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MTU alumni want football saved

University president not optimistic

The Daily Mining Gazette
March 24, 2003

HOUGHTON — Michigan Tech University’s football alumni are hopeful the program can be saved from the chopping block, but MTU President Curt Tompkins isn’t optimistic.

“I’m trying to be a realist,” Tompkins said. “I don’t think it’s realistic to expect those of us football supporters — and I count myself among them — to be able to raise $10 million in a short amount of time.”

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Tech Athletic Director Rick Yeo announced last week that the 82-year-old football program would be cut as part of an effort to cope with a 10 percent cut in state funding for higher education. Yeo and Tompkins said only a $10 million endowment can save football.

The move caught most people by surprise, including former players who are angry that they weren’t consulted.

Duane Williams, a former offensive tackle who graduated in 1973, said a meeting between alumni representatives and MTU administration is in the works. He and other members of the MTU Football Advisory Council declined to speculate on the chances the program can be saved.

“We don’t want to build too much hope and put someone between a rock and a hard spot,” Williams, of Crystal Falls, said.

Tompkins said it’s possible the program can be resurrected after a few seasons.

“We might do that, but I can’t promise we’re going to do that,” he said.

A $10 million endowment fund would have to earn about $350,000 per year to fund the program, Yeo said. Cutting football, he added, was the only option other than gutting the athletic department.

Still, former football players are fuming. Williams said canceling the program so abruptly is unfair to the 100 players on the team. His son, Todd Williams, played on Tech’s defensive line last season.

“I don’t think the administration is realizing how many people are involved in this because in the last three days, the phone has been ringing,” Williams said.

Former players recalled other fund-raising efforts to save football, but Yeo said circumstances were different when backers helped save the program in the early 1980s.

“We were living on a shoestring and we weren’t in the (Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) back then,” he said.

Tompkins said it’s unrealistic to try to raise $350,000 each year, given the program’s fund-raising history. He added the athletic department can’t recruit good players while telling them that the program might end at any time.

“You cannot run a competitive athletic program on that basis,” Tompkins said.

Yeo said spreading the cuts across various sports is not realistic. Cutting several teams is impossible, he said, because the NCAA requires universities to field a minimum of five men’s and five women’s teams to be eligible in Division II. Before this week, MTU had about 300 athletes participating in seven men’s and six women’s teams.

Tompkins said the decision to cut the team was made after Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced on March 5 that higher education funding would be cut an additional 6.5 percent to help eliminate a projected $1.7 billion state budget deficit. In addition to a 3.5 percent cut earlier in the school year, MTU will lose 10 percent of its state appropriation in the 2003-04 fiscal year — about $5.6 million in a $116 million general fund budget.

After the governor’s announcement, administrators asked Tech’s units and divisions to prepare plans to cut 10 percent from their budgets next year. Units were asked to develop plans for additional cuts of 7 percent in 2004-05 and 5 percent in 2005-06.

Tompkins said departments made permanent changes that protect the university’s core programs.

“We’re looking for permanent structural changes and to take at least a three-year look in terms of the amount of dollars we’ll have to take out of the base budget,” he said.

Yeo said events moved quickly after Granholm’s announcement.

“When it gets to cutting like this, you have to look and make the best decision you possibly can, and I think you need to move swiftly,” he said.

Former quarterback Mike Scally, of Boulder, Colo., said Tompkins told alumni last month in the Denver area that football would survive the current budget crisis. Scally, a 1973 MTU graduate, said he disapproves of the “all or nothing” approach to funding the program.

Tompkins said he believed football would survive when he met with the alumni.

“I really believed that we wouldn’t have to take the substantial cut in the general fund budget that we found out that we were going to have to take, particularly the impact on athletics,” Tompkins said.

Footing the bill
Here’s a look at the total cost of running a few of Michigan Tech University’s intercollegiate athletic teams in 2002-03 and how much of Tech’s general fund money is spent on each. The figures include salaries and operating costs, but don’t include scholarships.

Mens Basketball
M/W Nordic ski*
M/W Cross-country*


Source: MTU Athletics
* — The figures for nordic ski and cross country don’t include wages and benefits because Gary Nichols coaches six sports — mens and womens nordic ski, cross country and track and field.

Yeo said athletics will save about $350,000 a year by eliminating football.

Athletics cost some $3.3 million this year, but the department spends about $1.8 million from the general fund for things such as services, supplies, expenses and salaries, wages and benefits.

About $1.5 million from financial aid is used to pay for 68 full-time scholarships for student-athletes. Yeo said the scholarships can be divided among multiple players on a team. Currently, players with football’s 22 scholarships will continue to receive them until graduation. Those scholarships likely will be given to other men’s teams as they become available, Yeo said.

The department’s big-ticket general fund item is football. MTU spends about $431,000 on the program. The total budget of $497,000 accounts for about $66,000 in revenue, Yeo said. Tech’s most costly program overall is Division I hockey — about $659,000 — but the department spends only about $315,000 in general fund money each year because hockey generates substantial revenue.

“People don’t realize that not much general fund money goes into our hockey program,” Yeo said.

Tech’s least costly sports are men’s and women’s cross-country running, with total general fund expenditures of $7,250.

For football, about $291,000 is spent on salaries and benefits for Coach Bernie Anderson and his five assistant coaches. Yeo said the department expects to save $210,000 in wages and benefits because Anderson has been invited to remain on staff as a strength and conditioning instructor.

By comparison, MTU spends about $190,000 for hockey coaches’ salaries and benefits, according to Yeo. Hockey spends about $69,000 in general funds for recruiting, compared to $27,000 for football.

In 12 years as Tech’s president, Tompkins said he has almost always approved Yeo’s recommendations to improve athletics, including increasing funding and supporting the football team’s bid to join a conference.

“I think it would be very unfair to change my behavior from basically concurring with the athletic director for 12 years and then turn around on this one decision,” Tompkins said.

However, Williams said the national coverage of the program’s demise is giving MTU a black eye.

“They can have the best engineering program in the country, but there’s more to college life than strictly books,” he said.

Tompkins agrees, to a point.

“Anytime you eliminate any sport you’re going to impact visibility and image, but you could say that about academic programs,” Tompkins said.

He said cutting football was one of the most painful decisions he’s had to approve.

“I tried to help Rick find some other things to do and it’s not there,” Tompkins said. “You have to put sentimentality aside.”

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