In a stunning move Friday, Temple University eliminated seven of its 24 intercollegiate sports programs - nearly a third - to boost funding for the remaining sports and become more competitive in the athletic conference it entered this summer.
School officials also cited costs, woeful facilities, and federal regulations requiring female and male athletes to be treated equally as reasons for the elimination of five male sports and two female sports. Collectively, the cuts will save more than $3 million in Temple's $44 million athletic budget, officials said. The cuts will take effect in June 2014, the end of the academic year.
Baseball; softball; men's and women's crew; men's gymnastics; and outdoor and indoor track and field were eliminated. About 150 student athletes (non-seniors) and nine full-time coaching positions will be affected by Friday's unanimous decision by Temple's board of trustees. A total of 208 roster spots are affected.
The university will continue to honor the students' scholarships until they complete their degrees and help those who want to transfer to another school, Temple officials said. Because their sports were eliminated, the students can play at another Division I school without having to sit out a year, according to NCAA rules.
Particularly devastating were the cuts to the high-profile crew teams. A Temple rower had participated in every Olympics from 1992 to 2008.
"Nobody wants to do it. It's a tough, very, very difficult call," Kevin G. Clark, vice president and director of athletics, said. "But at the end of the day, it's the right thing to do to give the remaining sports the ability to compete at the highest level."
That includes football, which had a tough start in the American Athletic Conference this year, finishing with a 2-10 record.
"It's very, very difficult, and in many ways a sad day," said Lewis Katz, a member of the Temple board of trustees and chair of the board's athletics committee.
"No one wants to see kids who come to college to play sports lose that opportunity," said Katz, who is also a co-owner of The Inquirer and recently pledged to donate $25 million to the school.
Clark and Patrick M. Kraft, deputy athletic director, acknowledged that some will view the move as an attempt to direct more money into football and men's basketball, Temple's major money-generating sports and its highest profile teams. But that's not the case, they said.
"To be very honest, our football and basketball budgets are fine. It's our [other] sports that are woefully underfunded," Kraft said. He noted that the university can't add more scholarships for football; under NCAA rules, scholarships are fixed at 85. Football's annual operating expenses are $2.27 million, the men's basketball program's expenses are $818,000.
Asked whether the changes will help Temple build a new football stadium, an idea that has been kicked around, Clark said: "That's not in my plan. I'm trying to survive with the sports we have." Clark later added: "If I could find a financial institution that will provide me the opportunity to build a football stadium on $3 million a year of debt services, I would take it. But that's not going to happen."
The other sports, in addition to football and men's and women's basketball, that will remain include men's cross-country, golf, soccer, and tennis; and women's cross-country, fencing, field hockey, gymnastics, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, volleyball, track, and indoor track.
The money saved will be used to make conditions better for athletes in the remaining sports, Clark said. It will be pumped into more scholarships for women's sports and more funding for coaches. It also will go into sports medicine and better strength-and-conditioning training for athletes. Athletes also will receive more academic counseling and support, and summer-school tuition, Clark said.
With the move, Temple became the latest school to make deep cuts in its sports programs. Robert Morris University in Western Pennsylvania announced earlier this week that it was cutting seven Division I programs. Rutgers University eliminated six sports after the 2006-07 school year, and the University of Maryland slashed eight sports in 2011.
Temple coaches, whose contracts will be honored through June, were told of the decision in one-on-one meetings early Friday afternoon. Later Friday, a meeting was held for student athletes whose sports were cut.
Clark pointed out that of the 11 schools in the American conference, only one other, the University of Connecticut, has 24 sports teams. The other schools offer 16 to 19 sports, with an average of 18.
"These schools that have 18 are able to provide a lot more resources per student athlete than we are," Clark said. On average, Temple spends $1.8 million per sport, placing it eighth among the 11 conference teams, he said.
Temple's athletic facilities, locker rooms, and equipment for a number of programs are in poor condition compared with other schools, Clark said.
The decision to eliminate men and women's rowing is in large part due to lack of a proper facility. Temple had shared a canoe club that was condemned, and since that time, its program has operated out of tents along the Schuylkill next door to St. Joseph's University's relatively new boathouse.
Temple's men's crew team won 20 of 22 varsity eight titles in the prestigious Dad Vail Regatta between 1983 and 2004. "Temple's crew has had a very rich tradition for the last four decades, and I can't help to think that the new regime at Temple being from Indiana University didn't/wouldn't get that," Mike Moore, a Temple Olympic rower and member of the Temple Athletics Hall of Fame said in an e-mail.
One women's crew member expressed the concerns of many of the athletes. "We don't know what's going on right now, we're just in shock," senior Blair Bradley said.
Logistics came into play for Temple's baseball and softball teams, which face a two-hour round trip to Ambler daily for practice and games because there is no field on campus, Clark said. Baseball, he noted, also is one of the most expensive sports to maintain because of the travel, outfitting, equipment, and number of competitions. Some of its most well-known alumni include major leaguers include Bobby Higginson, John Marzano, and Jeff Manto.
The university has no facility for its track and field team so all of its competitions are on the road, Clark said. The men's and women's gymnastics teams are working in a facility that isn't really big enough for both, he said.
The university chose to spare women's gymnastics and more women's sports in general in part because of Title IX, a federal regulation which requires equal participation, athletic scholarships, and support for male and female athletes. Temple has been out of compliance for years. It has three percent more male athletes than female but 58 percent of its scholarship money goes to men. Temple's student body is 51 percent female.
"With these changes, we will be in compliance with Title IX," Clark said.
The overall changes have been in the works for months, said Clark, a veteran athletic official with a background in finance who arrived at Temple in November 2012. Clark, who previously worked in athletics at Indiana University, was brought to Temple by president Neil D. Theobald, who also came from Indiana University. Clark previously worked for the NCAA and St. Louis University.
While some questioned Temple's decision to announce the plan just before it closes for the semester, Clark responded: "There's no good time."
BY THE NUMBERS
Temple's overall sports budget
Savings from eliminated programs
Roster spots lost
Coaching positions eliminated