MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Three University of Minnesota athletic programs targeted for elimination will get a reprieve Thursday, when Gophers boosters plan to announce that they've raised enough money to save them.
The future had looked dim for the men's gymnastics and men's and women's golf programs when outgoing university President Mark Yudof last summer imposed a $2.7 million goal to save the three sports. But with the Saturday deadline looming, a group called Save Gopher Sports raised the money though a Herculean fund-raising effort.
"I can't explain the excitement I feel right now," said Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi. "This puts an end to all the negativity and uncertainty. The three sports in question will be like the other 22 teams we have. They are not in jeopardy anymore."
Still, Maturi warned that rising tuition costs and the $4.56 billion state budget shortfall mean that sports that don't produce revenue could still be in danger in future years.
"We need to improve our financial stability in intercollegiate athletics or this is going to be an ongoing problem," he said.
Maturi has told coaches that they're all in the same boat when it comes to future budget problems. But many coaches acknowledge that increasing their own programs' chances for survival means securing endowed scholarships, even if it means adding fund-raising duties to an already full plate.
"The future of Minnesota athletics, the stability of this place, is endowing scholarships," he said. "We need to do that. It's the best way to save sports."
Bob McNamara, who co-chaired Save Gophers Sports with Harvey MacKay, said the fund-raising group will remain intact to help an endowed scholarship drive.
"If you do the endowment thing, it's almost like a double-lock on your door," McNamara said.
The budget problems at the University Athletics department is likely to get worse, with slumping national and state economies.
The athletic department is absorbing a state-imposed trim of more than $200,000 this fiscal year. And Maturi said it likely will face a "significantly greater" cut next year, along with having to foot the added cost of an expected tuition hike, which increases scholarship costs that comprise a significant part of the athletic budget. All told, he said, the department might have to raise as much as $2 million extra next year simply to keep everything the same.
That means new sources of revenue must be tapped, in addition to the $2.7 million that was raised in the past nine months.
Football is the least difficult -- and most painless -- way to raise money, Maturi believes. Filling 20,000 more seats at each home football game next season would pour $4 million into athletic department coffers.
"I told our staff this morning in the department meeting that everybody should be Glen Mason's biggest fan," Maturi said. "We need to cheer for that football team."
Coaches also have been urged to raise more money, geared mostly toward adding endowed scholarships to their programs. Endowments are gifts that universities invest, using some earnings to pay for scholarships and other needs.
In 1999-00, endowments to fund Gophers athletic scholarships totaled $11 million, the lowest in the Big Ten.
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