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Swimming: Left Behind

By Andrew Finley

July 25, 2004 9:00 p.m.

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

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.

“I fully support Title IX,” UCLA swimming coach
Cyndi Gallagher said. “But choosing to drop men’s
programs is not what Title IX wants.”

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

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

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

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

“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.

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Andrew Finley
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