, is typically a 25-yard pool that has eight lanes.

"Most recruited athletes that want to train for the Olympics as their end goal are looking for a 50-meter pool in which to do that," Beekman said. "We used to have a 50-meter pool half of the year (outdoors). When that pool went out of service with no repair or replacement in sight, it took that offline for the entire year and that left us with the IM West indoor pool. Which is a smaller than standard pool and makes both competition and practice very hard."

In 2017, the indoor pools at IM West saw a roughly $4 million upgrade and around a $2 million renovation in 2007 that were both funded by the athletic department and university.

Beekman said there was a plan that had been worked on to renovate the outdoor pool but when the pandemic hit, it became just not feasible for at least a few years.

That challenge, compounded with not having an Olympic standard pool in the community either created challenges to recruit and train for the program, Beekman said.

Outdoor pools at IM West commonly had been used for training by athletes and for student recreation but in recent years had become unusable.

Could swim and dive come back?

The other sports in recent memory to have been cut are men's fencing in 1997 and men's lacrosse in 1996.

Beekman said that he can't make any promises but at the same time wouldn't rule anything out when asked if the program could return to varsity status at MSU.

"That was a question that came up when I spoke to the students earlier today and I can't certainly make any promises," he said.

Program Head Coach Matt Gianiodis and the rest of the assistants on staff's contracts will be honored until June 30, 2021, according to the release.

"Today’s decision does not end our commitment to the student-athletes and staff within the swimming and diving programs," the release said.

It is unclear if the project that is projected to cost around $15 million on the outdoor pools at IM West will ever be completed. The outdoor pool at IM West is currently filled.

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