Saturday, October 23, 2021

The fight for MSU Swimming and Diving continues at Jan. 13 Board of Trustees meeting

January 13, 2021
Erin Szara, junior, participates in the women's 100m breaststroke. Michigan State hosted the swim and dive meet against Oakland on January 18.
Erin Szara, junior, participates in the women's 100m breaststroke. Michigan State hosted the swim and dive meet against Oakland on January 18. —
Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

MSU Athletics announced on Oct. 22 that the men's and women's Swim and Dive programs would no longer be a varsity sport starting in 2021.

Wednesday morning, former members of the program brought the fight to bring it back to the Michigan State Board of Trustees.

Former members of the Michigan State swimming and diving program and current members of the swimming and diving community, including two-time national champion and Olympian Julie Farrell-Ovenhouse, a former MSU diver, lobbied the Michigan State Board of Trustees to reconsider and investigate the Athletic Department’s decision to cut the program.

The Athletic Department announced in October that they would discontinue the swimming and diving program due to financial strains on the Athletic Department as a whole due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"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 on Oct. 23. "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."

Athletic Director Bill Beekman said that the Department is facing a revenue shortfall of up to $30 million this year. 

“Look, I recognize that this is a dollar and cents issue, and difficult decisions have to be made,” Farrell-Ovenhouse said Wednesday morning. “But please take a minute and look at the energy, drive and passion that is pouring in to save our sport. If we are given the chance, I think that no doubt, we can and will find a solution.”

In addition to the push from the Spartan swim and dive community, Farrell-Ovenhouse said that they have received support from 21 national coaching organizations and coalitions, as well as the newly created USOPC College Sports Sustainability Think Tank, started in November 2020, from the Olympic and Paralympic organizations. 

According to the original press release from Michigan State Athletics, Student-Athletes that are members of the swimming and diving team have the option to keep pursuing an education at MSU with an original athletic scholarship or could pursue to continue their career somewhere else with assistance from the Athletic Department. 

Megan Gore, the parent of freshman swimmer Cristofer Gore, raised her concerns with the options that have been offered to her son going forward as a now-former student-athlete at MSU to the Board of Trustees. 

“Chris is nationally ranked, a US Open qualifier, top 118-and-under in the world and a USA Swimming Scholastic All-American,” said Gore. “Chris is also an ADHD kid. The structure and physical demands of swimming help him find focus and channel his energy and are integral to his academic success.”

Gore and fellow swim and dive parent Michael Balow voiced their objections to the current plan, arguing that the Athletic Department’s decision was strictly financial and called on the board to do a thorough investigation into the reasoning of the MSU swimming and diving program. 

swimanddive-rock-demay

“Existing trustees, you have been silent for too long," Balow said. "New trustees, please make a thorough review of the facts behind how and why this decision was made to cut swimming and diving be one of your first orders of business. I say to all of you don't let us down and don't let your students down. Be on the right side of history.”

According to Michigan State University’s 2020-2021 University budget, non-revenue sports accounted for $21 million in expenditures, compared to $38.7 million for revenue sports.

The university also reported $3.2 million in ancillary expenses, used to support any athletic program under financial strain or facing legal issues. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity and Athletics, the Michigan State swimming and diving program had a total of $492,201 in expenses in the 2018-19 academic year. 

Alyssa Bird-Mahoney, a former Michigan State swimmer and an advertising expert with 20 years of experience, warned the Board and University President Samuel L. Stanley, noting their decision to uphold the elimination of the swimming and diving program risks the “brand image” of the University that is still dealing with the fallout of the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal. 

“I ask you, the Board of Trustees, athletic director Beekman, President Stanley, what will your legacy be?” said Maloney. “At this critical time in the institution's history, the leaders of this university cannot afford to be short-sighted. The decision to eliminate one of the most popular, world-recognized sports, from the university must be put into immediate review. We are asking that you work with us to come up with a solution to reinstate the swimming and diving program, a small yet critical step to correcting the brand image of Michigan State University as a diverse global institution.”

The members of the Board of Trustees did not comment about further insight into the cancellation of the program during the Trustees comments portion of the meeting.

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