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Sometimes it takes guts and money to reverse a controversial decision. Temple University's board of trustees needed ample helpings of both to reinstate the men's and women's crew teams this week. Now it needs to similarly figure out how to save other sports programs.
Collegiate athletic competition provides students with valuable lessons in sportsmanship while instilling a sense of community among students, alumni, and fans. That community stepped up to save Temple's crew program, which has been operating out of tents ever since its boathouse, the city-owned East Park Canoe House, was condemned in 2008.
The city and Temple board member H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, a part-owner of The Inquirer, will spend $5.5 million to restore the historic Canoe House. The city also will spend $1 million to repair a nearby retaining wall on the Schuylkill, and is wisely investing in a storm-water management system to prevent future deterioration. The refurbished boathouse also may be shared with a high school rowing program, further deepening Temple's ties to the community.
Temple's decision to continue crew saved the university and the city the embarrassment of not seeing the Owls participate in the nation's most prestigious college regatta, the Dad Vail, which is hosted on the Schuylkill, the leading venue for rowing in the country. But despite being happy about that, the rowers expressed concern about their fellow athletes.
Temple still plans to cut baseball, softball, men's gymnastics, and the men's indoor and spring track-and-field teams. The decision ignores survival plans that the teams have been trying to devise.
Temple board member Lewis Katz, who is also a part-owner of The Inquirer, has offered a $70,000 matching grant to the men's gymnastics team to convert it into a club sport. The gymnastics coach said he could meet that challenge. Meanwhile, the baseball team has secured a commitment from the Camden Riversharks to play at Campbell's Field, and it is working on a deal with the Phillies for a practice field.
Temple should not be criticized for trying to keep costs down in an era when college has become less and less affordable. In a letter to trustees, Temple President Neil D. Theobald said the school's athletics programs were "woefully underfunded." He said the university would need an endowment of more than $60 million just to sustain its teams, and also revealed that the U.S. Department of Education was investigating Temple's adherence to Title IX gender equity standards.
This situation did not develop overnight. It's a result of today's postrecession fiscal realities and some rather curious ideas about supporting athletic programs, including a proposal to build an expensive football stadium instead of dividing the funds to help other sports.
Students and coaches of teams on Temple's extinction list have been scrambling since they found out about it in December to come up with alternatives, but they need more time. The least the university can do is give them that. They deserve a sporting chance to fight for their survival.
February 28, 2014