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The MSU Sports Referendum: A Breakdown

MSU President Richard Davenport’s decision not to fund four team sports has caused controversy campus wide.

On April 20th Minnesota State Mankato President Richard Davenport decided not to sign a referendum approved by the student body to fund four varsity sports for the next three years.  This decision will result in the woman’s bowling, men’s swimming, and men’s tennis teams being cut.  The woman’s tennis team will be saved.

(Full disclosure: I was a high school tennis player and have friends on the men’s and woman’s tennis teams at MSU.)

The original proposal put together by Athletic Director Kevin Buisman called for all four teams to be cut.

The Athlete’s Response

The athlete’s of the endangered teams swiftly responded to the preposed cuts with a petition to hold a referendum that would save the four teams.  The petition was passed and the student athletes looked to the referendum.

All four teams contributed to the raising of support for the referendum. The woman’s bowling team got the word out about the vote. The tennis program held an alumni tournament to raise funds and awareness, but the swimming and diving team stood out as leading the charge to save the sports teams.

Jesse Stanton, a junior on the woman’s swim team, helped organize many of the fundraising and advertising campaigns the athletes held to support the referendum.  Stanton said the teams on the chopping block received mixed signals from administration about many aspects of the referendum.  These mixed signals stemmed from incomplete information about:

  • What student-athletes needed to do to get the referendum on the ballet.
  • Where posters could be placed informing students about the referendum
  • What information could be on the posters.
  • Where student-athletes could campaign on the day of the vote.

The Day of the Vote

22.6% of students voted on the day of April 12th.  This totaled 3,248 students witch equaled about a 10% increase in turnout from last year’s election.  This increase in voting can be attributed in large part to the massive grass roots campaign put on by the teams on the line to get students voting.

When the election results were fully counted 12% of the student body had voted for the referendum.  The exact number was 1,796 for the referendum, 1,287 against, and 165 students choosing to abstain.

Referendum by Numbers

  • 75 cents increase per credit up to 16 credits
  • 18 dollars total tuition increase per year
  • 53 student athletes would have benefited from the referendum
  • 290,000 dollars raised total

Davenport’s Decision

Shock was the most popular reaction on April 20th when President Davenport sent out a press release that spelled out his intentions of not signing off on the referendum. The silver lining of the day was the announcement that the woman’s tennis team would be saved.  Davenport had reasons for not signing off on the referendum:

  • 12% of the student body was not a clear enough majority to raise costs for all students.
  • With tuition to be raised by 6-10% over the next two years anther raise in cost was hard to justify.
  • Since this was a three year solution there was worry of this same situation happening in 2014.
As for the woman’s tennis team being saved Davenport  had separate reasons:
  • The woman’s tennis team is part of the Northern Sun Conference and that agreement was going to be honored.
  • The university needed to stay in compliance with Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972.
For more information Avery Cropp wrote an excellent article on the topic in the MSU Reporter.

What do the Athletes do Now?

With the President’s decision coming so late in the year athletes are left scrambling to make major choices.  Conner Florand is an All-American diver and does not know if he will find a school before next fall.  Florand said since it is really late in the recruiting season finding a comparable place to swim will be difficult.

Thankfully, the university is honoring all previous scholarships athletes received until their eligibility is exhausted.

In an email to student-athletes Athletic Director Kevin Buisman outlined the university policies. Even with this promise Florand says it just would not feel right not having swimming and diving in his life. Many other athletes mirror this sentiment.

The Mystery Rock Wall

Much has been said about a rock wall that could be constructed on campus in relation with the result of the referendum. Simply stated this is a completely separate situation. Current MSSA President Matthew Lexcan clarified the issue.

Lexcan said that because of the excellent financial work of MSU CFO Rick Straka Mankato State was left with 3.5 million in the budget to be used on a project that does not have an annual cost. A complete list of the proposals can be found here.

St. Cloud State Setting a Precedent?

While the referendum was being considered comparisons to the financial decisions made by St. Cloud State were often used.  St. Cloud did pass an athletic referendum but it was much different from what the student body passed on April 12th in MSU.

St. Cloud actually passed two referendums increasing student fees.  These totaled $1.75 increase per credit to save several athletic programs including football.  The difference is that St. Cloud’s referendum is more of a life jacket to keep their athletic program from sinking.

Mankato State’s athletic program is not drowning.  According to Mankato Athletic Finance Director Tim Marshall the outcome of the referendum would not have affected the cutbacks to the MSU athletic program’s budget. The referendum would have simply acted as life support for the individual sports the next three years. This is a contrast to St. Clouds referendum which massively affected their athletic budget.

What MSU Varsity Sports Cost

The full operating cost of each sport is difficult to pinpoint.  A data base that includes scholarship data and coaches salaries does not exist.  The operating costs on game day range from around 165,000 for football and 14,000 for Men’s Tennis.

Faces of the Referendum

 This is a slide show of people affected by the referendum being overturned.  Some will not return to Minnesota State Mankato this Fall.  

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