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The Philadelphia Inquirer
By Mike Jensen; Inquirer Columnist

Last week, Temple University president Neil D. Theobald talked about how difficult it was to decide "which of your teams you're going to convert to club status."

He was talking about the sports targeted for cutting - baseball, softball, men's indoor and outdoor track, men's crew, women's rowing, and men's gymnastics. Converting to club . . . actually, it's not that easy. Some Temple coaches don't think it's even possible for their sports.

Coaching salaries, for instance, would be eliminated. Travel budgets? Gone. Equipment budgets? They can keep what they have, but when anything needs to be replaced, there's no money budgeted for it.

Let's stop to point out the obvious: Theobald, on the job for a year, signed on for a tough task when it comes to financially managing Temple's sports programs (and financially managing the rest of Temple). That's been a tough task for decades. Theobald uses the word "overextended" about sports at Temple. He presumably has the spreadsheets to back it up.

Temple's president is being careful talking about "the real equity problem" that could crop up eventually if varsity sports self-fund.

If that's his reasoning, however, should Theobald be talking about club sports as an alternative? That's nothing but self-funding. Last week, each of the seven cut sports was given 15 minutes to make its case on surviving beyond this academic year. They've all been fighting for their lives, and Theobald said the school is looking at any new information brought up in the meeting. Whether anything changes, we'll find out soon enough.

Can baseball, for instance, simply become a club sport?

"Club is not an option for us," Owls baseball coach Ryan Wheeler said. "Most club teams are funded by the players on the team. They pay their own way to games and for any equipment they need. . . . All of these club teams are coached by a member of the team or student body."

Then Wheeler, with six players so far who have transferred, hit on maybe the biggest issue.

"If facilities are an issue for our team who is sponsored by the athletic department, then what will the club team use?" Wheeler asked. "There is not space for them to do anything indoor or outdoor, and using off-campus facilities is tough because they do not have the proper insurance or financial backing to rent them."

Basically, the same issues apply for softball.

"There are no club teams in the area, only intramurals," Temple softball coach Joe DiPietro said.

As for gymnastics, men's coach Fred Turoff said, "Temple has a gymnastics club. It is men and women. Clubs are not funded by athletics, they receive tiny funding from Student Recreation but have no coaches, no athletic trainers, and no academic support."

Theobald said current athletes from cut sports will receive their scholarships and academic support at Temple, but that will go away long-term. Newcomers to any club sport wouldn't get it. (Although for the first time, Theobald said Temple would honor the terms of any letter of intent signed by a high school senior in November. "We will live up to that," he said.)

In rowing, there are some club programs that compete at the Dad Vail level. Not many locally, though. Villanova's men have the only club program at the local Division-I schools, and it struggles to compete with the local varsities despite having a roof over its head. St. Joseph's men were a club for a time years ago but were revived as a varsity program.

The big news last week: Some talks have begun about rehabilitating the East Park Canoe House, condemned in 2008. Temple men's crew coach Gavin White said that if those talks involve Temple, they are contingent on not dropping to club status, since the university itself would have to be part of the project.

This was the one sport in which Theobald suggested events may have changed. He said he wanted to hear more about possibilities involving the Canoe Club. The boathouse issue was why the rowing teams were dropped, Theobald said.

If working out of a tent is untenable for Temple's rowing programs, switching to club hardly solves the problem.

"They've been throwing the word club around since Dec. 6," said Temple women's rowing coach Rebecca Smith Grzybowski, referring to the date Temple's board of trustees voted to cut seven sports. "I think a club program is a lot harder than people think. It takes an incredible financial commitment, not just from the alumni and the parents, but also from the administration and the rowers themselves."

Grzybowski said she has friends who coach successful men's club programs, "and their athletes pay anywhere from $750 to $1,200 a semester to cover their fees."

She looks at her roster and doesn't see a lot of team members who automatically would have chosen Temple if it was a club program.

"These are kids at Temple who work full-time jobs while also being varsity athletes, and a lot of the reason they're here is because they get some financial support," Grzybowski said. "To end that and ask [future recruits] to turn around and pay an additional $2,000 a year to row is a hard thing to sell."



February 5, 2014




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