Cutting sports a growing trend at major colleges

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In this Dec. 6, 2013, photo, Temple men's gymnastics junior Colton Howard, left, and sophomore Evan Eigner pause after working out at the university, in Philadelphia. In early December, Temple announced that it is eliminating seven of its 24 sports, including men's gymnastics, effective in the fall. “When I heard the news, I kind of went numb a little bit,” Eigner said. (AP Photo/The Philadelphia Inquirer, Tom Gralish)

Temple men’s gymnastics junior Colton Howard, left, and sophomore Evan Eigner pause after working out at the university, in Philadelphia. In early December, Temple announced that it is eliminating seven of its 24 sports, including men’s gymnastics, effective in the fall. “When I heard the news, I kind of went numb a little bit,” Eigner said. (AP Photo/The Philadelphia Inquirer, Tom Gralish)

The meeting was brief. A few minutes tops.

Temple athletic director Kevin Clark didn’t mince words. Standing inside the football team’s indoor practice facility earlier this month, Clark scanned the crowd of dozens of student-athletes – none of them football players – and told them the financially strapped athletic department was cutting their sport at the end of the 2013-14 academic year.

There weren’t a lot of details. No lengthy question and answer session. Sitting alongside his 16 teammates on the men’s gymnastics team, sophomore Evan Eigner sat in stunned silence.

“When I heard the news,” Eigner said, “I kind of went numb a little bit.”

Temple’s announcement that it’s going from 24 sports to 17 next fall, a move that will eventually save about $3-3.5 million a year, was just the latest in a growing line of colleges and universities that are reshaping overextended athletic programs by shuttering smaller sports to help make those that remain – particularly those designed to bring in revenue – more competitive.

To be honest, Eigner still isn’t sure what happened. He understood the athletic department was in a tight spot money-wise. He knew there had been talk about changes and the threat of cuts. It was all just white noise until suddenly, it became only too real.

He heard the part where Clark said the school would honor all of the scholarships for the affected student athletes until they graduated. He heard the part where Clark said the school would do what it could to find new athletic homes for those wishing to transfer.

Eigner just didn’t hear what he would consider a sensible argument for cutting a program that takes up a small fraction of the athletic department budget yet nets conference championships. He grew up wanting to compete at Temple, where his stepfather Fred Turoff has been coach since 1976. He grew up wanting to walk out of his graduation ceremony with a degree in hand and four years of college gymnastics under his belt.

Now he may get one or the other, but not both.

“I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else but Temple,” Eigner said. “Gymnastics is a big part of my life. Competing collegiately is a big goal of mine. For our team, gymnastics is really a part of our identities. If you take away the opportunity, you’re affecting who we are as individuals.”

A growing number of whom are finding themselves forced to choose between staying in school or competing elsewhere after their programs are dissolved to help other sports deal with geographically confounding – if more lucrative – conference alignments, increased travel budgets and coach salaries.

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