Jackson Allen dreamed about being a Gopher. He was so ready to join the University of Minnesota men’s tennis program that after winning a state singles championship at Shakopee High School in 2016, he enrolled early, bypassing his senior year.
Anastasia Korzenowski came to the University of Minnesota as a cross country and track runner after a remarkable career at Chanhassen High School. The U felt like home from the start, and now she considers her team as family.
Both Gopher student-athletes are hurting after Mark Coyle, Athletic Director at the University of Minnesota, announced Sept. 10 that programs cuts were being made.
“We have determined that Athletics is no longer able to financially or equitably sustain 25 varsity programs, and pending approval of the Board of Regents, we will discontinue men’s indoor track and field, men’s outdoor track and field, men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis at the completion of their 2020-21 competition season. Should health and safety precautions allow, these teams will have the opportunity to compete during the 2020-21 season,” a statement from the University said.
“The U prides itself on being inclusive. It prides itself on being one athletic department, one university, one state. For them to make this decision, it is truly heartbreaking,” said Korzenowski, whose cross country and track and field programs were not cut. “It was something none of us anticipated. It was a huge shock to every person there. I feel for every single athlete, every coach, all alumni, any future athletes that has had their opportunity taken away from them.
“For most of us, you dream to compete for your home state. These are some of my best friends, and now they have a choice to give up what they love to do, or transfer. These student-athletes love their program, love their team, love their school, and now we’re throwing them out the window,” she added.
For Allen, the upcoming 2020-21 season was to be his last in the Gopher tennis program. He’s not counting his fortunes. He’s thinking about teammates left without a team. He’s thinking about other athletes he passes in Athletic Village. How they must feel.
“I’m devastated. It’s hard to get out of bed. I’m really stressed out about what is happening. This announcement came out on the third day of school. Our campus was quiet for five months and they came out on the third day of school with this decision. It’s hard to be involved in my classes knowing what this university is willing to do to us,” Allen said.
Allen’s coach, Geoff Young, was told by U of M administration that everything would be done to maintain all current varsity programs. Allen does not feel this was followed.
“They never reached out to a single alumni in any of the affected programs. They told my coach, ‘Don’t bother fundraising. This project will not be reconsidered.’ I bet if you asked every program to cut 10 percent from their budget, no student-athlete would know. if you asked Coach Young to take a pay cut if it meant saving his program, he would. There are other ways and they are choosing the easy way out,” Allen said.
The Gopher men’s tennis program rosters just eight players; a total of 4.5 scholarships. It has an annual budget of roughly $825,000 according to Allen.
With all Big Ten Conference fall events, including men’s tennis, postponed, it leaves a projected loss of revenue in upward of $75 million. Much of that coming from football and, to a lesser extent, volleyball.
“You look at our budget, there is money to run (Baseline Tennis Center). There still will be a women’s team, so there’s no cost-savings there. There is money for administration. Something like $50,000. Those people will still be there. So, really what are they saving?” Allen said.
Allen fumes at the excessive spending that has occurred in his four years. He’s angry thinking about something Coyle said on the 15-minute Zoom meeting with affected student-athletes — that this was something the athletic department has seen coming for a while.
“He said it’s a Title IX thing. That there isn’t enough women athletes competing,” Allen said.
Sarah Hopkins, Korzenowski’s head cross country coach, said she was told to cut her roster size in recent years.
“If we needed to balance out the gender numbers, I could easily add 10-15 women to my roster. When I took over the program we had 47 women on the cross country team and now we are being asked to cap it at 30 for the 2021-22 school year. While adding more women may seem to add to the financial strain, there are certainly creative ways to do it that add a minuscule amount to my budget,” Hopkins said on the Facebook group, “Save UMN Men’s Track and Field.”
Allen and junior Sebastian Vile are the lone Minnesotans on the Gophers men’s tennis team. Of the eight players, five come from countries outside of the United States of America (New Zealand, England, Serbia, Estonia and Ukraine).
Four are non-seniors, meaning a decision of what’s next is needed.
“These guys are forced to abandon every relationship they have in America or abandon the sport they love. My teammate, Dylan Heap, came in as a walk-on from New Zealand. He’s a 3.9 GPA student. He’s at Carlson School of Management. And now he’s going to have to go somewhere else probably. Who knows if his credits will transfer. It’s just pathetic,” Allen said.
At this time, university officials do not anticipate any other sports program will be affected.
The move is pending approval by the Board of Regents, which tabled the decision to Oct. 8
“We understand that this is devastating news for impacted student-athletes, coaches and staff. We also recognize the ripple effect this decision will have on all of our student-athletes and on former letterwinners, alumni, donors, family, friends and fans who have participated on and cheered for these four programs over the years. We did not make this decision lightly,” the University’s statement said.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that their job is easy. What they are facing with the budget is real. But I won’t agree that they made the right choice. That is why we are asking people to write letters to the Board of the Regents. That is why we’re going to fight this. This is a fight we know we can win,” Korzenowski said.
“I’m very thankful for the checks and balances that are in place. I am happy to know that administration alone cannot make this awful decision. I am thankful that the Board of Regents will have the final say,” Allen said.
Allen heard the news on Aug. 21. The University of Iowa was eliminating men’s tennis. He immediately thought of his friend, Nikita Snezhko, who attended Robbinsdale Armstrong High School.
“I texted him, told him I was sorry to hear the news. I’ll be honest, though, it didn’t affect me like it should have. When it happens to you, you really reflect on everything. I should have been more upset for him,” Allen said.
For Korzenowski, her cross country and track and field programs remain. For the foreseeable future, things will go on as normal. But they won’t be. Two years ago, the men’s and women’s running programs combined. They share coaches. They are two sports, but one team.
That is why Korzenowski and her roommates, which include Molly Roach (Bloomington Jefferson), Tate Sweeney (Edina), Elizabeth Klecker (Hopkins), Sam Baer (St. Louis Park), Sophie Schmitz (Willmar), and Jaycie Thomsen (Wayzata), as well as many others, have come together to save their program.
“The U of M is a super unique place. It is a community that is super inclusive, very diverse. There are eight different countries represented in the track program. We have outspoken role models for the LBGTQ+ community. We truly are a family,” Korzenowski said. “We’ll fight for everyone. I really believe that if things were reversed, they would be doing this for us. We are one program, one team, one school, one state.”
A planned march is set for 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 16, beginning at Athletic Village (Bierman Field and Athletic Building). The rally will conclude in front of President Joan Gabel’s office at Morrill Hall.
“We’ll have a few speakers and really discuss the issues at hand. Really, we want to put faces to names. There was a news story where they said 58 student-athletes will be affected. This affects our entire Gopher community, our entire state. The true impact of the decision is felt by all Gopher athletes, students, alumni, and fans. We would love their support on Wednesday,” Korzenowski said.