Friday, July 25, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Temple board votes to save crew, cut five other sports

Story Highlights
  • Men's crew and women's rowing received reprieves.
  • They survived thanks to a $5.5 million pledge from the city, in partnership with the Lenfest Foundation.
  • The funds will restore and renovate the Temple Boathouse on Kelly Drive.

TWO TEMPLE athletic programs - men's crew and women's rowing - received reprieves yesterday, some 10 weeks after being informed that they were being cut by the university's administration. But four others - baseball, softball and men's indoor/outdoor track - will still be eliminated on July 1, as announced last December. Men's gymnastics will continue, albeit at the club level, with promised financial support from Temple's Board of Trustees.

That's the game plan that emerged from a special board meeting at Sullivan Hall. First, the members convened in private. That was followed by an hourlong public forum with coaches, players and parents from the impacted sports in attendance.

Understandably, most of them left unsatisfied. There were some tears.

The board was acting on a revised recommendation from president Neil D. Theobald, who's been on the job for 14 months. It also met Jan. 28 to discuss the issues.

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  • Theobald's letter explains decision
  • "Our future in varsity athletics lies with fewer, better-financed sports with first-rate facilities," Theobald said in a letter sent to all Owl Club members. "The decision to right-size our sports program will assure that Temple can achieve a stronger sports future on behalf of all its students.

    "I remain committed to doing what is best for Temple University."

    At the public session, Theobald added, "There's many complex reasons why we're at the point we are today."

    He's maintained that his recommendations are based on four factors: limited resources, facilities, student welfare and compliance with Title IX.

    It's also no secret that the university is studying the feasibility of building an on-campus football stadium. The team now plays at the Eagles' stadium, Lincoln Financial Field.

    Crew/rowing survived thanks to a $5.5 million pledge from the city of Philadelphia, in partnership with the Lenfest Foundation, to restore and renovate East Park Canoe House, also known as the Temple Boathouse, on Kelly Drive in East Fairmount Park. Temple was the primary tenant there for 4 decades before the building was closed in 2008 after the Department of Licenses and Inspections found structural issues and code violations.

    H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest is a board member. Lenfest also is part owner of Interstate General Media, which owns the Daily News, Inquirer and Philly.com.

    Funds also will be allocated for site improvements, renovated public restrooms and storage space for the city's Marine Police. Temple will have a long-term lease similar to the arrangement it's had for many years. Once design plans are finalized and a contractor selected, construction is expected to take 12 to 18 months.

    "Temple should have a place on that river," board chairman Patrick O'Connor said. "We're Philadelphia's university."

    As Mayor Nutter later put it at a City Hall news conference: "The Schuylkill River and its amenities . . . are iconic landmarks that make our great city unique. It is incumbent upon us to preserve these historical treasures for future Philadelphians."

    The Owls will be left with 19 sports, which is more in line with the rest of the new American Athletic Conference they joined last September. The cuts are projected to save $3 million from the $44 million athletic budget. The money will go back into the budget to help enhance the remaining sports.

    "I wish I had an endowment of several billion," O'Connor said. "I wish a lot of things . . . These are hard decisions that we're making. And by the way, there's more to come. And not just athletics. We have to look at every program we have, make sure it benefits our students. That's our job."

    All scholarships, including those promised to athletes who are still high-school seniors, will be honored.

    "It's bittersweet," rowing coach Rebecca Smith Grzybowski said. "It might take some time to heal some wounds. But in the long run, we're thrilled to be able to represent Temple."

    Many others no longer will be able to say that.

    "We completely understand, more than anyone, what it's like to be on that side of the decision," she said. "We've been supporting each other. So it's hard to watch. And you grow close, going through something like that with people. You feel for them, absolutely.

    "We're going to continue to support each other. It's definitely kind of forced us to prioritize, figure out why we're doing what we're doing . . . It hasn't sunk in quite yet, that's for sure. It'll be nice to be practicing at 4 o'clock, so we'll all be together and sort of get to celebrate it and get excited."

    Fred Turoff has been Temple's men's gymnastics coach for 38 seasons. A native Philadelphian, he competed for the Owls. It's a difficult time for him. Yet he handled it with dignity and perspective.

    "Losing a varsity program is very bad for everybody," he said. "They've offered us club status. I'll be able to attract gymnasts with the opportunity to train and compete. They just won't have a chance to compete in the NCAA championships."

    Temple's action means there will be only 17 varsity scholarship gymnastics programs in the nation, O'Connor said. And according to him, other universities are considering eliminating theirs, as well, which he cited as a "key factor" in the thought process.

    "Well, money is always in there," Turoff went on. "I think as long as you have programs that lose money that you constantly support, then you look at a program like mine and bring up a couple of questions: Why get rid of of a program that doesn't cost you and has been successful? They point out facilities. We've been training with our women's team since 1982, when I was asked to equalize facilities for men and women. It hasn't kept us from being successful. But I hear what happened here. I have to adjust my thinking a bit, see what's the best I can make out of the situation.

    "I will always try to get the program reinstated, even if it means we had to take some time off from varsity. It's just amazing to me that you drop a program that has graduated athletes and done community service and not really caused any problems. We've won 18 conference titles in my time. That's nearly 50 percent. I think the number's like 30 [overall]. Of course, I'm not fully scholarshiped. But we do very well with what we have.

    "How can I say we haven't done well enough, that we're not worth keeping? It saddens me that when these problems came up, nobody came and said, 'Can we think of some solutions?' Everything was done outside of the coaches, as far as I know. So where was the collaboration, the respect, for the time that we've been here?"

    Life goes on. It always does. Sometimes there are no right or wrong answers. But to all those whose lives will be changed, there can only be a feeling of why them? And that never goes away.

    Some can only move on.

    "I have to go to the Recreation Services office and see what we have to do in transition," Turoff said. "As long as the men's apparatus stays up in the gym, we can still have a team. And still run weekend gymnastics for local kids.

    "I don't know how long that [funding promise] goes. Certainly for a year, hopefully more. I don't know many guys will stay. Some of them aspire to compete in the NCAA championship. I have to look at the silver lining. At least we have an offer of continuing. Just not at the varsity level."

    It's something. On a day when others were left with nothing.

    MIKE KERN Daily News Staff Writer | kernm@phillynews.com
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