THE DAY THEIR DREAMS DIED

THE MEN'S GYMNASTS WERE TRUE SCHOLAR-ATHLETES. THEY WON CHANPIONSHIPS, EARNED DEGREES AND STAYED OUT OF JAIL. NO WONDER ASU KILLED THE PROGRAM.

Those two factors meant, says NCAA committee chairman Fred Turoff, "that suddenly there was $105,000 every year we didn't have anymore. A big blow."

Largely because of those changes, the NCAA men's gymnastics championships in 1991 lost money for the first time in memory. That spelled trouble, for the NCAA has stated that if a team championship event loses money three years in a row, it may be eliminated as a sanctioned sport.

During that time, NCAA-affiliated universities with men's gymnastics programs plummeted to the bottom-line number needed to maintain sanction as a varsity sport.

Meanwhile, the ASU athletic-department budget was struggling under a multimillion-dollar debt incurred from a new press box and sky boxes at Sun Devil Stadium, a six-story office complex at the stadium, a golf course, locker rooms and the paucity of football ticket sales. (ASU football attendance in 1992 was at a 20-year low.)

Coach Don Robinson says that early in 1992, Charles Harris told the coach he'd have to raise more than $2 million over three years or his program might die at an unspecified date. Robinson says he figured, wrongly, he'd have through 1995 to right things, because the NCAA has announced a moratorium on dropping any team championships until after that academic year.

But things were not boding well for the Sun Devil program. School president Lattie Coor convened a task force led by Harris to look at ways to solve the athletic department's budget woes.

"The athletic director persuaded us that they couldn't get significant cost savings by simply squeezing existing programs tighter," says Milton Schroeder, a commercial-law professor who was on the task force. "The only alternative was looking at existing programs. Men's gymnastics appeared to be a logical candidate."
In months of work, Schroeder and his colleagues on the task force didn't do the homework that gymnast Paul Bedewi did after Harris broke the bad news.

Under the pretext of doing a term paper, the biomechanical-engineering major obtained from the ASU athletic department a breakdown of what it costs to operate its men's gymnastics team. What he found convinced him he and his teammates were getting the shaft.

Bedewi says Harris told the team it cost ASU about $300,000 per year for the men's gymnastics program. That figure included salaries, scholarships, marketing, insurance, administrative costs and something called "sports information."

Bedewi points out that killing the program after this year isn't going to save ASU the $300,000 immediately. Even without an NCAA men's gymnastics program, the school will still be paying the gymnasts' financial aid and medical insurance--totaling about $100,000 next year--until the present freshman gymnasts use up their athletic eligibility in 1996.

And Bedewi raises another point apparently ignored by Charles Harris and the "task force." His team's nonscholarship members--about half of the 20-plus squad--pay full tuition to ASU. That money goes into the university's general fund, not into the athletic department's needy coffers.

"That should have counted for something," Bedewi says. "We got axed before we had to get axed, if we had to get axed at all. Killing us isn't going to, quote, save the athletic department. It's just that we didn't mean anything to Mr. Harris."
@rule:
@body:Last November 4, worried about his team's future, assistant men's gymnastics coach Scott Barclay spoke with associate athletic director Herman Frazier. Barclay asked Frazier for proof--in writing--that ASU wouldn't be eliminating the sport anytime soon.

The reasons for the request were twofold: Barclay was recruiting high schoolers for the then-anticipated 1994 season and he wanted to know how safe the program was; and he wanted to know if he was going to have a job.

Earlier in 1992, Coach Robinson says Charles Harris had told him that the situation, while unresolved, wasn't dire. In November, associate athletic director Frazier went farther than his boss.

Frazier penned a handwritten memo; its opening and most telling passage stated: "Athletic Director has made commitment that as long as NCAA sponsors a championship in the sport, we will have the sport."

The team's two coaches breathed a huge sigh of relief.
But a month later, Don Robinson says, Charles Harris again raised the matter of fund-raising. "Charles told me we'd better get some money together," Robinson recalls, "but he never, never told me he was going to drop us by a certain date. I never could get anything from him in black or white."

Harris says he "acknowledges" the existence of the Frazier memo while insisting, "There was was no misunderstanding on the expectations that had to be met." But he bristles at Robinson's version of the events. "No one can characterize what we did as a surprise," the athletic director says. "I met with Coach Robinson about once a month after our original discussion to see how their fund-raising was going. I was up-front about things. If anyone says otherwise, I'd have to say it's a misrepresentation."

While all this was occurring in Tempe, Fred Turoff and his NCAA gymnastics committee were working to restructure and reduce the costs of the annual men's championships. They cut it from a three- to a two-day meet and reduced its size.

The committee also made strides in its effort to convince the NCAA to combine men's and women's gymnastics championships into one meet. That's the way it is at the Olympics and other major international and national events. If that happens, Turoff and others say, college men's gymnastics would get a major boost.

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