Of the seven sports that the university will eliminate this summer, at least two – the men’s and women’s rowing teams – stand a chance of restoring their Division I status after a week of negotiations has reinvigorated the debate on upgrading their facilities.
After meeting with the rowing teams at the Liacouras Center last week, President Theobald indicated in a news conference that the fate of the programs could change if the university completes a process to house the teams in a boathouse.
“If we had a boathouse, that makes for a very different situation for the rowing programs,” Theobald said. “As of right now, I don’t have one. But we’re going to follow up on this.”
The administration seemed compelled by arguments the rowing teams made on Jan. 28 at a meeting between all of the administrators, including President Theobald, Athletic Director Kevin Clark, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Patrick O’Connor and Lewis Katz, chairman of the athletics committee of the board.
A coach and two student-athletes from each eliminated sport gave approximately 15-minute presentations arguing why their programs should be reinstated. The rowing teams argued that renovating the East Park Canoe House on Kelly Drive for their use could cost as little as $5 million, a far cry from the university’s $14 million estimate.
The city intends to contribute $2.5 million toward the restoration of EPCH, regardless of whether or not Temple will be a tenant, said Mark Focht, the deputy commissioner of parks & facilities for the Philadelphia Commission on Parks & Recreation.
Afterward last week’s meeting, Theobald said the fact that the rowing teams didn’t have a boathouse determined their fate in the cuts. He said the low estimate on the cost of renovating the EPCH was new information.
The Owls were housed in the EPCH from the 1920s until the building was condemned in 2008. Temple submitted a plan to the city in October 2012 to build the teams a new boathouse, but the plan was tabled in Spring 2013 after the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commission asked the university to instead renovate the EPCH for its use.
The rowing teams have been competing out of tents for the past five years.
The university estimated last year that renovating the EPCH for its use would cost at least $14 million due to additions that seemed necessary considering space issues.
EPCH is a total of 9,000 square feet, according to building records. Temple wanted its new boathouse to be approximately 23,000 square feet, largely due to growth in participation on the women’s rowing team.
In the past, officials have said on multiple occasions that the EPCH is not suitable for renovation as a boathouse for Temple’s use, but now coaches are saying they’re willing to accept it as an alternative to having their sport cut.
The new proposal is to modernize the old building without expanding on the existing footprint, coaches said.
“[Five million] is going to buy a lot, but I’m not sure it’s going to buy additions,” men’s crew coach Gavin White said. “When the alternative is cutting, anything sounds good. Sure, we’d like our own new boathouse, but it’s just not a reality right now.”
The rowing teams still have to find a way to fundraise at least half of the $5 million needed to renovate EPCH and save their programs, which history has proven to be a difficult task.
It’s clear issues with fundraising were at least part of the reason that Temple withdrew its submission last year to build a new boathouse. Multiple officials said during the negotiations with the city that fundraising wouldn’t begin until the project was approved, which halted donations as a lengthy legal process played out over seven months.
The Schuylkill Navy has supported the restoring of Temple’s programs, but the organization hasn’t pledged any money, said Margaret Meigs, the commodore of the Schuylkill Navy.
Clark, the athletic director, denied an interview request for this article.
Last week’s meetings didn’t offer a clear vision for the future of the other eliminated sports – baseball, softball, men’s gymnastics and men’s track & field. Though some of those sports, like the men’s gymnastics team, are able to fundraise a significant portion of their operating budget, issues with their facilities remain.
“I am very concerned – and this comes from me – about baseball and softball traveling 34 miles round trip to Ambler,” Theobald said. “Track & field – the field events was the issue there, and with gymnastics we have two teams sharing one space. It’s large enough for one, but it’s not large enough for two.”
Joey Cranney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @joey_cranney.
Evan Cross contributed reporting.