An advocate for Michigan State’s eliminated swimming and diving programs held an initial meeting with athletic director Alan Haller this week, talking for 45 minutes Thursday as the university’s athletic department considers whether to reinstate the teams.
Last week, Michigan State’s Board of Trustees directed Haller to hold meetings with advocates for the programs, and told him to make a decision about the teams’ future by the end of the spring semester in 2023. The meeting took place over Zoom, between Haller and program advocate David Habel.
The women’s and men’s swimming and diving programs were eliminated in October 2020, in part as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial uncertainty it created in athletic departments’ across the country.
The advocacy group, Battle for Spartan Swim and Dive, has been working to get the programs reinstated ever since.
Battle for Spartan Swim and Dive called Thursday’s meeting “the most definitive step forward” in their efforts to get the programs reinstated.
“Mr. Haller contacted Battle representatives earlier this week, holding an initial 45-minute conversation on Thursday with additional discussions being scheduled for the coming weeks,” the advocacy group, which has secured millions in pledges from alums to help fund reinstatement, said in a statement sent out Friday night. “We thank Mr. Haller for his sincere outreach and we look forward to working together to put our storied programs back in the water. The Battle group also wishes to acknowledge the MSU Board of Trustees.
“This is the most definitive step forward in our two-year campaign to bring back to the Spartan swim and dive program(s), and we must credit the thousands of alumni, parents and supporters who have kept this fight at the forefront. Their voices, emails and pledges are why today, we stand closer than ever to getting our amazing MSU swimmers and divers back in the water.”
At their meeting Friday, the Michigan State Board of Trustees turned over the authority to reinstate the programs to Haller. It was the last meeting for president Samuel L. Stanley, who resigned from his post last month. Stanley met with members of the swimming and diving programs this summer, but remained steadfast against reinstatement. Haller had previously deferred to Stanley. The decision to cut the programs was made by former athletic director Bill Beekman, saying it would eventually save the athletic department about $2 million a year. The school continues to honor the scholarships of 21 swimmers and divers who remain enrolled at Michigan State, 15 women and six men.
Since the decision, members of the swimming and diving programs, plus alums, parents and advocates, have been regular attendees at Board of Trustees meetings, speaking for reinstatement. At Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting, board members didn’t speak about whether they want the programs reinstated.
Thursday’s meeting between Haller and Habel comes amid an ongoing Title IX lawsuit by members of the women’s team against the university. The case is scheduled to go to trial in January; Michigan State has spent more than $600,000 on legal fees defending the elimination of the programs — the school’s first sports-team cuts since 2001.
The women want both their team and the men’s team reinstated. In inner-department conversations about what it would take for reinstatement, Haller has only discussed reinstating both teams, he said in an August deposition.
If the programs are reinstated, their next seasons would be their 100th. They would swim home duels at IM West until the new, $154 million Student Recreation and Wellness Center is completed, projected by 2024. The new rec center won’t have locker rooms for swimming and diving programs; that issue would need to be figured out.
In the early stages of the pandemic, dozens of colleges across the country eliminated hundreds of programs because of financial uncertainty. Several of those teams have since been reinstated, including Iowa’s swim and dive team.