In an unprecedented move, the Board of Trustees on Monday approved a motion to reverse the university’s decision to eliminate the men’s crew and women’s rowing teams, effectively maintaining the programs’ Division I status that was slated to be reduced this summer.
At a public meeting at Sullivan Hall on Monday afternoon, the board passed a recommendation made by President Theobald to reinstate the crew and rowing teams, two of seven programs included in the university’s December decision to cut sports.
Dozens of student-athletes and coaches from the cut sports attended the meeting, but Theobald’s recommendation did not call for reinstatement of the other eliminated sports – baseball, softball, men’s gymnastics and men’s indoor and outdoor track & field.
“It saddens me that when these problems came up, nobody came and said, ‘You guys are the veterans. We’ve got this problem. Can we think of some solutions?’” men’s gymnastics coach Fred Turoff said. “Everything was done outside of the coaches, as far as I know. Where’s the collaboration? Where’s the respect for the time that we’ve been here?”
Theobald approved Athletic Director Kevin Clark’s recommendation to cut the seven sports this past fall, but promised to revisit the issue after meeting with representatives of each of the affected programs on Jan. 28.
“It’s a relief,” rowing coach Rebecca Smith Grzybowski said. “I’m optimistic about what the future holds and that we can continue what we’re building.”
“These kids work so hard,” crew coach Gavin White said. “You won’t believe how much improvement they’ve made. Now we’re going to see these guys. Oh my gosh. I’m ecstatic about that.”
The board’s decision comes after weeks of negotiations with the city to house the crew and rowing teams on Kelly Drive in the East Park Canoe House, the Owls’ former home until the building was condemned in 2008.
In a news conference at City Hall following the board meeting, Mayor Nutter and Theobald announced an agreement where Temple can share space with the Police Marine Unit after EPCH undergoes a $5.5 million renovation during the next 12–18 months. The city is paying $2.5 million and Temple trustee H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest is donating $3 million. No university money will be used to fund the project.
In an interview Monday night, Theobald said the university hopes to have the rowing teams competing in EPCH by Spring 2015. The plan to renovate EPCH wasn’t possible before the sports cuts were announced because the university couldn’t afford to help fund the project, Theobald said.
“We didn’t have the gift offer from Lenfest,” Theobald said. “That’s what sprung all of it.”
Theobald said in January that his approval of the overall cuts was mostly based on his perceived issues with the programs’ facilities, but that it could change if upgrades were possible.
“I’m happy for the crew and rowing teams,” said Simon Matthews, a freshman right-handed pitcher on the baseball team. “They’ve worked as hard as anyone else. Their solution was unbelievably lucky because of the solutions that were presented. It shows the board was open to the easiest option where they didn’t have to pay a dime.”
Coaches from each of the eliminated sports that weren’t reinstated all gave presentations during a sometimes contentious, but mostly peaceful public comment session of Monday’s hour-long meeting.
Turoff spoke first, reiterating the claims he’s made in defense of his program throughout the process. Turoff’s team has won more conference championships than any Temple sport and finished in the Top 2 of men’s gymnastics programs nationwide in GPA from 2010-12.
After presentations from track & field coach Eric Mobley and softball coach Joe DiPietro, baseball coach Ryan Wheeler asked the board why his sport was still being cut despite agreements that were reached this past weekend to use the Camden Riversharks stadium and youth fields at FDR Park for baseball and softball.
Ultimately, the crew and rowing teams are in a better position to make a significant improvement to their facilities than any other eliminated sport due to the university’s ongoing negotiations with the city in the past five years to get Temple its own boathouse.
Through those talks, the university was forced to consider the feasibility of renovating EPCH for its use. Temple had estimated the cost at approximately $14 million, but crew and rowing coaches told the administration in January that it could be done for as little as $5 million if the project didn’t include additions.
Temple submitted a plan to the city in October 2012 that included a proposal to build a 23,000 square-foot, multi-level boathouse. That plan was tabled last spring after the city asked the university to consider using EPCH instead. Housing the crew and rowing teams in EPCH was not a suitable alternative to building a new boathouse because it wasn’t large enough, according to the university’s initial proposal.
However, coaches and proponents of crew and rowing said they are willing to accept sharing space in the relatively small boathouse as an alternative to elimination. The crew and rowing teams have been competing out of tents in a parking lot on Kelly Drive for the past five years since EPCH was condemned.
“It might take some time to heal some of the wounds,” Grzybowski said. “There were times I thought it was over.”
Though Temple has a history of considering reductions to its athletic department, the Board of Trustees had never before rescinded on one of its own decisions to cut sports.
In 1986, the Board of Trustees unanimously approved a recommendation from Athletic Director Charlie Theokas to eliminate eight sports. President Peter Liacouras modified that proposal, which originally recommended cutting 10 sports, to save the men’s and women’s track & field programs, but that was before it reached the board for a vote.
Athletic Director R.C. Johnson submitted a proposal to the Board of Trustees to cut the men’s and women’s gymnastics teams and the baseball team in 1994, but the board voted it down.
The baseball, softball, men’s gymnastics and men’s indoor and outdoor track & field teams are slated to be eliminated on July 1.
Joseph Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joey_cranney.
Evan Cross, Avery Maehrer and Andrew Parent contributed reporting.