By Kevin Milak
TOLEDO, Ohio, April 24. IT was Good Friday for the Christian swimmers, Passover for the Jewish student-athletes — an unusual choice of days for a college administration to announce it had decided to kill three men's teams.
But that's what the University of Toledo did last Friday when it announced that three men's sports were being discontinued "for budgetary reasons." Men's indoor and outdoor track and field and men's swimming are to be eliminated effective Fall 2003, at a savings the University estimates at $478,000.
The university's rationale, however, seems shaky and deliberately misleading at best In its official press release, the university stated it had on-going budget shortfalls. However, plans for renovations and construction of facilities for both basketball and football have remained intact.
In an "interview" posted on the University of Toledo website, Athletic Director Michael O’Brien was quoted as saying "Despite what you might have read, some of our revenues are growing. Football ticket sales are up, fundraising dollars are up, endowment dollars are up. I feel we are doing a great job in generating revenue and making intercollegiate athletics a clear benefit to the University."
This quote came from an Athletic Director who was hired, in large part, based upon his reputation as a fundraiser. Dr. Daniel Johnson, the President of the University is quoted as having said of A.D. O’Brien:
"I have selected Mike O'Brien because he has outstanding academic preparation for the job, has broad experience at four major universities, and has distinguished himself as an outstanding fundraiser. But most important, Mike O'Brien's top priority is student athletes and their development as well-rounded, well-educated citizens. I am confident that we have found a great individual to lead UT athletics to the next level."
Really? We wanted to ask Mr. O'Brien some questions but apparently he is in meetings 24 hours a day because, thus far this week, he has failed to return numerous phone calls. Could it be that he would find it difficult to defend his actions to a persistent questioner?
Actually, we wanted to ask some pretty easy questions of a man who is a renowned fund-raiser, such as: "Assuming you have a budgetary crisis in the athletic department (doubtful, due to the multi-million dollar commitment to football and basketball construction and renovation projects), what efforts did you make to obtain funding for the three men's teams? Did you contact the coaches involved and suggest they contact their alumni, to see if they could build an annuity? And so on.
These are fairly obvious questions and surely the A.D. had thought of them. But if so, none of the students or alumni we contacted were aware that he took any actions to allow the affected teams to raise funds.
We also wanted to ask Mr. O'Brien, cited by his President as man whose "top priority is student athletes and their development as well-rounded, well-educated citizens," what the graduation rates and GPAs are for the three dropped teams. Especially compared with the stats for the teams that were not dropped.
We wonder: Shouldn't those teams that are most successful in graduating student-athletes and developing "well-rounded, well-educated citizens" receive special consideration? Or even just equal consideration with those teams that, perhaps, are less successful?
We also couldn't help wonder if it was entirely a coincidence that three men's sports — affecting 59 male athletes — were cut, while no women's sports were cut. We wonder because the University's press release failed to mention Title IX considerations, yet only male athletes were affected.
The UT men's swimming program is a very successful one. There have been more Toledo MAC conference champions and records set by Rocket swimmers than any other MAC School in the last six years, and the team has a proud history of producing numerous All-Americans and Olympic Trials qualifiers.
Is swimming doomed in the MAC Conference? The NCAA mandates that the MAC field a minimum of six teams to hold a championship. Now, if UT is cut, there will be only five teams remaining. This may lead to other teams in the MAC dropping their men’s teams. Miami (which already tried to drop the program once), Ball State and Ohio may be next to put their heads under the guillotine. As things stand now, it seems likely that there will be no MAC Conference meet in 2004 — an Olympic year.
Coaches and Swimmers Affected
Steve Riegler’s position as the assistant for both the men’s and women’s team has been eliminated. Steve took this position only this year. The irony? Steve was the assistant coach at Northern Illinois University, when that school cut its team.
The team and staff were informed last Friday (April 18th) and the general release came the following Monday. Both Steve and his wife are UT alumni. With the sudden, carefully-calculated late notice, Steve finds himself out of a job with poor prospects of findding another.
The Future for UT Swimming
In a conversation with one of the alumni fighting to save the team, Assistant Athletic Director Mike Karibin stated that: "Reinstating the program is not an option."
His arrogance is breath-taking. How is it not an option to save a program if the University's Board of Directors has not voted yet? Or does the Athletic Department dictate its actions to a supine Board?
If given the opportunity to raise enough money over the next week to fund the program through next season, the alumni and friends of the program could at least have twelve months to plan for the future, instead of being given a death blow.
What about the high school recruits who have already signed letters of intent? UT has 10 incoming freshmen next year for the men’s and women’s team. What happens to both the competitive and financial opportunities for these athletes? The university must now honor the scholarships that these swimmers were misled to accept. The window of opportunity for these athletes to find different opportunities for next year is past.
Once again, a men's Olympic sport — no, three men's Olympic sports — have been cut by an Administration that, in the most charitable explanation, is totally lacking in imagination and shows no commitment whatsoever to its professed aim of developing well-rounded, well-educated citizens.
It would be hard to match the callousness and hypocrisy of Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa State but in those categories, at least, Toledo is definitely Big 12 material.
Below is a list of phone and fax numbers and e-mail addresses of the key figures at the University of Toledo, as provided by the alumni trying to stop this from happening.
Mike O’Brien – Athletic Director
Dr. Daniel Johnson – University President
Telephone Number: (419) 530-2211
FAX Number: (419) 530-4984
Board of Trustees Office: 419-530-2814
You can direct correspondence for the Board to Judy Fegley at firstname.lastname@example.org
University main website: www.utoledo.edu
This will get you information on names and email addresses of other administrators to contact.
University of Toledo Swimming friends and family can contact:
Toledo Men’s Swimming Alumni ’90 – ‘94