Low-profile sports weigh on regents

'Pinky-Lehman' committee looks for alternatives

By Troy Young

While the University of Minnesota men's golf team was sizing up putts and analyzing the slopes of greens at a tournament in North Carolina, the U of M Board of Regents on Friday was weighing the pros and cons of "minor" sports.

The regents unanimously approved a report, presented by vice president Tonya Moten Brown and endorsed by University President Mark Yudof, that would merge the men's and women's athletics departments, potentially eliminate men's golf, women's golf and men's gymnastics, and place a three-year moratorium on any construction of athletic facilities.


But the door hasn't been completely closed on the three programs that appeared doomed Thursday morning, when Brown's report was initially released at a news conference.

On Friday in the Galleria Ballroom at the Radisson Hotel in Rochester, several regents spoke out in defense of the three programs in question. Despite losing nearly $900,000 last school year, many regents would like to see the programs saved -- but they didn't know how.

"I have trouble eliminating any sport -- especially low-profile sports," regent Anthony R. Baraga said.

"Like all of my fellow regents, I don't think there's such a thing as a minor sport," regent David R. Metzen said. "I'm glad the president isn't recommending the elimination of those three sports today. He has recommended it be studied and go back to the respective committees."

Metzen's words give all three programs glimmers of hope.

Still hope

"As I listened to the newscasts (Thursday), it appeared this was a done deal," Metzen said. "We're on a life-support system, but we have a committee working on it. I will call it the 'Pinky-Lehman' committee."

Metzen was referring to regent Richard "Pinky" McNamara and alum Tom Lehman. McNamara is a former football player for the Gophers and is a big booster for U athletics. Lehman is a former Gophers golfer and is a popular player on the PGA tour.


Metzen hopes former U athletes will open their pocketbooks and contribute to save the three sports threatened to be eliminated. "We'll find out in the next few weeks if we can raise the money," Metzen said.

H. Bryan Neel III, a regent from Rochester, urged Brown to conduct additional research and gather more data to make a better analysis on whether or not the three U programs could succeed under another financial model.

There are 44 athletes combined in men's and women's golf, and men's gymnastics. The "U" has tendered scholarships to 33 while 11 are walk-ons. Those scholarships total $281,004. Former Rochester Mayo golfer David Morgan is a member of the Gophers men's golf team.

The five-year cumulative cost savings, if those programs would be eliminated, is $3.6 million.

Brown and the Board of Regents all agreed that if some programs would be eliminated, the university has a responsibility to take care of those athletes and fulfill the scholarship commitments.

All scholarships will be fulfilled, Brown said. So will all coaching contracts.

If the "U" chooses, eliminating some programs might be only the beginning. That depends on if the school can right the athletic department's sinking financial ship.

"To be frank," Brown said, "if we look at this over time, the university will have to explore (potentially eliminating programs) again to bring those costs into alignment with the available resources."


Brown ensured more data will be collected, more research conducted. The regents will revisit the discussion next month, and probably in June as well.

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