Ten Years Later UCLA Still Lacks Men's TeamLos Angeles, CA , July 27th, 2004
Some athletic programs disappear and are quickly forgotten. After a small funeral, they go to their grave, rarely mentioned again and hardly ever missed.
But the death of a program isn't always so easy to bare. It can leave permanent scars, undermining the prestige of fellow programs or even the entire sport.
Ten years after UCLA dropped its men's swimming and diving program, the scars still remain.
In 1994, budgetary issues forced the athletic department to scrap a program that boasted 16 Olympians, 41 individual national titles, and a team title in 1982.
"It was absolutely a surprise," said Curtis Wilson, a Pac-10 diving champion at UCLA in the 1970s and current diving coach at UC Irvine. "Colleges are taking the easy way out to drop men's programs. It's an abuse of what Title IX set out to do."
Although Title IX wasn't the reason the men's program was initially dropped, it has been the overarching reason that it has not returned.
Both gymnastics programs were also dropped in 1994, yet women's gymnastics was resurrected after a very short layoff.
The men's programs have not been as fortunate. Consequently, the NCAA rule requiring schools to have athletic participation levels that reflect their student population is blamed by the swimming community for the death of the men's swimming program.
|In 1981, 63.5 percent of Division I schools had men's swim programs. Five years after UCLA dropped their program, the number fell to 47.4 percent and that percentage has shrunk even more since then.|
For all its efforts and success in promoting and increasing participation in women's athletics, Title IX has ironically harmed some women's programs in the process.
UCLA swimming and diving is a prime example. From 1988 to 1994, the women's program finished in the top 10 of the national rankings each year. But it was not until five years after the removal of the men's program that they finally finished higher than tenth.
"When we had a men's team, we were always in the top 10," Gallagher said.
Although the women's program has seemed to reestablish itself as an elite program by winning the Pac-10 title two of the past four years, Gallagher will always be confronted by a question she can never escape.
"When we talk to recruits, the issue is brought up of why we don't have a men's program," Gallagher said. "Swimming is a community sport. You swim together growing up and there's a visibility factor whether you train together or not."
Gallagher insists she has not lost any recruits because of the lack of a men's program. Diving coach Tom Stebbins agrees that only having a women's program has not completely hurt UCLA's ability to recruit prized athletes.
"If (recruits) are turned off by not having a men's program, that tells me they're not as interested in being as great as they can be," Stebbins said. "Our counterparts in gymnastics have found incredible success in finding ways to win when there's no men's team practicing on the same field."
Still, other universities have benefited in ways UCLA cannot. Wilson has felt the advantage of having a men's team while coaching both programs concurrently at UC Irvine.
"It's very much of a draw to talk to recruits who want to train with both sexes," Wilson said. "It's more of a realistic setting because athletes train with both at the club level.
"A lot of competition goes on in between the lanes when you have men and women," added Kurt Krumpholz, who swam and played water polo at UCLA in the early 1970s. "You have more teammates, and there's a banter going on back and forth that makes the atmosphere more fun."
Perhaps more than any other school, Auburn University is living testimony of Wilson and Krumpholz's perceptions. The Tigers, who lured in many Bruins who transferred after UCLA dropped their men's program, won their first conference title that very year. Since then, their men have won three national championships, while their women have won two.
"That was the beginning of Auburn's dominance," Gallagher said.
Auburn's surge to the elite level has coincided with the plight of many men's programs. In 1981, 63.5 percent of Division I schools had men's swim programs. Five years after UCLA dropped their program, the number fell to 47.4 percent and that percentage has shrunk even more since then.
"When UCLA decided it was OK to cut, other universities thought it was OK for them too," Stebbins said. "The quality of men's diving is not as great as a result of programs feeling it's alright to cut."
Wilson echoes Stebbins' sentiments.
"Any time any sport is cut, especially at a fine institution like UCLA, it puts a dent in that sport," he said. "There's one less opportunity for a student who has an idea of getting athletic recognition and a college education. It changes what UCLA or any school has to offer."
It has also changed what others are offering UCLA. With men's swimming and diving out of the picture, UCLA has struggled to get alumni support for the program. Krumpholz, whose daughter Katie will begin attending UCLA this fall to play water polo, is just one of a number of alumni who was outraged when the swim program was dropped.
"I didn't donate for a while as a protest," said Krumpholz. "How can you expect all these men's swimmers who are successful in business or are swimming aficionados to donate when there's not even a program?"
Beyond their donations to the program, the alumni also serve as a very valuable resource that is becoming increasingly harder to tap into.
"It's hard to get alumni back into the UCLA family," Stebbins said. "For kids getting into or just out of college, it's great to have contacts. But it's hard to bring the alumni back into the fold."
Krumpholz and others have been active in trying to bring back the program since it was first dropped but have not had any luck thus far. He hopes Dan Guerrero's administration will be more forthcoming as to the prospects of bringing men's swimming back.
"We could never get a straight answer as to what it would take to bring it back under the old administration," Krumpholz said. "We just got a bunch of double talk and never a complete answer."
As long as UCLA does not have a men's program, Krumpholz shares the widespread view that UCLA's aquatic-based sports as a whole are being impacted. His son, James, entering his junior year in high school, is an avid swimmer and water polo player.
"I'd like him to be able to swim and play water polo in college," Krumpholz said. "It becomes a factor that UCLA doesn't have a swim program."
That probably won't change anytime in the near future. With no plans on the horizon to bring back the program, Gallagher, Krumpholz, and the rest of the swimming and diving community are left to lament the men's program's disappearance and make do with the women's program that still exists.
Gallagher's team has done far more than just stay afloat in recent years. But ten years after its male counterpart drowned, it's still a fight also to keep from sinking.