After years of advocacy and heartbreak, the water logged dream of a fully functional Michigan State swimming and diving team might actually be an option.This week, the Michigan State Board of Trustees announced the final plans for a $200-million dollar recreation and wellness center. Miraculously, the final plan now includes a 50-meter pool that could double as a competition pool for a reinstated swim and diving team (the miraculous part needs some more explaining - keep reading).
This should all be good news, but the twists and turns in this story give rise to some serious questions. Let’s review how we got here.
What Happened to the Michigan State Swimming and Diving Team?
To put it simply, the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams were canceled. WHY it got canceled is a complex saga worth of a true crime-esque docuseries. Here are a few of the most popular reasons:
Culprit A: The Pandemic killed the teams
In the early days of the Pandemic, as the world shut down the NCAA and University athletic departments saw massive drops in revenue (remember that whole canceled NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball tournaments? Yeah, that HURT financially). Michigan State was not immune to these drops in revenue and they announced the end of the swimming and diving teams. The teams are estimated to cost the University about $2-million dollars per year to operate (remember this number, it’s important later).
Culprit B: Michigan State’s facilities killed the teams
Michigan State’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams competition pool was outside. Yes, outside. Outside, in Michigan. The school has enough trouble keeping the baseball and softball fields from flooding, so trying to keep it warm enough for swimmers to jump in and out of the pool and still be competitive in Michigan was…. difficult. It didn’t help that the outdoor facilities were roundly considered sub-par. That, plus the weather meant many “home” meets weren’t actually held at Michigan State anyway.
Meaning Michigan State faced the yearly operating cost, as well as a pending bill to either overhaul outdoor facilities or build something different. Not to mention the ground for the old pool was already envisioned for new purposes.
For many that saw the Pandemic as a convenient excuse, they saw the large bill for new facilities as a long term problem that got pinned on the relatively short term issue of the pandemic.
Culprit C: Anti-Women’s Sports Sentiment
Ok, this is a bit of a harsh way to phrase this. That said, critics of the move have said far worse about Michigan State’s approach to Title IX and gender equity in their top level athletics. So while this may not have been the driving force, the closure of the teams triggered title IX related lawsuits and an eventual settlement. The findings in the lawsuit seem to indicate some “glaring inconsistencies” in the University’s compliance with Title IX. (Note: I am going to leave this particular topic for now, as it is not the core element of the swimming issue, but it is definitely worth a read into it).
So long story short - there were multiple reasons the swimming and diving teams (both men’s and women’s) were canceled. Now came the idea of bringing them back.
The Rise of the “Battle for Spartan Swim and Dive” Advocacy Group
Into the fray came an advocacy group full of interested parties (students, alumni, donors, community, swimming advocates, Title IX advocates, etc.) to push the university to reinstate the swim teams.
A lot of their work came down to keeping this topic front and center for Michigan State. In the end, it seems to have worked, as the issue has gone from a consistent message of “there is no path to reinstatement” to “if you find some money from some donors, we’ll think about it.”
In response to this shift, the advocacy group reportedly raised more than $8.5-million dollars from two anonymous donors. This money was given as part of an estate bequest, which makes it a bit difficult to use for daily operations (remember that $2-million dollar number for annual costs?). Still, it’s a major step in the right direction.
A $200 Million Dollar Student Recreation and Wellness Center - to the rescue?
Amidst all the discussion of facilities, Michigan State announced a massive investment into student athletics on-campus. The 293,000-square-foot student wellness center will replace the current IM West recreation facility.
This facility was envisioned as a home for intramural sports and NOT competitive D-1 sports. And yet, miraculously in the final hours before the announcement, hope for a 50-Meter NCAA competitive quality pool seems to have blossomed. The miraculous part is detailed in this Lansing State Journal article by Sheldon Krause:
It is unclear when the proposal shifted to include a pool. On Friday morning, MSU’s Infrastructure Planning and Facilities in an online posting said that “a pool is not planned for the center.” That page contained a link to a planning document dated April 19, although by Friday afternoon was updated to remove the section mentioning the lack of a pool.
MSU’s Board of Trustees Chairman, Rema Vassar said the new facility creates a “window of opportunity” for a competition pool and the reinstatement of the swimming and diving teams.
So is this a done deal? Nope. It still needs $26-million dollars
The challenge set forth by Michigan State’s leadership was for advocacy groups, like the Battle for Spartan Swim and Dive must find $26-million dollars in funding to fully support the new pool being part of the wellness center and the teams being re-started.
If that sounds like a lot to you – essentially 13% of the $200 million dollar facility being financed by the swim advocacy groups – you’re not alone.
MSU Board of Trustee Dennis Denno objected to the proposal stating, “I just kind of wish we could take a step back and see if we can find funding on this. I’m also frustrated that we’ve gone to the former swim and dive team and their supporters and asked them approximately $26 million to fund this.”
And this is not the only objection to the funding of the wellness center.
Students are already funding the new wellness center
In 2021, Michigan State launched a recreation fee as part of the cost of MSU attendance. This revenue goes to fund - in part - new facilities like the Spartan Green Complex that opened in October 2022. This fee cost $100 dollars in 2021. Now, that fee has already increased to $260 per year. That’s a large increase in a very short period of time.
Making the increase even more controversial, is the design of the new center includes two less multi-purpose courts than are currently available at the IM West facility. Considering this new building is meant to ease demand on the often crowded facility by building a new one, it’s odd to say the least to see the design have less courts available.
So What Does This All Mean? Is this Good News?
That’s really up to you. If you are a supporter of the swimming and diving teams, any “window of opportunity” most likely sounds great.
That said, having 13% of the bill for a large Wellness Center attached to your dream - may not be the deal you were hoping for in this scenario.
Also, this has taken a lot longer than many advocates hoped. When the campaign to reinstate the swimming and diving teams first kicked off, many members of the teams were involved. They obviously hoped they would be donning the green and white in the pool. It seems like that will not happen. Even if a team is reinstated with a plan to do their home meets off campus (that Wellness center will not be ready overnight), it looks like it would be at the earliest 2024. This should guarantee any reinstated team will have no connection to the previous players.
The reality is the new wellness center will be an upgrade. It may be very expensive and it may have some very strange decisions wrapped up in its design (seriously, why are there less planned courts? Can anyone actually justify that?), but it will keep MSU’s student facilities top of the line.
Also, new swim and dive teams could help MSU live up to its commitments under Title IX.
A convenient benefit for the University, as it puts swim fans on the hook for $26-million dollars. Apparently, some buildings can be made of dreams.