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Temple announces elimination of seven sports

School announces end to crew, baseball, softball, other sports, effective in July, as a cost-saving measure.

DR. GAVIN White has been synonymous with Temple University forever.

First as an athlete on the crew team, then as an assistant crew coach and, for the last 34 years, as the head coach.

"I bleed Temple blood," said White, whose father was the school's athletic director. "I always have.

"I was attending football games when I was still in my mother's stomach."

So you can imagine how yesterday's news hit him. Temple is cutting seven of its 24 sports, including crew, for financial reasons, effective in July. The decision impacts about 150 non-senior scholarship athletes and nine full-time coaching positions.

White said he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2002, so this was going to be his last year anyway. Still . . .

"I'll never stop rooting for them and cheering for them," he said. "But it's weird. I had a feeling it might happen. I thought they might just be waiting until I go. But I had no way of telling it would be seven teams. That's amazing.

"When I walked in the building, about 10 people I've known for 30 years wouldn't even look me in the eye. That's when I went, 'Uh oh.' "

The other sports affected are baseball, men's gymnastics, men's outdoor and indoor track and field, women's softball and and women's rowing. The move brings Temple in line with most other members of the American Athletic Conference, which is in its first year of existence following the breakup of the Big East. Except for Connecticut, which has 24 sports, the other schools have 16 to 19.

In 1994, Temple was going to cut baseball and both men's and women's gymnastics. But they were all reinstated by the Board of Trustees.

Athletic director Kevin Clark said yesterday that telling the individuals impacted by the decision - the result of a 7-month analysis by the university - was the hardest thing he's ever had to do.

"No athletic director wants to be in the position to make that call, but it's the right thing," said Clark, who came here a year ago from Indiana with the new university president, Dr. Neil Theobald. "We tried everything possible to avoid [this], but we didn't have any other choices.

"I spent 23 years in the military. That was some tough issues. [But] to stand in front of that group of young people, taking away their dream away . . . I feel like I took an opportunity away from them before they were ready. I have four kids. I feel [for them] from the bottom of my heart, I really do. You could feel their passion, and their pain."

Temple's athletic budget is $44 million. Clark, whose background is in finance, said this will save $3 million to $3.5 million annually.

"We have to right-size our department," he said. "We can't pretend that we don't have a problem and say we're providing a great experience for our student-athletes when, in actuality, we're not.

"I knew it was impossible to continue to support 24 sports with the budget we have."

According to the university, the four major factors taken into consideration were student-athlete welfare, the overall budget, Title IX compliance and facilities. The money saved will be reallocated to the remaining sports.

Temple makes more money now in athletic revenue than it did in the Atlantic 10 (and in the Mid-American for football). But travel costs also have increased.

"We were just limping along, spread too thin financially," said deputy AD Pat Kraft, who estimated that in 85 percent of Temple's sports, it ranks in the bottom third of the AAC in operating budgets.

The scholarships will be honored. The decision was announced now to give student-athletes as much time as possible to consider their options and plan next steps. Temple will help them transfer credits and eligibility if they choose to take their talents elsewhere.

Clark stressed that this is not a football issue.

"Did it impact what we're doing today? Absolutely not," he said. "People say, 'Why don't you just cut football?' Well, across the country, football and basketball [revenues] cover all the other sports. So even though football loses money [as it does almost everywhere], if you cut it here, you're taking out 85 to 90 percent of our [total] revenue. That money would have to come from the university. Basketball makes about $2 [million] to $2 1/2 million. Football generates everything else."

When asked specifically about crew, which doesn't even have its own boathouse after its previous facility was condemned, Clark said: "Every time I go there and see those tents, I drop my head. It's really bad. [But] it's the best we can do for them."

White said he understands the realities. That doesn't make it any easier to digest. Especially after all this time and success, including a stretch of 13 straight Varsity 8 titles from 1989 to 2001 and nearly two dozen overall at the Dad Vail Regatta. And, most indelibly, all the faces.

"What really kills me is I think of all the sweat equity that's gone into it," he said. "At least I'm going out on my own accord. But what about those 32 athletes and coaches? A lot of them were sophomores. In 2 years, we would've been nasty fast.

"I already talked to Pop. Oh, he was hot. He said, 'I can't believe how they're treating you.' Typical father reaction. He's also smart enough to know there has to be a good reason."

White is the third-longest tenured coach on North Broad, behind fencing's Nikki Franke (42nd season) and men's gymastics' Fred Turoff.

"What person in Philly coaching has done more than [Turoff]?" said White, who noted that basketball coach Fran Dunphy was one of the first people to reach out to him. "How much money can you save by cutting gymnastics? There's only, like, eight guys on the team.

"Kevin contacted me about taking crew to the club level. If I were 20 years younger, I'd think about it. I told the kids to stick with me till July Fourth, try win one more. It's a good group. I don't know how many will transfer. The hardest part was telling them. They had the rug pulled out from under them. I've had my share of wins here. It's not a big deal for me.

"My wife jokingly once told me the day I gave up rowing, she was going to throw me the biggest party ever seen. Now I just talked to her and she said, 'Those [bleeps]. How can they do that to you? . . . My phone hasn't stopped ringing. I've been getting calls from all over. I guess it'll be like that for a couple of days. I don't know. It's just a punch in the gut."

Moving forward, Temple officials said they felt this was the only feasible way to proceed. "It boiled down to how to be most successful," Kraft said. In the short term, though, there will be casualties. And fair often has little to do with bottom lines. Especially if you're part of the collateral damage.

"It's a business," senior pitcher Matt Hockenberry said. "And the athletic department feels that if we pump more money into other sports to have [them] excel, it will put Temple on the map.

"There's no baseball field on campus, no river running down Broad Street. It comes down to money, and the university has its own idea of how they want to spend that money. The reason it was such a shocker is because we got emails this morning saying that we had to be in attendance for this meeting, and we absolutely had no warning. And when Mr. Clark came in and told everybody; it was kind of just a huge slap in the face, because nobody saw it coming."

Another reality is that life goes on. It always does. Yet for some, it will never feel quite the same.

Daily News staff writer John Murrow contributed to this report.