Reinstate the crew and rowing teams

The crew and rowing teams don’t deserve to suffer because of the university’s failures.

Perhaps the saddest story in Temple athletics today is the plight of the men’s crew and women’s rowing teams.

The 27 men and 60 women representing these programs as student-athletes have never competed out of proper facilities at Temple. During early-morning practices, rowers are resigned to using portable restrooms without running water. During competitions, they row in boats housed out of tents situated in a parking lot on Kelly Drive, about 100 yards away from St. Joseph’s University’s boathouse.

The tents have no heat. The Owls’ former home, the East Park Canoe House, was condemned in 2008 due to multiple building code violations. Every other rowing college in the city competes out of a boathouse.

Athletic Director Kevin Clark said he “sank his head” when he first saw the rowing  facilities last year. Clark and President Theobald have said the fact that the teams don’t have a boathouse was the reason the university decided to eliminate both Division I programs, effective July 1.

Clark’s recommendation to eliminate the sports was made after a years-long process to acquire a plot of land to build a new boathouse was halted, a move that essentially ensured the rowing teams’ fate in the cuts.

Now, the administration seems to be indicating that the decision to cut the rowing teams could be reversed if the university completes a process to shelter them in a boathouse. Coaches said last week that the cost of renovating the EPCH for the teams’ use could be as little as $5 million. Theobald said the teams moving into the old boathouse would make for a “very different situation for the rowing programs” in terms of the cuts.

However, it’s clear the university has failed the rowing programs, both in its decision to give up on getting the teams a new boathouse and its fumbling of the entire ordeal.

Envision the nicest boathouse in the country and we will build it for you, the university told the rowing teams in 2011, multiple coaches said. Men’s crew coach Gavin White was heavily involved in the design process.

In October 2012, Temple submitted its formal proposal to the city, which included a projected 23,000 square-foot, multi-level building. The coaches of the men’s crew and women’s rowing team both said at the time that it would be the “nicest boathouse in America.” Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director Mark Ingram estimated the cost of the boathouse to be $8 million to $10 million in September 2012.

However, fundraising for the project was almost immediately an issue.

At a meeting of the athletics committee of the Board of Trustees on Sept. 19, 2012, Ingram expressed concerns about fundraising strategies.

“We can’t announce that the boathouse is happening and everyone get on board because the 1,000 or so prospects that we have will all give $100 and we’ll be sitting with [$100,000] for a $10 million project,” Ingram said.

The administration should have recognized Temple’s history of struggling to fundraise and communicated a more modest proposal to the rowing teams. Only because the university insisted that the teams design a world-class facility were they faced with such an expensive project.

When Theobald arrived at the university in January 2013, there was functionally no money raised for one of the university’s most important projects. In April 2013, Temple’s submission to acquire land for the boathouse was tabled after several months of back-and-forth with the city. Eight months later, the men’s crew and women’s rowing programs were cut.

Now, the rowing teams are forced to consider renovating the EPCH just to avoid elimination.

Referring to the overall athletic cuts, Theobald said in a news conference last week, “In no way at all, is this the fault of anyone but this university. We got ourselves in this mess, we should not punish the students in any way to get out of it.”

We second that claim. The university should start by getting the rowing teams their long overdue boathouse and restoring their Division I status.

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