Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Swim and dive supporters organize reinstatement proposal following meeting with administration

July 11, 2022
<p>Junior freestyler Sophia Balow focuses-in during a practice at IM West on March 16, 2022. Balow is a plaintiff in the Title IX lawsuit and has spoken in front of the Board of Trustees in an attempt to bring the swim team back. </p>

Junior freestyler Sophia Balow focuses-in during a practice at IM West on March 16, 2022. Balow is a plaintiff in the Title IX lawsuit and has spoken in front of the Board of Trustees in an attempt to bring the swim team back.

Photo by Audrey Richardson | The State News

A group from Battle for Spartan Swim and Dive organized a reinstatement budget proposal with statistics and a list of prospective donors to rebut reasons for the cutting of the swim and dive program.

“That (proposal) is the culmination of many months of trying to figure out how to create, I call it, a win-win-win situation where the university wins, the student-athletes win, and the alumni win,” swim parent and trustee candidate Mike Balow said. “It tries to answer all of the objections that have been raised thus far about why MSU can’t bring the men’s and women’s swimming and diving program back.”

Balow said this group’s collaborative nature helped put together the proposal. It holds weekly meetings once a week via video chat to review possible solutions for reinstatement.

A copy of the proposal was provided to all the trustees, President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., Senior Vice President for Student Life & Engagement Vennie Gore and Athletic Director Alan Haller. 

Balow said Stanley’s administrative assistant reached out to him and other group members last week to schedule a meeting with Rebecca Surian, Executive Associate Athletics Director of the Spartan Fund, and Vivian Leung, Executive Director of University Advancement. This meeting will take place on July 20.

“I’m happily ready to engage on any level,” Balow said. “That’s all I can say because I have no idea what’s going to come of that. I don’t know if they’ll be willing to talk about reinstatement there or wanting to redirect those funds to other places.”

The Battle for Spartan Swim and Dive group received about $1 million in pledges from alumni, parents and supporters combined with existing endowment money. The proposal also said two anonymous donors offered a total of $8.5 million. One donor offered $7.5 million of their estate, and the other offered $200,000 over five years.

Balow said the program costs around $2 million. This prospective $10 million in donations could fund around five years of swim and dive.

On June 10, former varsity team swimmers Sophia Balow, Travis Nitkiewicz, Kasey Venn and Peter Corsetti met with Stanley and Gore after months of requesting meetings to discuss reinstatement. At this meeting, the swimmers encouraged the administration to review the proposal Balow and the battle group put together.

Sophia, Mike Balow’s daughter, is actively involved in a Title IX lawsuit against the university for cutting the women’s team. This meeting, she said, was more momentum than the battle group had seen since last October.

“(Stanley) agreed to review the proposal,” Sophia said. “It seemed like he wasn’t exactly willing to budge on the situation at that time. He seemed pretty dead set that the decision was final and there was gonna be not really a chance for a discussion to reinstate the team.”

Nitkiewicz wished the battle group members who put the proposal together could’ve attended the meeting with Stanley as well.

“That was just a little odd that they only wanted to speak to students,” Nitkiewicz said. “We did our best to keep up with things (during the school year), but it was the parents, the alums, who really dug into how to move forward: the numbers, the financials, just kind of knowing the situation best.”

Nitkiewicz said they engaged in a back-and-forth discussion. He said Stanley and Gore explained the reasons the team couldn’t be reinstated, including funding versus team cost. Nitkiewicz also said Gore told them the university is considering adding a 50-meter pool with bulkheads to the new Health, Wellness and Fitness Center, but no stands.

Infrastructure Planning and Facilities Communications Manager Fred Woodhams said the university is exploring the inclusion of a pool in the new center, but no final decisions have been made. He said there would be a public input session for students and community members to comment and review the plans.

“The (Board of Trustees) authorized design work to occur, which is what’s happening now, and then once there’s a finalized plan in place that would go again before the board, then, at that point, construction would start, if it’s approved,” Woodhams said.

In the proposal, the battle group acknowledged the potential a new place to train could provide. The lack of an adequate facility was one of the reasons former Athletic Director Bill Beekman cited for the elimination of the program.

“The only stated reason for cutting the team, still, was the pool,” Balow said. “To this date, it’s the only written reason we’ve gotten. What I believe is that no one’s even objecting that MSU is not going to build a new pool. Everybody is admitting that MSU is going to build a new 50-meter pool.”

Another possibility for funding reinstatement, Balow said, is the recent expansion of the Big Ten. The addition of UCLA and USC would bring in additional TV revenue that Balow said could be contributed toward the program.

“The question begs to be asked: ‘What is going to happen with all that extra revenue?’” Balow said.

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Overall, Balow hopes the battle group’s proposal gives the administration ideas for reinstatement of the swim and dive program. 

“Once this presentation has time to ferment a little bit and settle in people’s minds, and they can really see what is being offered here and how there’s absolutely no downside to the university,” Balow said. “We might have something. We still have time to have next season which is important to us because if we can have next season, it’s a bridge to the future.”

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