Return to Award-winning journalism
supporters angry MTU cutting program
Athletic director says decision will
strengthen cash-strapped department
By RYAN OLSON
The Daily Mining Gazette
March 19, 2003
HOUGHTON Parents and alumni blitzed the Michigan
Tech University athletics department with criticism throughout the
day Tuesday, after learning that MTU will drop its 82-year-old varsity
Athletic Director Rick Yeo said he fielded numerous
phone calls from people who were upset about the decision. He said
the immediate and angry fallout caught him somewhat by surprise.
When you make a decision like that, where you
affect so many lives, you just dont realize all the things
that come into play, Yeo said.
Yeo said all options were on the table when the department
looked at ways to meet a directive from President Curt Tompkins
to cut 10 percent from its budget for the 2003-04 fiscal year, and
7 percent and 5 percent in succeeding years.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm has proposed cutting state
funding of higher education by 10 percent next year as part of an
attempt to resolve a $1.7 billion state budget shortfall. The proposal
would cost Michigan Tech about $5.6 million out of its $116 million
general fund budget. The university also has an $11 million deficit
of its own.
We looked at all possibilities and for the amount
of money that we had to cut from the budget, there were really no
other options other than to just destroy the total athletic program,
Yeo said he faced hurdles that limited his options
including a requirement to field a minimum number of teams
to be eligible to compete in NCAA Division II and the Great Lakes
Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Yeo declined to provide budget figures for the athletics
department. He specifically declined to say how much money will
be saved by cutting football, and whether that accounts solely for
the 10 percent cut this year or might also account for cuts required
the next two years.
Tech administration said such figures would not be
available until later today.
MTU President Curt Tompkins is out of town and was
unavailable for comment.
According to information provided by Tech to the U.S.
Department of Education, the football program in 2001 had expenses
of $969,000 and revenues of $911,000. The total athletic budget
for 2001-02 was $3.89 million.
Dave Fischer, assistant athletics director for communications
and marketing, said Title IX, the federal program that requires
equality of athletic opportunity between males and females wasnt
a factor in the departments decision. Football accounts for
more than a third of all student-athletes at Tech, and about half
of all male athletes.
Yeo said the department told players and coaches about
the decision Tuesday. Repeated attempts to reach coach Bernie Anderson
for comment were unsuccessful.
Yeo said the decision was personally painful.
To tell your best friends that theyre
not going to have a program, its definitely going to hurt,
Yeo said he made the decision late last week, but
delayed an announcement until after the NCAA mens basketball
Great Lakes regional tournament concluded Monday.
Many alumni members of Techs Football Advisory
Council were concerned Tuesday that enough wasnt done to save
Paul Butkovich, a fullback who graduated in 1967,
said no one was given the opportunity to try to raise the funds
to save the team.
Without a whole lot of foresight, at least thats
my opinion, theyve cut the football program without knowing
the long-term implications, said Butkovich, of Green Bay.
Butkovich said the decision came as a shock.
Getting the opportunity to play there was absolutely
great, he said. To see that its no longer in existence,
its difficult to swallow.
The news also stunned Mike Scally, a former starting
quarterback who graduated from Tech in 1973. Currently living in
Boulder, Colo., Scally said President Curt Tompkins, visiting the
Denver area with the Tech hockey team a few weeks ago, told him
that football was safe.
His statement was that Michigan Tech would continue
to have a football team, Scally said.
Scally said he disapproved of what appears to be an
all or nothing approach with the team. He said he and
other football supporters helped save the program during the 1970s
during another budgetary crisis.
I hate to see zero opportunity given the history
of the Michigan Tech football team, Scally said.
Yeo said he believes a $10 million endowment would
be necessary to resurrect football program. He said yearly private
donations wouldnt be sufficient.
You cant go year by year trying to raise
enough money to operate; that just wouldnt fly, Yeo
Yeo maintains the move will make the athletics department
stronger. He said 22 current football scholarships held by players
will be honored until they graduate, after which they would be available
for other teams to use.
Yeo said some of the money saved will go toward reinforcing
struggling teams, including tennis and Nordic skiing, which were
cut and then reinstated last year.
Anderson likely will be offered a job as strength
and conditioning coach for the department, Yeo said. Four other
full-time assistant coaches have until the end of the year to find
Fischer said the athletics department has struggled
in the past few years.
The programs operate on a shoestring,
he said. In the end, what we will be left with is a strong
Yeo said some college football teams have contacted
the university expressing interest in some players.
I was worried about that because I didnt
know if it was too late or what, but apparently a lot of schools
have openings for good football players, Yeo said.
Moving to another school and team is a daunting consideration,
said Tom Williams, whose son is Tech junior offensive tackle Tom
If he has to go in and learn a new system under
a new coach with new teammates with whom he has not bonded with,
I dont think it would be an easy task for any young man to
accomplish, Williams said.
News of Techs decision spread quickly across
the country. Williams, of downstate Freeland, said hes talked
to several concerned parents of prospective MTU students who are
worried about cutbacks at the university. He said the football program
offered Tech a higher profile in his community.
When my son started going up there, Freeland
started paying attention to Michigan Tech, consequently theres
five going up there next year, Williams said.
Undergraduate Student Government President Dan Adler
said cutting football takes some of the luster off the universitys
I dont think that school spirit is going
away just because the football team got cut, he added. Theres
definitely a void there. It really puts a damper on homecoming.
Scally said football was the principal reason he chose
to attend Tech.
I certainly would have gone to the Air Force
Academy had Michigan Tech not provided an athletic scholarship,
Butkovich said Techs reputation will be tarnished.
Anytime you cut something of that magnitude,
certainly people will be looking in and wonder whats going
on there, he said.