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U of M coaches oppose cutbacks

Reorganization plan would eliminate three varsity sports

By Troy Young

tyoung@postbulletin.com

Suddenly, the impending merger of the men's and women's athletic programs at the University of Minnesota doesn't appear to be a grave concern.

But eliminating athletic programs at the "U" does.

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In a rare display of solidarity between men's and women's athletics at the university Tuesday, every head coach of every Gophers sports program signed a letter to the Board of Regents and administrators, urging them to delay plans that could eliminate three programs to solve a $21 million deficit.

The regents will be in Rochester Thursday for committee meetings and will hold their monthly meeting from 9 a.m. to noon in the Radisson Plaza Hotel's Galleria Ballroom.

Item No. 11 on the 14-item agenda for Friday's meeting is the "Twin Cities Athletics Report: Resolution-- Review/Action."

That's when the regents are expected to address a proposal from administrators to merge the men's and women's athletics departments, as well as possibly cut men's gymnastics and men's and women's golf programs.

The athletics reorganization proposal will be released at a news conference set for 9:30 a.m. Thursday. WCCO-TV, citing unidentified sources, reported today that women's athletics director Chris Voelz will lose her position and be given another job within the university. Voelz did not immediately return a phone call left at her office this morning.

The coaches said they supported a merger of the men's and women's departments. But their letter to the regents suggests letting the new leadership of the post-merger athletics department to analyze the programs before any are eliminated.

"There's other ways. We just won two national titles," wrestling coach J Robinson said at the press conference Tuesday, referring to the national wrestling and hockey championships. "Why don't we build? Why do we cut? …; Why do we want to cut opportunities to anyone?"

"There's been a lot of speculation and a lot of rumor," baseball coach John Anderson said. "Most of us had the impression that a merger was on the horizon, and trying to establish a new administration was on the horizon. But eventually we thought we'd have a couple of years to research the situation so we could make plans to raise money so we could keep all the sports."

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University Vice President Tonya Moten Brown, who oversees athletics and was finalizing that plan Tuesday, released a statement that made no promises to the coaches.

"We have a financial responsibility and obligation to spend within our means, not just in athletics but throughout the university," she said.

The university's administration allocates more than $10 million a year in subsidies for intercollegiate sports. Last school year, only three sports were profitable -- football, men's hockey and men's basketball.

The men's golf, women's golf and men's gymnastics teams, all reported to be at risk, lost almost $900,000 last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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