By Tim Jimenez
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Temple University President Neil Theobald and other school officials are set to meet with coaches and students affected by the decision to slash seven varsity sports (see related story). School officials say it will be a chance to “exchange viewpoints” during these meetings, as members of the teams try to get more answers and keep their programs alive.
President Theobald e-mailed coaches of the seven affected teams – men’s and women’s rowing, men’s gymnastics, baseball, softball, men’s indoor and outdoor track and field – inviting them and two players from each squad to meet face-to-face. Members of a group called the “T7 Council” were also asked to participate in the meetings which will be closed to the general public. Athletic Director Kevin Clark and a few members of the Board of Trustees are expected to attend as each team will reportedly get 15 minutes for a presentation.
“Originally, they said they weren’t even going to negotiate at all,” explained John Leonard, co-captain of men’s gymnastics. “So, now that they’re willing to hear our case – that’s a good first step. So, we’ll see how it goes.”
His teammate, sophomore Evan Eigner is optimistic they may be able to change minds during the meeting. “You can raise some points that the board hasn’t really thought of. Or, even if the board thought of the ideas, hearing it maybe differently,” he said.
Whatever the case, Erin Matz, a junior on the women’s rowing team, still has the announcement in December fresh on her mind.
“Disbelief, shock that they would do that to us. They had given us new boats, were telling us they were doing everything to give us the best possible equipment. And for them to basically tear it out from underneath us – as a student-athlete I feel really betrayed,” Matz explained. “I feel like a lot of it is thrown under the rug. It’s really secretive.”
The meeting comes nearly two months after the December 6 announcement that the board of trustees approved cutting back from 24 varsity sports to 17. Student-athletes and coaches, during the aftermath of the announcement, have voiced displeasure and frustration at not being able to speak with University officials directly.
“There should have been a dialogue,” said softball coach Joe DiPietro. “Instead of just saying, “We’re cutting these sports,” I think we should have been called in and (told) ‘look, we have some issues and these are the sports we’re looking to cut.'”
The cuts affected 150 students. Those with scholarships were given the option to stay at the school with their scholarships honored, or transfer to another program without the mandatory NCAA waiting period. DiPietro said two of his players decided to move on after the fall semester, leaving 21 players on the roster for the upcoming season. He said they are still deciding what to do for the next academic year and beyond.
“We have girls from all over the country. They came here to play softball and get an education at Temple and now they’re forced to start looking for other schools, which has been difficult because we have a really good team and really good players and other coaches are trying to get them for less money than they’re getting here, which is, I think is a shame,” DiPietro explained.
As DiPietro, in his sixth season at Temple, considers what his next step may be, he questions the athletic department’s seven-month decision making process on the cuts.
“My assistant coach Chelsea Butler was hired in October. She lives in California so she packed all her stuff in a U-Haul and drove across the country. So if this was really a (seven-month) decision like they say, why did they allow us to hire an assistant coach?”
Another coach looking forward to the meeting is long-time men’s gymnastics coach Fred Turoff. Turoff, in his 38th season, is a 1965 Temple graduate, meaning this year is his 49th at the school.
“There are so many positive things that have come from our teams that perhaps (university officials) said, “Well, why don’t we listen to some ideas?” I’m hoping that they’ll be open,” he said. “This is an educational institution. It seems to me that one of the things you learn here is to exchange ideas so that you can come to the best conclusion and the action to drop the sports was done without any of the involvement of the coaches.”
Turoff, a member of the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame, said he is looking to explain that his facilities, while not perfect, are adequate for the team. He also believes the school is already Title IX compliant and his program is economically viable.
“We coaches are required to raise a certain amount of money for operating budget. I raised nearly $30,000 more than my requirement last year which helped pay for a spring trip and helped put money in our endowment fund,” he said.
Online petitions, Facebook groups and other efforts to save the seven teams have popped up since the announcement. Student-athletes like Matz, Leonard and Eigner expressed gratitude at people reaching out and try to breathe life into their teams.
“We want to fight this as long as possible,” Eigner said. “Transferring is always an option, but again, this is our home. You don’t want to leave your home.”