Archive for Wednesday, March 28, 2001

KANSAS UNIVERSITY SWIMMING HELD HOSTAGE, ATHLETES SAY –- FORMER SWIMMERS BITTER ABOUT FINANCES

March 28, 2001

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Former Kansas University swimmers trying to revive the axed men's swimming program lashed out Tuesday at the athletics department's response to their offer to raise $100,000 for the team.

"We are bitterly disappointed," said Tom Bowser, co-captain of the 1968 swim team.

"I'm sickened by the way this has been handled," said Ron Neugent, who swam in the 1980 Olympics and is member of the KU Athletics Hall of Fame.

Monday, KU athletics director Bob Frederick told the group it must raise $740,000 by June 30 and round up pledges for another $1.36 million for the 2003-06 seasons, if the program were to be saved. That was immediately after the group volunteered to raise $100,000 by July 1. Members said the higher figure was probably more than they could raise.

"Nobody has the feeling that there's an effort on the university's part to work in concert with us," said Mike Calwell, co-captain of the 1964 team.

After an hour-long conference call Tuesday, the former swimmers agreed to gather later this week to review options.

The meeting's time, date and location are pending.

Frederick on March 4 announced plans to drop men's swimming and tennis programs after this year to offset a projected $3.6 million shortfall in the athletics department's budget over the next five years. Frederick said he's heard little protest about elimination of the tennis team.

Cutting the two programs is expected to save about $600,000 a year -- $400,000 for swimming, $200,000 for tennis.

Swim team alumni, Bowser said, are upset they must raise all the money needed to keep the swimming program afloat. The group expected the athletics department to pick up half or two-thirds of the costs.

"The university's message is clear and unmistakable: 'If you want a swimming and diving program, you're going to have to find a way to pay for it in advance and within 90 days,'" said Bowser, who's chief operating officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City.

Neugent, a Wichita orthodontist, said the group's long-term plan called for raising $150,000 a year and trimming $50,000 from the swim team budget.

"It's our position that $50,000 could be cut from the budget without diluting the program," he said. "At that point, we as alumni would be putting up 40 percent of the team's budget. And the department, we thought, would put up 60 percent. But they're not willing to do that."

Neugent compared Frederick's response to a "ransom note, that says 'We have your program and you're going to have to pay us to get it back.'"

But Frederick said there's no way he can sugarcoat the bitter pill.

"We knew the numbers we gave them would be difficult, but at the same time, this is what it costs to run the program."

-- Staff writer Dave Ranney can be reached at 832-7222.

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