Friends of FIT Rowing Association tries to save men’s and women’s teams

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The Florida Institute of Technology male and female rowing alumni mobilized and implemented a proposed cost-sharing plan to keep the programs afloat as varsity sports.

On June 28, university officials abruptly announced that five collegiate athletic programs would be discontinued in the fall and transitioned to club sports. These included both rowing teams, the men’s and women’s cross-country/long-distance teams, and men’s golf.

In response, the Friends of FIT Rowing Association held an emergency meeting that evening. President Craig McKay said he held two multi-hour meetings last week with Travis Proctor, Florida Tech’s chairman of the Board of Trustees.

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On Monday morning, the Friends of FIT Rowing Association forwarded a 12-page proposal to Proctor detailing how the group’s newly proposed $93,000 fundraising campaign will support the teams’ projected annual operating costs of $200,000 could cover.

McKay hopes to have a formal presentation to a small group of trustees, perhaps the board, by the end of the week in hopes of restarting the rowing teams.

However, it is still unclear whether the efforts will work. The elimination of the varsity teams is not a cost-saving measure but a strategic move, school officials said. University spokesman Wes Sumner said Monday afternoon, “Florida Tech has no further comment at this time.”

“It’s heartbreaking,” McKay, who lives in Great Falls, Virginia, said of the June 28 announcement.

“There’s no comparison between a club and a varsity,” said McKay, who rowed at Florida Tech from 1977-1981. He rowed as a freshman freshman, then spent the next three years on scholarships – and married his wife Sue, who was a helmsman on the women’s team.

“People go to college for the academics, but they remember the sports team, the fraternity they were on. So my memories of FIT are not my marine engineering degree. It’s the rowing and the friendships I’ve made, the achievements we’ve made,” McKay said.

“That’s what we did with this proposal. We worked like a boat. We worked as a team,” he said.

In its June 28 statement, the school said the demotion of the five varsity sports to the club level was “a strategic decision to deliberately increase our competitiveness within our Sunshine State Conference” because resources were too thinly distributed.

The Florida Tech women's rowing team finished second at the 2019 NCAA Division II Rowing Championship in Indianapolis.

Florida Tech has now reduced its athletic roster to 11 SSC varsity sports.

  • Men: baseball, basketball, soccer, swimming and lacrosse.
  • Women: Softball, basketball, soccer, swimming, lacrosse and volleyball.

Athletics director Jamie Joss said men’s and women’s rowing will join the American Collegiate Rowing Association as a club sport. But in its 12-page proposal, the alumni group said that high school rowers “wouldn’t even be expected to apply to enroll at Florida Tech” if the sport were just a club.

Instead, McKay said high school prospects would choose Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Georgia Tech, or other varsity teams. And fees for a Florida Tech Club team could be $3,000 to $5,000 per student as they travel to high-profile major regattas in the Northeast.

The alumni proposal calls for an operating budget of $110,000 for the men’s rowing team and $90,000 for the women’s rowing team. A three-tier alumni pledge campaign could raise $30,000 per team, with foundations each covering an additional $16,500. That would reduce the university’s cost to $63,500 for the men’s team and $43,500 for the women’s team.

The 2017 Florida Tech Women's Rowing Team ranked 7th preseason in the CRCA/US Rowing Preseason Coaches' Poll.

McKay said targeted fundraising for capital expenditures like new boats could potentially bring in another $50,000 a year.

Rowing has a 54-year tradition at Florida Tech. According to the alumni group, the university’s founder and first president, Jerome Keuper, started the crew in 1968 with a vision of creating a program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his alma mater, that was as successful as rowing.

Proctor addressed the cessation of five sports in the university’s June 28 statement. As the founder of Artemis IT, he has been on the board since 2012 and was elected chairman in March 2021.

“We have carefully considered this recommendation and the Board has voted to approve and support this decision as it is consistent with the university’s overall goal of dedicating our limited resources to strategies that drive the achievement of excellence,” Proctor said in the Explanation.

“Certainly we respect that such a transition can be difficult for the student-athletes and coaches directly affected and in no way reflects their individual accomplishments or efforts,” said Proctor.

“Moving the identified sports into club programs, rather than eliminating them, underscores the university’s desire to celebrate the rich history of these sports at Florida Tech while demonstrating its increased commitment to the importance of club and collegiate sports on campus.” , he said.

Rower Mason Yaskovic started an online “Reinstate FIT Athletics” petition that had garnered nearly 7,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

Rick Neale is the South Brevard Watchdog Reporter for FLORIDA TODAY (click here for more of his stories.) Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or [email protected]. Twitter: @RickNeale1

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