Whitten Blasts Ohio University President, Athletics Director for “Bogus” Attempt to Cut Men’s Swim Team

An Interview with Phil Whitten, Executive Director of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America

By Jason Marsteller

PHOENIX, Arizona, February 2. TODAY, SwimmingWorldMagazine.com sat down with Phil Whitten, the Executive Director of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America (CSCAA), to discuss the recent decision announced by the Ohio University administration to cut its men's swimming program along with men's indoor and outdoor track and field and women's lacrosse.

What was your initial reaction to the cuts at Ohio University as we first reported on Jan. 25?

My initial reaction was that it made absolutely no sense whatsoever. On further investigation and refection, that initial reaction has been reinforced.

The University said [the cuts] were being done to comply with Title IX, and because of a $4 million deficit the department has accumulated over the years.

Yes, that's what they said. Now let's look at the facts. Actually, there are two major reasons why this decision fails to stand up to scrutiny. Let's look at each of them.

First, the University is not out of compliance with Title IX according to the Women's Sports Foundation, probably the leading advocate for Title IX adherence. Last year, Ohio University ranked first out of the 119 Division I schools in Title IX compliance. This year, it ranks 21st – still better than more than 80 percent of Division I schools. So why does the athletic director maintain that his department is not in compliance? I believe there are only two possible explanations: Either his analysis was seriously flawed or there was a deliberate attempt to misstate the facts.

As for the issue of the budget deficit, the second rationale: Yes, the Ohio University Athletic Department has built up a $4 million deficit over the years. This is not something that happened overnight. Didn't anyone notice?

Aside from that, you have to ask: what impact would cutting men's swimming have on the deficit? It turns out that the incremental cost of having a men's swim team — in addition to the women's team — comes to roughly $35,000 a year. Let's see: at $35,000 a year, it would only take a bit more than 114 years to erase the deficit. And, that's assuming zero inflation and zero interest on the debt.

On top of that, we have learned that even as the A.D. is crying "poverty," he plans to move on with building a $20 million indoor football practice facility. When asked, he says "most" of the $20 million will come from "private donations." But he's unclear about how much "most" is. It could be just pennies more than $10 million. Or it might be 11 to 12 million, or maybe even 15. Whatever it is, it will only add to the deficit, perhaps doubling or even tripling it.

As a former college professor, I would have to give the OU administration an "F" for research and transparency.

There has been talk that the process by which the decision was made was flawed. Is that so, and can you enlighten our readers on the issues with the process as well as the reaction to those problems?

Sure. The process has been seriously flawed from the get-go. Like all universities these days, OU has a specified, institutionalized process for dealing with this type of issue. That process includes representation of the students. At OU, that representation comes through its Student Athlete Advisory Council. Yet, the administration ignored its own policy and deliberately excluded the student-athlete reps. Why?

I understand that the students are so angry about both the decision, and the deliberate exclusion of student input in the process, that they plan to hold a rally today in support of the four teams and then march on the president's residence.

In addition, the student government has stated that it will withhold the $1 million it contributes to the athletics budget if the sports are not reinstated.

The students are angry. Yes, they support the teams that the administration wants to kill, but they are even angrier by the fact that they were cut out of the process.

What is the CSCAA doing about this issue?

Well, in addition to suggesting to the coach, athletes and alumni ways of responding to this threat, we plan on obtaining a number of documents and e-mails regarding the decision, going back 17 months when this process first began under the Ohio Public Records Act.

It should be interesting. During the last 17 months, the University has consistently said it would not cut teams if the school was out of compliance with Title IX. For almost a year-and-a-half, the A.D. told coaches it would reduce roster sizes proportionally if there were a Title IX problem.
Apparently, that was not at all what he was planning.

What about other potential alternatives to making these cuts?

Well, the athletics department stated that it looked at every possible alternative, and that this was the only one that could solve the problems.

As we have seen, there is no Title IX problem, though there is a real deficit. But the AD's "solution" is no solution at all. Maybe it would be in a world constructed by Franz Kafka.

You know, it reminds me of an incident during the Vietnam War when one U.S. officer explained: "We had to destroy the village to save it." That's akin to the action the OU administration would take citing Title IX. "We had to cut three men's teams and a women's team to increase opportunities for women." Can you hear "The Twilight Zone" music?

Tell me, how does cutting a women's team — not to mention three men's teams — increase opportunities for women? Does OU have Kafka writing its pres releases

As for there being no other alternatives, that is pure rubbish. It took me 20 seconds to come up with a better one to the alleged Title IX issue: How about creating a women's water polo team with the available athletes you already have on the women's swimming team? That is, if you are even out of compliance with Title IX. Greg Werner, the swim coach, has experience coaching water polo experience and he's already on staff, and you don't have any additional facility costs.

With that one move, you don't cut women's lacrosse which, like water polo, is an emerging women's sport. And you, have added 25-30 women athletes at a rock-bottom, minimal cost.

As for exploring all other possibilities, that's a joke. Ohio University did not even take the first step. Here's what Myles Brand, the President of the NCAA, said recently.

‘I certainly hope no University cuts sports to comply with Title IX. There are always alternatives. The NCAA is always ready and able to work with an athletics department to identify acceptable alternatives to cutting sports. It should not be the case that men's participation opportunities are diminished to comply with Title IX."'

Here, we have the president of the NCAA, Dr. Brand, saying don't cut teams and we will work with you if you come to us. Then, we have OU claiming to have explored every possibility when it didn't bother to take even a first baby step.