East Lansing — The future of swimming and diving hasn’t been sunk just yet at Michigan State, as the potential for the return of the men’s and women’s programs retained a glimmer of hope this week.
It seemed like the nearly two-year long battle to reinstate the programs finally met its demise last week when Michigan State trustee Melanie Foster said during Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting that there is “not a viable path” for reinstatement because of financial restraints, as well as the lack of a competition swimming pool.
However, members of The Battle for Spartan Swim and Dive, a group of swimmers, alumni and supporters that have been fighting to have the programs reinstated after they were discontinued following the 2020-21 season, met with interim President Teresa Woodruff on Monday and the sides agreed to continue discussions about the potential of swimming and diving returning to Michigan State, the group said.
“The response received was that the university still needs a path forward for facility improvements and operating budget,” the group said in a statement provided to The News. “The Battle group shared high-level solutions and additional insight on the facility and funding pieces of this puzzle, and overall agree with Woodruff’s assessment that the discussion was ‘fruitful.’
“We look forward to further communication with the Office of the President as we plan for more meaningful collaboration with MSU in January 2023.”
The meeting is the latest move in a saga that began in October 2020 when then athletic director Bill Beekman announced the swimming and diving programs would be eliminated amid the financial uncertainty early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before Friday’s Board meeting, there had been cautious optimism among program advocates in recent months. Foster’s comments seemed to douse that optimism, though the meeting with Woodruff signals there is at least some hope moving forward.
Michigan State remains involved in a lawsuit filed by multiple female swimmers, and that’s set to go to trial in federal court in January after the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear a university appeal. The university has been ordered by a federal judge to come up with a compliance plan for Title IX, after the elimination of the women’s swimming and diving program put it out of balance. Title IX says there must be equal athletic opportunities for women that mirror the male-female breakdown of the university.
The judge who ordered the compliance plan stopped short of ordering reinstatement of the women’s program.
Beekman, in cutting the programs, said the decision would eventually save the university $2 million a year. The university’s athletic budget is over $100 million. The cost of the programs was expected to rise if reinstated, athletic director Alan Haller told program advocates, saying to be in line with the new standards set for Olympic sports, there would have to be upgrades in team nutrition, designated athletic trainers and chartered plane travel, especially with the Big Ten set to expand to the West Coast.
Advocates for the programs have said they’ve secured $10 million in pledges to keep the programs afloat for several years.
As for the swimming pool concern, Michigan State is building a $154 million recreation and wellness center, with the first phase set to open late in 2025 or early in 2026, that has options to include a 50-meter competition swimming pool. A pool is not in the current plans for the first phase, university officials said.
Foster also said Friday the university does not want to support an athletic program on the back of student fees, and student fees will be used to fund the new recreation center. Swim and dive supporters have maintained that a reinstated team could compete in the pool at IM West until a recreation center is completed with a pool, though a lack of program-designated locker rooms would then remain an issue.