Temple reinstates crew and rowing, upholds other cuts

Temple reinstates crew and rowing, upholds other cuts

February 24, 2014, 3:30 pm
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Neil Theobald took over as Temple's 10th president on Jan. 1, 2013. (AP)

Updated: 6 p.m.

Two programs have been saved at Temple, but five other sports are still headed for the chopping block.

The Temple board of trustees in a public session on Monday accepted a recommendation from university president Neil Theobald to reinstate men's crew and women's rowing. Baseball, softball, men's gymnastics and men's indoor and outdoor track and field remain scheduled to be cut on July 1

The recommendation comes as a result of a new plan to renovate the East Park Canoe House on Kelly Drive. The boathouse was condemned in 2008, and Temple crew and rowing has been operating out of a tent for the last five years. 

"Last April, I walked over to Boathouse Row to watch our teams compete in a weekend regatta," Theobald said. "I will never forget my first sight of the [tents] built to house our boats and the port-o-potties that acted as our teams' locker rooms. When I was told we had been housed in this manner for five years and that no solution for addressing this intolerable situation was in the offing, I accepted athletic director Kevin Clark's recommendation that we discontinue women's rowing and men's crew.

"I'm thrilled to report today that due to the efforts of trustee Gerry Lenfest and mayor Michael Nutter, the historic East Park Canoe House, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary this June, will be completely renovated at no cost to Temple University."

Later Monday afternoon, Nutter announced in a press conference that $5 million has been pledged for the project.

No one told any of this to Gavin White, the men's crew coach at Temple for the last 34 years. White told CSNPhilly.com by phone that he heard the news on the radio, after the vote was taken. Asked if he knew any specifics about the boathouse renovation, White said he's effectively out of the loop and that his "nerves are shot" as it is.

"I'm heartbroken for [gymnastics coach Fred Turoff] and those that didn't make it," White said. "But I'm thrilled for my boys." 

After the meeting, Turoff, whose been the men's gymnastics coach for 38 years and been a member of the Temple community since 1965, was asked about his relationship with White. The two have 72 years of Temple coaching experience between them.

"He and I are the ones that have been here for over 30 years," Turoff said. "It saddens me that when these problems came up, nobody came and said, 'You guys are the veterans, we have these problems, can we think of some solutions?' Everything was done outside of the coaches as far as I know. Where's the collaboration? And where the respect for the time we've been here?"

After recommending that crew and rowing be saved, Theobald further recommended to the board that the other five sports remain cut. Referring to Temple as a "mid-major," Theobald said, "I wish there was a way around this but I do not believe there is" given Temple's current resources. The board then approved a motion that the sports remain cut.

In a letter to the Temple community sent out late Monday evening, Theobald wrote: "The decision to reduce the number of Temple’s varsity sports and bring us in line with all other mid-major athletic programs in the U.S. was not an easy one. It was done only after detailed analysis of what was needed to provide first-rate facilities, Title IX compliance, a strong financial future and the best possible care for our student-athletes. For the sake of Temple’s student-athletes, we simply cannot ignore our past deficiencies in those areas."

After Theobald's initial recommendation, members of the board were given an opportunity to discuss the motion. Judge Theodore McKee was the lone abstention, stating that he did not want a vote in favor of reinstating crew and rowing to confused as a vote in agreement with cutting the other five sports. Another member of the board, Loretta Duckworth, said she supported the motion because, "I do not stand for mediocrity." In a peculiar moment, board member Robert Rovner went on at length about the basketball team's recent performance before ending with, "Go Temple." 

After the board had its say, its chairman, Patrick J. O'Connor, accepted questions from members of the public that had gathered, including Turoff, track coach Eric Mobley and baseball coach Ryan Wheeler. Turoff, Mobley and softball coach Joe DiPietro all took exception to Duckworth's comments on mediocrity before O'Connor made specific point that say the cuts were not based on performance.

Wheeler also engaged in a brief back and forth with O'Connor and Theobald about why plans he presented to the administration to save his team were deemed insufficient. On Friday, Wheeler received pledges in writing from the Camden Riversharks and the Philadelphia Phillies that would allow baseball and softball to move from Temple's Ambler campus and to Campbell's Field and the Phillies' MLB Urban Youth fields at FDR Park. Wheeler told CSNPhilly that he fundraised enough to pay for those facilities over the next three years.

The gymnastics team, meanwhile, has already raised $330,000 and presented the university with a five-year plan for self-sufficiency. 

But Theobald stressed on multiple occasions that although representatives from the affected teams did present the board with certain solutions moving forward, those plans did not include remedies for all four of the criteria being considered -- Title IX compliance, funding, facilities and general student-athlete welfare. Women's rowing was of particular loss to Temple back in December and of particular gain on Monday because it helps Temple balance its men's and women's scholarships in keeping with Title IX.

Student-athletes and program supporters were also allowed to voice their concerns. O'Connor made repeated requests that those gathered "respect the decorum" of the meeting. One man, whose son is a member of the baseball team, challenged that Temple "went for the almighty buck" in moving from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East and what's now the American Athletic Conference. Clark and Theobald have previously justified the cuts as bringing Temple in line with its other conference partners. 

Members of the American field anywhere from 16 to 19 sports with the exception of UConn and previously Temple, with 24. Temple's new number of athletic programs stands at 19. Temple's level of per-sport funding prior to the cuts fell towards the bottom of the conference, whereas it was previously outspending every other school in the A-10.

"These students didn't make that decision [to change conferences]," the man said. "You did." 

Also of note in the meeting was Theobald's admission that men's and women's soccer, teams that also play at Ambler, were not considered for elimination because a soccer field can be multi-use. He further stated that Temple is exploring the potential of bringing those teams back to main campus.