Fuzzy math ends MIT golf team
29 Apr 2009
by Golfweek


by Jim McCabe, Golfweek Magazine

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (April 29, 2009) -- Here’s how you fight the economic madness devouring our civilization. You take away six burgers and a couple of pizzas.

What? You thought perhaps they’d dip into an endowment that is in the billions? Come on, this is America, where those in charge know how to protect their salaries and address big problems with small answers that hurt innocent people.

Like eliminating the varsity golf team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which dates back to 1902. How bold. Huge savings there. Want proof, let’s consider the spring campaign’s final two matches for the Engineers.

April 24 – The Rhode Island College Invitational at Triggs Memorial GC in Providence, R.I. Expense sheet: $40 in gas for the team van, $51 in lunch for five players and a coach to have burgers.

April 25 – The Jack Barry Invitational at Stow Acres in Stow, Mass. Expense sheet: $250 team entry fee, $61 for pizza at Papa Gino’s.

“It’s not like we’re going out for steak dinners. We had burgers and a few slices,” said Marty Burke, whose second year as coach of the Division III program was coming to an enjoyable close when he was told that golf was among eight varsity teams being eliminated to help trim approximately $500,000 from the athletic budget.

Now Burke, nor any of his players are ignorant to the world upon us. “We understand cuts have to be made, that you have to make budgets,” said Nick Swenson, a freshman from Yorktown, Va.

“But we’re not an expensive sport,” said Ted Keith, a senior from Acton, Mass. “We’re $30,000 a year.”

Swenson and Keith organized teammates for a meeting with athletic director Julie Soriero, but if they went there Monday night with any degree of optimism, it was quickly deflated.

Soriero told the players their plan to fund their own team with fund-raising efforts was unacceptable, that to keep golf as a varsity sport they would have to raise a $3 million endowment.

Three million? Good gracious, these kids aren’t looking to play for two months at Cypress Point with seven-star accommodations at The Lodge at Pebble Beach. Their entire spring schedule was done in day trips for a total of 362 miles.

The burgers and pizza? Maybe they could go without. Burke said had he been asked, he’d have crossed out some of the golf shirts, balls, and golf bags. But still . . .

“Three million for a $30,000 sport? That’s not even close to being realistic,” Keith said.

“Unfortunately,” Swenson said, “there’s very little transparency with the athletic department.”

“If they had asked, ‘Can you (run) the program for $10,000?’ my answer would have been, ‘Yes,’ ” Burke said. “Give me a van, pay my entry fees, and I’ve got a team.”

A team, he points out, that he wouldn’t trade for any other. Oh, his Engineers may struggle to break 80 and they aren’t exactly waiting for the PGA Tour Q-School entry forms to come in the mail, but they represent to Burke everything that is glorious about golf.

They have a passion to play, to improve, to squeeze every ounce of pleasure out of their time at the course. To the proud Engineers (and here Burke would like to point out that the team consisted of 12 members, not the five that Soriero mistakenly factored into her numbers) golf affords them a freedom from the academic stress that comes with enrollment at one of the most demanding schools in the world.

“I think the whole team looks (at golf) as an escape,” Keith said. “It’s a way to get involved, so we can forget about the three tests that we have next week but don’t have enough time to study for any of them.”

The shame of all this is that our college sports landscape is polluted by basketball and football programs that make a mockery of the term “student-athlete.” Then when we discover that the “student-athlete” is really alive at a place such as MIT, we are introduced to administrators who soil the story.

Of course, MIT officials can rightfully point out that they will still field 33 varsity teams, whereas the average Division III schools have 16. But had they chosen not to embrace the insufferable “bottom line” mentality, they would have concluded that for a relatively small price, golf at MIT offers priceless enjoyment.

“I’m a senior and this has no implications on me,” said Keith. “But the weekend matches, the practices . . . I’d say the golf team was my defining experience at MIT.”

That is why Keith vows to push the issue. He would like for a “realistic endowment figure,” not the $3 million price tag thrown at him. With heartfelt sense, Keith suggests the program be kept alive the next three years, at least for those who came to MIT thinking their $50,000 yearly tuition was going to at least offer a chance to play on the golf team, low-key that it might be.

Now, if you study all of this and conclude that it’s only Division III golf, that it’s MIT, that it’s no big deal, well, so be it. But in many ways it represents what is wrong with our world – a group of kids do things the right way, ask for very little in exchange, and get punished by officials who refuse to play it as it lies.

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