Gopher athletes affected by cuts keeping up hope, planning campus rally

Big old M
Photo credit Entercom
By 830 WCCO

Gopher athletes whose sports were slashed are not giving up hope that the programs can continue.

Minnesota senior tennis player Jackson Allen jumped on a Zoom call last Friday, awaiting an announcement from Athletics Director Mark Coyle.

His good friend on the University of Iowa tennis team had his sport cut as that department announced a projected estimated $100 million shortfall. Allen sent his condolences.

As he browsed the participants on the call he saw no football or basketball players -- “revenue sport” athletes -- and knew the same fate was coming.

“There wasn’t embarrassment, but there was a lot of disappointment and, frankly, a little bit of anger,” he told WCCO Radio.

Men’s tennis, gymnastics, and track and field are being eliminated after the 20-21 school year as the U faces an expected $75 million budget gap due to the effects of the pandemic. Making matters harder is the fact that some sports do not know what their competition will look like during the pandemic.

Allen, an accounting major, questioned why there weren’t immediate efforts to fundraise or trim costs elsewhere.

“Every single sport on campus could cut their budget by 10 percent and the student athletes wouldn’t even know what happened,” Allen said.

Coyle told media last Friday it wasn’t an easy decision to come to.

“We are doing everything we can to try to mitigate that lost revenue and manage our expenses to the best of our abilities,” Coyle said. “We’ve been having conversations with campus about a loan that obviously athletics would have to pay back as we move forward.”

The move will save an estimated $2 million for the fiscal year 2022.

“If they really feel strongly that they’re able to survive a $72.5 million deficit but have no chance to survive a $75 million deficit...I would have cut each team’s budget by 2.5 percent. 2.5 percent of our budget is about $22,000 and I know we could easily cut that because I see the excessive spending that even our team does,” he said, only half-joking that he would rather eat Chipotle for each meal on the road if it meant saving the program.

Allen echoed what Title IX experts caution when cuts come to athletics departments, that it’s financial challenges, not the 1972 law, that provoke cuts.

“This is not a Title IX compliance issue,” Allen said. “I think it’s pathetic to try to blame it on Title IX and really create a divide between people who have historically been fans of Title IX because it’s a good thing. It’s meant to do good. To blame this on Title IX, I think, is sad,” he said.

Led by track and field athletes, they’re planning a rally Wednesday at 2 p.m. starting at Athletes Village.

“I guess that’s the one positive is I’ve now been able to really sympathize with people,” Allen said. “Before I (would have thought), ‘It’s nice for people to express themselves,” but I wouldn’t really think it’d move the needle. We’re hoping this effort raises a little awareness and brings it to people’s attention.”

Allen said he wants future tennis players to have the same connection to the Gophers and positive experience he did -- a program he grew up motivated to play for and represent.

“For me more than anything, what this program has given me is a bunch of great people,” Allen said. “I was looking forward to getting that in the future. I want to work in Minneapolis going forward and admittedly I thought about the days where’d I’d finish a long day at work at the office and head down on a Friday evening and catch a Gopher tennis match at 7 p.m. and see my teammates and other alumni and coaches.

Unfortunately that’s something I’ll never get to do if this proposal isn’t shot down.”

At last Friday’s meeting, U Regents indicated support for the decision, which will officially come at a later meeting.

Fifty-eight athletes are affected