Bill Beekman called it “maybe my most emotional moment” in his two-plus years as Michigan State athletic director.
At a 4 p.m. meeting Thursday, Beekman told the Spartans’ men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams their program would no longer exist after this winter.
Dealing with a budget crunch due to the COVID-19 pandemic and faced with a sport that has struggled due to facility issues that won’t be addressed anytime soon, Beekman announced the swimming and diving programs would be eliminated following competition in the 2020-21 season. He projected it would save the MSU athletic department more than $2 million a year in the future in total expenses.
“Many tears were shed. A very, very challenging, difficult conversation to have with the young men and women who dedicated, frankly, the majority of their lives to their sport,” Beekman said in a video call late Thursday afternoon. “An extraordinarily difficult decision. A very sad day for me personally; obviously, for all of them and their coaches; and for Spartan athletics. But I think at the end of the day, I think it's the right decision for for Spartan athletics.”
Matt Gianiodis, head coach of both men's and women's teams since 2003, declined comment through an athletic department spokesman. There are 30 men and 28 women listed on this season's roster.
Beekman said “the decision to discontinue the programs is final” in a release.
It is the first time MSU has cut a varsity sport since it eliminated men's gymnastics in 2001. Beekman said he does not foresee cutting any more of the 23 remaining Division I sports.
Beekman in August projected as much as an $80 million loss in revenue without football. In September, after the Big Ten revived football for this fall, the athletic director felt his department could break even this year with cost-cutting and salary reduction, as well as a hiring freeze with most open positions. He added then that MSU's overall athletics operating budget is around $140 million.
On Thursday, he said there will be a loss of about $35 million in revenue without football season tickets and premium seating licenses. However, he said MSU still hopes to break even “assuming that we play all nine (football) games and assuming that every other Big Ten team plays all nine games, because the TV revenue is an all-in proposition.”
“We get one-fourteenth of the pool,” Beekman said. “That will help significantly. … So with all of the cuts that we've put in place, from temporary salary reductions to furloughs and and the massive cost-cutting we've done on the non-personnel side of the equation, it is my hope that should the TV revenue be fulsome that we'll be able to break even or get very close.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education's Equity in Athletics website, total expenses for swimming and diving at MSU were $1,143,453 for the women's team and $930,006 for the men's in the 2018-19 school year, the most recent reported. That includes appearance guarantees and options, athletic student aid, contract services, equipment, fundraising activities, operating expenses, promotional activities, recruiting expenses, salaries and benefits, supplies, travel, and any other expenses attributable to intercollegiate athletic activities.
MSU plans to honor scholarships for swimming and diving athletes beyond this year, Beekman said in the release. Coaches contracts will be honored through June 30, 2021.
The Spartans' only Big Ten swimming title came in 1957. The program has produced 48 individual champions since joining the Big Ten in 1953 — 38 individual swimmers, seven relays and three divers. MSU finished 10th in men's and 12th in women's at the Big Ten championships in March.
The athletic department and university have been working to improve the outdated indoor McCaffree Pool at IM West, which was constructed in 1958, with little success. It has eight lanes and is 25 yards long for college competition, but that is significantly shorter than the 50-meter pools needed for Olympic training such as the one at Michigan’s Donald B. Canham Natatorium.
In 2017, the indoor pool and locker rooms at IM West received nearly $4 million in upgrades, funded by the athletic department and university because of its use by the swim team and student body. The pool's heating and ventilation systems were replaced, along with the scoreboard, ceiling, lights and temperature-control system. Structural and electrical systems also were upgraded and fire protection added. It also underwent nearly $2 million of renovations in 2007.
MSU also recently suspended work on upgrades to the 50-meter outdoor pool at IM West as part of a university-wide construction stoppage due to financial hardships from COVID-19. With the closing of the outdoor pool, MSU swimmers did not have a regulation pool in which to train, Beekman said.
Beekman said the university looked into enclosing that outdoor pool two years ago. However, it was decided the projected cost of $16-20 million — $8.1 million for the pool itself, another $8-10 million to build a structure around it — was unfeasible.
“When you look at what other universities do, those typically aren't athletics-fundraised projects. They're typically university recreation center-based projects,” he said. “And so I think it would be challenging for us to fundraise and support a capital project like that.”
By no longer sponsoring swimming and diving teams, Beekman said the athletic department also will save by no longer being required to contribute to the upkeep of McCaffree Pool. Those costs would fall back on the university and the Recreational Sports and Fitness Services department.
“When I became athletic director, one of my first priorities was to see what could be done,” he said. “We had, for a time, worked on a plan. But with the pandemic, my best estimation is that any any progress on the outdoor pool is some number of years off. And without, without the the capability of having a 50-meter pool even anywhere in our community, it creates just a huge challenge to recruit elite athletes.”
Contact Chris Solari: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Explaining the impact of Michigan State cutting swimming and diving