On Thursday, October 22nd, Bill Beekman, the AD for MSU, announced that he had made the decision to discontinue the Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving teams after the 2020-2021 season. This decision lacks transparency, accountability, justification, and disrespects the athletic department’s own student-athletes, whom it should aim to protect. We, as alumni, current Spartans, olympic-sport athletes from across the country, and other friends of the program reject this attempt to cut these teams, and vow to Battle for Spartan Swim and Dive. The decision is being fought on the following grounds:
- Lack of Transparency The athletic director did not give any information on how this decision was made or who was consulted on it. It is also unclear who actually has the power to cut a team, as this topic has not appeared in any Board of Trustees meetings. Additionally, Bill Beekman canceled his “Breakfast with Bill” Q&A event the morning following the announcement to avoid questions from the swimmers and divers who were not given a fair explanation the night before. The AD has previously committed to increased transparency to student athletes.
- No Financial Justification In 2018-2019, the swim and dive teams cost roughly a combined $1.6 million, which represents just 1.15% of the over $140 million budget. For reference, that year, swim and dive accounted for 8.1% of student athletes. Of the $1.6 million, $1.1 million of it was paid to the university itself for financial aid. This is before considering endowments, program donors, and revenue generated from summer camps.
- Timing The timing of this decision lacks any empathy or respect for the student athletes. Either the decision was known earlier in the year (before football was slated to come back) and delayed for some reason, or it has been rushed through some unknown process in the past few weeks. Evidence pointing to the rushed nature of this decision include the press release stating that future donations will support “student-athletes in [the department’s] remaining 23 sports,” even though there would only be 21 after cutting swim and dive. Given the timing, the current student athletes have almost no hope of transferring in time for the next season, as most recruiting cycles are over, especially in light of financial situations at other universities that face much larger losses then MSU. The timing is also suspect due to how close it came to football returning and its ensuing media coverage, which helped to overshadow this tragic announcement. Many local journalists have been swamped with football stories and are unable to cover this story.
- Inequality Still pending Title IX legal analysis.
- False Claims of Facility Conditions The official press release states: “Having always competed in a smaller than regulation pool, the recent closure of the outdoor pool at IM West left our athletes without a regulation size pool in which to even train.” This is a COMPLETE LIE. NCAA regulations state that, for existing facilities, “For short-course yards, the racing course be 75 feet [22.86 m] in length by 30 feet [9.15 m] in width, providing for at least five, 6-foot [1.83 m] lanes,” which MSU is fully compliant with. This shows a lack of intimate knowledge of the sport by those who made this decision.
- False Claims of Facility Improvements Another lie stated in the press release is that there is “an understanding that there is not a reasonable expectation of a better situation [regarding facilities] in the future.” Last year, a student-athlete kicked into motion a process to begin a funding structure that would support the construction of a new recreation center, and the AD was involved in this process. While this did not guarantee a new pool, a lack to fully commit to this avenue shows disinterest on behalf of the department.
- Negligence of Job Function In addition to failing to properly explore funding avenues for a new facility, the department has also failed in other areas of its basic function. Early on in the pandemic, swim and dive donors communicated with the department asking if, before making any decisions to cut the team were made, the pool of alumni would be given a chance to raise sufficient funds to keep the program afloat. This never happened, and with a men’s team for almost 100 years and a women’s team for over 50, it is reasonable that they could have been successful.
- Disregard for Student-Athlete Mental Health The current student athletes were told that their program was being cut on a random Thursday in the middle of midterms. This decision also comes during a global pandemic, a time of social unrest, and right before a large election that will determine the course of our country. At the initial meeting, student athletes were promised mental health resources. However, only 15 minute long “quick-call” sessions to place a student athlete with an MSU CAPs psychiatrist are advertised from the athletic department, and the burden of organizing more sufficient care has been placed on the student athletes.
- Achievements of the Program Growing list of athletic and academic achievements. See program accolades above.
- Enrichment of the University and State See above accolades. Additionally, many of the successful alumni from the program are not Michigan natives. The opportunity to swim at MSU brought them to the state for school, and many have stayed, helping grow the economy and innovation in Michigan.
- Destroying Opportunities for Michigan Residents In Michigan high schools, there were over 10,500 swimmers and divers in 2019-2020. The loss of this program is a loss of opportunity for these young athletes who have dreamed to be Spartan swimmers. This decision will ultimately force many of these talented students to go out-of-state for college. It should be the duty of the publicly elected Trustees to protect these opportunities for those they represent.