Temple Restores Crew Teams, Cuts Five Other Sports

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The Philadelphia Inquirer
By Mike Jensen; Inquirer Staff Writer

In a change of direction, Temple University's board of trustees voted Monday to keep its men's and women's rowing teams, but reaffirmed its December decision to cut five other varsity sports.

Temple president Neil D. Theobald, who had recommended the moves, also announced with Mayor Nutter at a later City Hall news briefing that private and public funds are being allocated to renovate the East Park Canoe House, the city-owned boathouse that had been Temple's home until it was condemned in 2008.

The news wasn't as good for Temple's baseball, softball, men's gymnastics, and men's indoor and spring track and field teams. The board voted to cut them at the end of the academic year.

In a letter Monday to Temple alumni, Theobald reiterated what he said at the board meeting, that the original recommendation to cut sports "was based on four factors: the current condition of facilities, Title IX imbalances, student-athlete welfare, and our commitment to operating cost-effective academic and athletic programs at Temple."

"Rightsizing our program allows us to fully fund all women's scholarships; fully fund NCAA-permitted coaching positions; and increase the number of team doctors, academic advisers and trainers," Theobald wrote.

"Our students deserve safe, clean and spacious facilities. . . . Now we can invest in vital services."

Men's gymnastics coach Fred Turoff, in his 38th season in charge of the program, expressed his disappointment with the decision. However, Turoff met right after the vote with Lewis Katz, head of the athletic committee of the board of trustees. Turoff said Katz has committed to a matching-gift offer to keep the program going as a club team.

Turoff said he could raise $70,000 a year, Katz would match it, and that would be enough for a salary and an operating budget. The team would not be eligible to compete in the NCAA tournament.

Temple board of trustees chairman Patrick J. O'Connor said the dwindling number of men's gymnastics programs around the country was a factor in choosing to cut the program.

"The situation is very bad for everybody,'' Turoff said. "We have only five programs in the [Eastern College Athletic Conference], and knocking it down to five makes it tougher for the others. . . . A program like mine, where the tuition more than paid for the program, brings up a couple of questions. Why would you get rid of a program that doesn't cost you and is successful?"

Turoff noted that his team has trained with Temple's women's team since 1982, "when I was asked to equalize facilities for men and women, which I did. It hasn't kept us from being successful. . . . And we teach local kids."

The other teams had suggested ways of continuing. Told that playing on Temple's Ambler campus was an issue because of distance, the baseball team had secured a commitment from the Camden Riversharks to play all its home games at Campbell's Field and was working with the Phillies on practice-field arrangements.

"I think today was pretty much a wrap for us," said softball coach Joe DiPietro.

"My kid who spoke, the catcher, she was an all-American," DiPietro said. "They didn't answer her question about why the soccer teams are in Ambler other than to say we plan on bringing them back. How long - five years, 10 years? When the football stadium is done?"

School officials said the cuts were part of a broader look at athletics, which Theobald had told the board was "woefully underfunded."

When announcing the cuts in December, Temple said that its $44 million budget would not be cut and that the $3 million in savings would still be used within the athletic department.

As part of the boathouse agreement announced Monday, the city will continue a commitment to make $1 million worth of repairs to a retaining wall that collapsed into the river about a year ago.

H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, a member of Temple's board of trustees, will donate $3 million through his Lenfest Foundation, and the city will contribute $2.5 million toward the Temple boathouse. The university will have a long-term lease to control the building for both men's crew and women's rowing.

Repairs to the structure will be made inside and out, the parking lot will be rebuilt, and there will be new landscaping and some "green infrastructure" components to deal with water runoff. An announcement from the city said construction is expected to take between 12 and 18 months.

Lenfest and Katz are among the co-owners of Interstate General Media, which owns The Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.

Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., whose district includes the Canoe House, said he wanted to make sure local high school clubs could use the renovated building.

"We want to be creative and find more ways for urban kids to participate in nontraditional sports," he said. "That's a part of what the discussion should be."

There have been discussions involving Philadelphia City Rowing, a privately funded program for Philadelphia public school students, but that wasn't part of the announcement.

"We've been working with Temple for a couple of years on this, and then it took off all at once," Jones said. "The mayor was trying to save the sport at Temple. The [Recreation] Department didn't want to lose the facility. The interests merged. . . . But the third leg of this stool is community involvement."

"I'm sure they'll be involved somehow, and they should be," said Temple men's rowing coach Gavin White about Philadelphia City Rowing.

White said he had mixed emotions, that the Owls rowers had "all been in the same boat" with the programs that will be cut.

White thanked Lenfest - "I've never met him" - and also the Schuylkill Navy, the governing body of the sport on the river, along with the Dad Vail Regatta board and local rowers. He said they had a great impact.

"I guess I still need to sit down and hear the details on the boathouse," said Temple women's rowing coach Rebecca Smith Grzybowski, whose team has been operating out of a tent along with the men's team. "We had discussions on the side, preliminarily, with architects and engineers, figuring out the costs. I can't wait to hear what the plan is, and figure out what we need to do to get there."

Grzybowski said she first heard about the Lenfest donation Monday.

"There were clearly meetings happening at pretty high levels," she said. "But we were not part of them. We were operating a few rungs below."

Before the vote, the coaches of the teams being cut spoke, along with several athletes, parents, and numerous board members.

John McCarthy, father of a sophomore baseball player, focused on the move to the American Athletic Conference.

"They didn't switch leagues," McCarthy said of the athletes. "You guys did. We went for the almighty buck."

"I was going to contribute $60,000," McCarthy said after the meeting, adding that he was still upset at what he considered a poor job of communicating the original decision.

In discussing the decision to cut baseball, O'Connor, the board chairman, noted that six players had transferred after the December vote to cut the sport.

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Staff writer Troy Graham contributed to this article.


February 25, 2014




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