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Spartan swim and dive hopes sink at December board meeting

December 16, 2022
<p>Trustee candidate and swim and dive dad Mike Balow leaves the podium during the Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022 at the Hannah Administration Building. </p>

Trustee candidate and swim and dive dad Mike Balow leaves the podium during the Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022 at the Hannah Administration Building.

Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

At her final meeting as a Michigan State University trustee and Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, Melanie Foster delivered a report on the financial possibility of reinstating the swim and dive team. The findings leave the future of swim and dive at MSU largely in question.

“We do not see a viable path to establish a swim and dive program,” Foster said. “Most prohibitively, without sufficient existing fundraising, there is not a path to build a new competition pool without assessing a fee to the entire student body.”

According to the board, the pool previously used by the team will only be usable until 2025 and each year it becomes more expensive to maintain that pool.

“There is not a plan yet for financing that,” interim president Teresa Woodruff said when asked if there is any hope for reinstating the team.

But former members and parents of the team say MSU hasn’t done enough to secure fundraising.

Mike Balow, a swimmer’s parent and past trustee candidate, said that the board's findings were completed without considering donations from alumni.

He also attempted to debunk the claim that the pool is a major issue, pointing to the new NCAA-sized pool being discussed for MSU’s future health and wellness center, which would only fall short of the team’s requirements by lacking a locker room. Balow said an “alumni group could easily” fund that addition.

“Talk to the alumni who care about their programs, and stop trying to claim poverty within the athletic department,” Balow said.

James Thurston, another parent of a former swimmer and a member of the Battle for Spartan Swim and Dive, said the university has made no effort to reach out to wealthy alumni of the swim and dive program. To prove his point, he added, he tried himself.

“You talk about not having the funding, I made one phone call and raised a million bleeping dollars,” Thurston said.

Balow and Thurston were followed by five former members of the swim and dive team, who shared their frustration with the decision.

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Mechanical engineering junior Stephan Freitag fought tears as he addressed the board. 

“I keep thinking if they wanted to put us back in the water, they would do anything in their power, but it doesn't seem like that,” Freitag said. “Instead, you plead ‘money.’”

Freitag said MSU has plenty of opportunities to fund the team.

“A Power Five university that has a $90 million head coach for football, a Big Ten university that is bringing in revenue of $25 million every year for UCLA and USC for joining,” Freitag said. “It’s printing money. I just have one question: what are we doing with that money?”

Nutritional sciences senior Sheridan Phalen, another former swimmer, criticized the board statement, asking “where was the effort, the collaboration, the problem solving, the MSU ‘Spartans Will’ spirit you boast about?”

Phalen has no chance of swimming competitively for MSU again unless the team is reinstated. Though, she said the “next best thing would be to see my teammates who are remaining have the opportunity to swim again.”

In that spirit, she’s an active member of the ongoing Title IX lawsuit which hopes to get the team reinstated.

“I had hoped that my legacy as an MSU senior might include a record on the wall at IM West, but instead it seems that my legacy will be as a Title IX plaintiff,” Phalen said. “One who stood up with my teammates to hold MSU accountable for not providing fair athletic opportunities for women.”

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The lawsuit argues that by cutting one of the university’s large co-ed sports, the overall balance of male-to-female athletes is now out of compliance with the statute. Beginning in January, a district judge will hear the case and make a ruling on MSU’s compliance.

The university will have to present a plan to bring the ratio of male and female athletes into compliance with Title IX. This could possibly include a women’s swim and dive team, but MSU could potentially add female athletes in other sports – or lower the number of male athletes. Given the board's financial findings, it’s unlikely that MSU’s compliance plan will include swim and dive reinstatement.

The university also disputes the criteria by which this report will be judged. Under the statute, universities must have proportional equality by the number of students enrolled and competing of each gender. MSU would rather use percentages to measure this ratio, which they believe would land them within compliance as-is. 

MSU unsuccessfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify the Title IX statute in hopes of changing the criteria back to percentages.

“Are (MSU’s lawyers) so arrogant to believe that they are smarter than the Department of Justice, Department of Education and the appellate court on Title IX issues, who all sided with the plaintiffs?” Thurston said.

Thurston then criticized the attorneys on the case and Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel Brian Quinn. 

“I want to see Mr. Quinn, Schwartz, and Eldridge buried for their arrogance,” Thurston said.

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