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Battle for Swim and Dive criticizes MSU for inconsistent messaging

Michigan State University

Updated on December 20 at 9:40 a.m. ET

Advocates pushing Michigan State University to reinstate its swim and dive program are criticizing the Board of Trustees for providing conflicting messages on why the program remains in limbo.

The board said last week that it did not see a viable path forward to reinstating the swim and dive team. Administrators cited funding challenges when they cancelled the programin 2020.

Battle for Spartan Swim and Dive, a group of advocates pushing for reinstatement, said the announcement surprised them.

The group said Interim President Teresa Woodruff told them in a meeting on Dec. 8 that there was potential for the team to return if they could commit to covering half of the $6.5 million in operating expenses over five years. Woodruff said at last week's meeting that the university would need to come up with a more financially sustainable model for managing a competitive swimming facility.

The advocates say that financial condition differs from what Athletic Director Alan Haller had told them on Dec. 1. The group says he told them the program had to meet new Olympic sports standards before it could return.

Mindy Arbaugh is a member of Battle for Spartan Swim and Dive. She said the organization has been working to identify solutions to these concerns and share them with the university. The organization claims it has secured over $10 million in support from donors to fund the program.

University spokesperson Dan Olsen said $7.5 million of that commitment would come from a donor in the form of an estate gift. That means the funds would not be donated to MSU unless the individual were to die.

"While generous, this gift would not be realized for more than ten years because of the younger age of the donor," Olsen said.

Despite these funding proposals, the board said it could not see a path to bringing the program back. Outgoing Trustee Melanie Foster said there wasn't sufficient fundraising to build a new competition pool.

Arbaugh says Foster's announcement "was a gut punch."

“They've consistently moved the goalposts on what is preventing them from bringing back the program,” Arbaugh said.

Arbaugh, a 1992-1996 alum of the swim and dive program, says the program being in limbo comes as a disappointment to the students who committed to swimming competitively at MSU.

“To have that, you know, goal, that dream ripped away from you, unexpectedly and very suddenly has been very devastating for these kids,” she said.

Battle for Spartan Swim and Dive hopes it can continue to work with new MSU leadership to bring the team back. The board is set to have two new trustees next year, due toformer Trustee Pat O'Keefe's resignation and Dennis Denno's victory in this year's election.

The advocacy group also met with Woodruff to discuss the program Monday morning. Arbaugh says the conversation was productive.

“We're optimistic and hopeful that this conversation continues, and that we can, you know, get these kids back in the water,” she said.

Updated: December 20, 2022 at 9:40 AM EST
This story has been updated to clarify that $7.5 million of the $10 million secured by Battle for Spartan Swim and Dive is an estate gift.
Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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