Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The MSU Swimming and Diving community call for the Board of Trustees to reinstate the program

April 16, 2021
The Rock, located on Farm Lane, is painted to show support against cutting the MSU Swim & Dive program. The university declared Thursday they would stop funding the program after the 2020-21 school year is over. Shot on Oct. 26, 2020.
The Rock, located on Farm Lane, is painted to show support against cutting the MSU Swim & Dive program. The university declared Thursday they would stop funding the program after the 2020-21 school year is over. Shot on Oct. 26, 2020. —
Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

The pressure continues to mount on Michigan State University to reconsider its decision to cut the men’s and women’s swimming and diving program following the 2021 season. Seven members of the public spoke before the Board of Trustees during its meeting on April 16 asking them to reconsider the decision from the athletic department. 

The athletic department announced in October that they would cut the men’s and women’s swimming and diving program following the 2021 season, citing revenue issues because of COVID-19. 

Since then, members of the MSU swimming and diving community have fought tooth and nail to have Michigan State reconsider its decision because of the profound positive impact the program has had on so many people. 

ESPN commentator Jason Fritz spoke first, asking the board questions he wanted publicly answered regarding the decision to cut the program.

Amanda Ling, a senior diver on the Michigan State Swimming and Diving team, spoke before the Board about the hypocrisy of the decision from her point of view and competing for a University that no longer supports the program. 

Ling said that the team was told that the program was being cut because it was not successful in three areas that MSU strives for from its teams, athletics, academics and community outreach. 

David Zoltowski, a swimming and diving alumni who graduated in 2015, agreed with Ling, saying the decision to cut the program ignores all of the great accomplishments by swimming and diving student-athletes, including himself.

Zoltowski received an award from the Board of Trustees in 2015 as a senior for his excellence in his undergraduate research work. He excelled in the classroom while competing for the swimming and diving team, much like Ling, earning himself the Churchill Scholarship to attend Cambridge University after graduating from MSU. 

“The fact is that excellent student-athletes, like those in the swimming and diving program, reflect positively on Michigan State and are valuable to the university,” Zoltowski said. “By discontinuing these programs, we are cutting off these excellent students and alumni and cutting off this source of value.”

Jennifer Farley, the mother of senior swimmer Aidan Farley, said that cutting the swimming and diving program would crush the dreams of many swimmers who wish to compete in the Big 10, like her son’s dreams growing up.  

Farley said that Aidan fell in love with swimming after seeing Michael Phelps dominate during the 2008 Olympics, with the ultimate goal of being able to compete at the highest level. Farley said that her son was so dedicated to his goal, he walked onto MSU’s team while paying out-of-state tuition to compete. She said the decision to cut the program undermines the dreams of all kids who wish to swim in the Big 10.

“Don't be the ones that convinced young athletes to quit their sport, knowing they would not have an opportunity to compete at their dream school,” Farley said. “Be the mother, be the father, be the aunt or the uncle, be the ones that saved a program and gave hope and opportunity to over 300,000 age group swimmers in the U.S. Be the ones who get a nine-year-old kid's dream come true.”

Members of the Board of Trustees acknowledged the public comments made by the swimming and diving community. Trustee Dan Kelly said he is not happy with how the decision was communicated to the community but stands with the decision nonetheless.

“I just want to say that for me personally, and I think for other board members, we hear you,” said Kelly. “We've been hearing you loud and clear. From my perspective, it's one of those tough decisions that boards are asked to make. And so I stand by the decision, but I can also say that I am frustrated with how that decision was communicated.”

Trustees Renee Knacke and Pat O’Keefe agreed with Kelly, saying the handling of the situation was fumbled by the University. 

“I'll just say, I've requested, I think we should have a conversation, our president and our athletic director with the swimming and diving team,” O’Keefe said. “I have met privately with AD (Bill) Beekman to encourage him to meet. And I just, no response to the swimmers, quite frankly, from my perspective, is unacceptable. And I just it troubles me that as a university when you can't have a conversation, which I think is all that has been requested so far.”

In the press conference following the Board of Trustees meeting, University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said that Beekman has had conversations with individuals in the past but they will have no further discussion because of the ongoing Title IX investigation filed by the women’s swimming and diving team against the University. 

The Title IX lawsuit is a class-action lawsuit filed by members of the women’s swimming and diving team which accuses Michigan State of violating Title IX laws and creating inequitable opportunities for female student-athletes on campus by cutting the women's swimming and diving team. 

“I think he did meet with some individuals who are concerned about swimming and diving and the process,” said Stanley. “Now, of course, we have litigation. So the university, myself, athletic director Beekman are all named essentially in a lawsuit that deals with swimming and diving closure. So for that reason, on the advice of our general counsel, we would say we would not be able to have a meeting with individuals.”

Editor's note: A part of this article has been changed to reflect that Amanda Ling was recognized by the university athletic department after being earning the Elite 90 award. However, Ling clarified via email that she did not receive any direct communication from the athletic department or any recognition on social media.

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