Thursday, September 16, 2021

MSU athletic director defends decision to cut the swim & dive program

May 21, 2021
<p>Michigan State Athletic Director Bill Beekman met with 12 members of the Michigan State swimming and diving community to explain the decision to <a href="https://statenews.com/article/2020/10/michigan-state-announces-swimming-and-diving-to-be-cut-as-varsity-sport-starting-2021" target="_blank"></a>cut the program.<br/><br/></p>

Michigan State Athletic Director Bill Beekman met with 12 members of the Michigan State swimming and diving community to explain the decision to cut the program.

Michigan State Athletic Director Bill Beekman met with 12 members of the Michigan State swimming and diving community to explain the decision to cut the program in October.

In the two-hour meeting, Beekman defended the decision to cut swimming and diving, citing a lack of success in the program in the last 25 years and the cost it would take to make the program competitive.

According to the press release from Battle for MSU Swim & Dive, Beekman reached out to the group last week to set up a meeting. This was the first public comment from Beekman since the decision was made. 

The 12 members of the community included alumni, parents of members of the swimming and diving team and members of the men’s and women’s team. Beekman invited questions from the group and began to explain the reasoning behind cutting the program. 

Beekman said that the athletic department suffered a loss of $80 million in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic and looked for ways to reduce department spending. They trimmed expenses, furloughed employees and temporarily reduced salaries to reduce expenses by $50 million, but were still required to take a loan from the university with those changes, Beekman said.

However, the athletic department looked to completely make up for the revenue shortfall and began to examine each sports program on five criteria to make the decision on which program to cut, Beekman said.

“So, in that context, when we think about our sports and the success of our sports, we really came up with five criteria that would help us analyze the various sports and their viability,” Beekman said. “The five criteria were, as a starting point, the potential for the sport to be successful going forward. Two, what it would cost to actually make that sport more competitive going forward. Three, were there potential cost savings if the sport were discontinued. Four, the impact on diversity and equity in our department. And five, the impact on the student-athlete experience across all sports.”

Beekman said after examining each team at Michigan State on those five criteria, it was determined that swimming and diving would be the program that would be cut. Beekman cited the cost of improving swimming facilities, including building a new outdoor pool, and swimming and diving being the least successful sport at MSU in the last 25 years in his eyes.

Beekman said he spent a lot of time working with senior staff in the athletic department, certain university vice presidents, the Board of Trustees and prior provosts and presidents before coming to his decision.

Following Beekman’s explanation behind the decision, the questions focused on the details of his explanation, such as facilities and the true level of success of the program, as well as the timing of the decision. 

Jack Hiss, a rising junior swimmer on the men’s team, began his address to Beekman asking for the trigger point that led to the decision and announcement, which was in the middle of the men’s season. Hiss said that half the members of the team opted out for the rest of the season and drained the motivation of those who continued to compete.

Beekman said that they announced the decision immediately after it was made by the department but did not say what final piece of information pushed the athletic department to cut the program. Hiss insisted on an answer, saying that he is accountable to all students at the university.

“I need you to answer my question,” Hiss said. “And it was that, what was the trigger point? What is the reason? Because I know that we just didn't wake up on the morning of Oct. 22 and just decided to cut the team. I need to know what the reason was. You owe me that much. You're accountable to student-athletes, and for the past seven months, we've been avoiding and dodging questions that I really, really need you to look me in the eyes and answer the question. Please.”

Amanda Ling, a senior diver on the women’s team, also said that the timing of the decision hurt her ability to find a scholarship at another school to continue her career because the announcement came less than three weeks before National Signing Day for swimming and diving. 

Despite reaching the NCAA championships this year, Ling said she did not receive a scholarship during her recruiting process because most teams had already filled all of the scholarships for the upcoming season.

“They said, 'You deserve a scholarship but we can't give it to you because it's already been given out,'” Ling, who is committed to Ohio State, said. “So, if this decision has been in place for so long and you wanted to give it out as soon as possible to the best interest of student athletes, as someone with experience in recruiting following the timing of this decision, I would like to know why that was not considered? Why were the best interests of student-athletes not considered in terms of financial needs?”

The parents and alumni of the Battle for MSU Swim & Dive group focused on the financial explanation from Beekman, asking questions about the outdoor pool and the actual cost of the program for the athletic department. 

Beekman said that the normalized budget between the men’s and women’s teams is $2,070,000. He added that indirect expenses, such as academic support and nutrition, likely add a couple hundred thousand more dollars to the budget.

Tom Hunley, a 1996 alumni of the men’s team, focused a majority of his questions on Beekman's explanation that it would be too expensive to make the swimming and diving program competitive. 

Hunley said the program makes a net profit for the university in terms of scholarships because it only hands out roughly 24 scholarships and has over 40 walk-ons that pay full tuition across the two teams. The decision, according to Hunley, may save MSU’s athletic department money but will cause a revenue decline for the university as a whole.

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Beekman said the university was consulted with the decision and was aware of the possible revenue decline. Beekman said that the assumption the university would lose money was inaccurate, in his opinion.

Michael Balow, dad of women’s swimmer Sophia Balow, asked about the decision not to renovate the current outdoor swimming pool after $8.1 million was allocated for renovations in 2018. 

Beekman said that there were plans in place, but they did not come to fruition. According to Beekman, when the price bill came in for the renovations, there was little enthusiasm from former Acting President Satish Udpa and former Provost June Youatt to continue the project. Because of that, Beekman said he did not commit the $2 million of the athletic budget necessary for renovations for the outdoor pool.

Later in the meeting, Beekman said that from his knowledge, athletic departments in the Big Ten do not primarily fund the construction of pools on campus and it falls on the university. 

Jon Goit, the father of Kylie and Kendall Goit of the women’s swimming team, interrupted and said it was hypocritical that the reason the program was being cut because of expenses if the athletic department does not pay for a new pool. 

“The basis for your argument earlier was the expense to make the team competitive,” Goit said. “So, let's be clear, the expense to make the team competitive is not going to fall on the athletic department?”

“Well, it would have to fall on somebody,” Beekman said in response.

At the end of the meeting, Peter Corsetti, a rising junior swimmer on the men’s team, asked Beekman if he would be willing to work with them towards possible solutions to get the program back. Beekman said he is open to exploring ideas, but would not give a definitive yes or no after Corsetti asked for a commitment.

The discussion continued but no headway was made in terms of coming to a solution to reinstate the program moving forward. Beekman said that no immediate action would be taken and that the decision would remain intact, but was open to discussion with a smaller group of people without media present to discuss possible solutions. 

“I would be willing to have another conversation with some subset of people,” Beekman said. “It's just not my style to negotiate in the media. But, if there are some number, small subset of people that want to carry on a conversation and explore things in good faith, I would be happy to listen and participate in such a conversation.”

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