Detroit Free Press sports intern George Stoia asked the players at MAC media day in Detroit if they wanted a piece of the defending champion Alabama.
Detroit Free Press
Central Michigan football’s status as an FBS program could be in jeopardy after the removal of its men’s track and field programs, a cost-saving measure that could help offset the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
CMU could recoup more than $600,000 annually after cutting its indoor and outdoor programs on Tuesday, and falling out of compliance with the highest level of college football. The NCAA requires FBS athletic departments to field at least 16 programs across various sports, including six men’s programs.
CMU now has 16 total programs, including just five men’s sports, meaning the university will need to add a men’s program or receive a waiver from the NCAA.
“There’s a plan that would allow us to work through a waiver period as we continue to research and return the department to full compliance,” CMU athletic director Michael Alford said on a conference call. “That waiver has been submitted. They meet weekly, and I anticipate an answer pretty quick.”
According to NCAA bylaw 126.96.36.199, CMU would be forced to leave the FBS if the waiver is denied, but Alford has “various models to make sure we are at full compliance coming up this year.” He did not elaborate on those plans.
Last month, the NCAA rejected a proposal from Group of Five conferences, including the Mid-American Conference, asking for a blanket waiver of the minimum sports requirement, according to ESPN.
Central Michigan and other Group of Five programs have struggled to stay afloat during the financial crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These departments typically are not self-sustainable, and rely more on heavy financial support from the university to keep their athletics programs going.
In 2018-19, $25.2 million of CMU’s $33.6 million athletic budget was provided by university funds, according to financial records obtained by USA TODAY Sports. There also was a 10.5% enrollment decline, from 21,705 in 2018 to 19,431 in 2019. All of which has exacerbated the strain as sports were canceled, campuses closed and instruction was moved online.
In April, Alford told the Free Press he expected to feel the effects of the financial crisis “for years,” but said at the time that cutting sports wasn’t part of the discussion.
“The declining enrollment impacts our financial bottom,” Alford said Tuesday. “We are facing additional financial challenges. When I looked at the different models, probably six or seven, trying to make it work, it’s just impossible to make it work without this reduction.”
[ MAC athletic programs staring at financial crisis after pandemic saps cash flow ]
Eliminating men’s track and field affects 36 student-athletes. The move allows the department to save $300,000 immediately and $628,798 each year, a CMU spokesperson told the Free Press.
Alford and Jenny Swieton, CMU’s director of track and field and cross country, met with most of the impacted athletes Tuesday morning on a video conference call. .
“The inability to meet the financial needs of the program to be successful was the primary reason I chose to discontinue the program,” Alford said.
Two assistant coaching positions from the staff that leads the men’s and women’s track and field and cross country teams were eliminated. CMU declined to release the names of those assistants.
Alford said the student-athletes can transfer without penalty from the NCAA.
All scholarships, including for incoming freshmen set to begin classes in the fall, will be honored if they attend CMU. Even if the financial situation improves, Alford said men’s track and field will not return.
There are no current plans to discontinue other sports, he said. Other Mid-American Conference schools have cut teams, such as Akron (men’s cross country, men’s golf, women’s tennis) and Bowling Green (baseball).
[ MAC trims basketball tournaments, cuts eight other postseasons completely ]
“We’ve been studying this since we found the financial downturn,” Alford said. “As it continued to get worse, this is a model we had to do to have sustainability.”
[ MAC football teams to trim travel rosters, ditch hotels for home games ]
The remaining 16 sponsored sports at CMU are men’s and women’s basketball, football, women’s soccer, women’s golf, baseball, softball, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, women’s track and field, gymnastics, women’s lacrosse, volleyball and wrestling.
Earlier this month, CMU made salary adjustments to Alford (8%), football coach Jim McElwain (6%), men’s basketball coach Keno Davis (6%), women’s basketball coach Heather Oesterle (6%) and two deputy athletic directors (2% each).
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.