Nothing in life is guaranteed.
The No. 6 Michigan State men”s gymnastics team currently feels the impact of the previous statement as it competes in its final season.
Usually when athletes commit to a school, they assume that they are guaranteed four years of collegiate competition.
But the decision made by the Michigan State athletic department to cut a program that has existed since 1946, leads one to believe otherwise.
Last Friday”s competition against Michigan was perhaps one of the last meets ever for the Spartans as will be this weekend”s Big Ten Championships at College Park.
Of the 11 Big Ten teams, only 6 will have a men”s gymnastics team next year.
“State losing it”s program is really sad,” Michigan sophomore gymnast Conan Parzuckowski said. “Gymnastics, especially men”s gymnastics isn”t a popular sport. Sure you see it every four years in the Olympics, but otherwise it just fades away. In a sport with really no professional league, college is the last place where an athlete can fine tune.”
Initially, the athletic department cited differences in the female athlete population percentage in relation to the University”s overall female population percentage. For example, Title IX, the federal law enacted in 1972, states that if women comprise say 48% of the University”s student body, then 48% of all student athletes should be women. In essence, Title IX hopes to ensure equality for women.
Apparently, the two percentages did not equal each other. Of the options that existed, to either add more women”s varsity teams or cut some of the men”s programs, Michigan State chose to cut its men”s gymnastics program in order to comply with the Title IX requirements.
“Title IX is a great law, but it is poorly written and horribly (interpreted),” Michigan State Head Coach Rick Atkinson said.
Michigan State junior Jonathan Plante, who is the nation”s top-ranked gymnast on the pommel horse, is investigating the matter further and after doing some of his own research, Plante proposed his calculations of the required percentages to Associate Director of Athletics Shelly Appelbaum.
“Upon discussing the situation with Shelley Appelbaum, the first reason given was the participation (ratio),” Plante said. “However when I ran current participation reasons by her, the reason changed to the scholarship-funding problem.”
And in a discussion with Michigan State”s Vice President Fred Poston, Plante was told that financial issues led to the decision to terminate the program.
“His reason was that they needed our money (team budget, scholarship, salaries) in order to fund more scholarships for female athletics purely a financial reason,” Plante said. “However this was not the reason expressed to other groups involved in the decision process. So as of this date, we have no concrete reason for terminating the program.”
Since the law also calls for a fair distribution of scholarships funds available for student athletes, its involvement in the decision making process makes sense.
The Michigan State gymnasts have responded as well as they can, but for some, the entire situation has been discouraging especially the way Michigan State”s athletic department has dealt with it.
For instance, the University seemed to go out of its way to keep the football players updated of the situation when former Michigan State football head coach, Nick Saban, was choosing to leave.
“When Nick Saban left the football program, President McPherson skipped the dinner for the graduating class to have a private meeting with the football players,” Plante said. “As a team, we have not been given the common courtesy of knowing” the exact details of why men”s gymnastics was cut.
Interestingly, the decision to terminate the program was actually made prior to last season, but the gymnasts were given a one-year extension this season to figure out what they were going to do individually.
Rather than staying at Michigan State, some gymnasts are looking into transferring to other schools. But even that process gets complicated because they may risk losing their current scholarships. Transferring their academic credits is yet another issue that Spartan gymnasts encounter.
“If they maintain eligibility, the school will hold up their end of the bargain. The scholarships will be intact just that there will be no gymnastics,” Atkinson said.