Can MCTC basketball be saved?


Most of the students and community members who attended a February 17 Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) campus town hall meeting wanted to know why the school’s basketball program was being eliminated after 45 years. Many strongly believe that MCTC basketball is more than just a sport; they consider it at least as important as the other student organizations at the school.

“This program means so much for this community,” said New Salem Baptist Church Associate Pastor Brian McLaurin. “We are discarding our history.”

“It is part of our community, our life,” said Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan. Added Steve Winfield of St. Paul, “I know how much this place means to student-athletes over the years. It saved many lives.” 

The MCTC men’s and women’s basketball teams are among 24 special interest clubs, 10 academic clubs, and five fine arts programs that historically have been funded through student fees as part of the school’s Student Life program. However, the MCTC Student Senate voted last year to discontinue the two athletic teams due to budget priorities.

A fundraising committee was established in July, and donations from 18,000 friends and alumni were solicited, including the Minnesota Twins and the Minnesota Timberwolves, according to an MCTC spokeswoman. Only five gifts and pledges came as a result.

“We sent out letters to everybody who’d written to us and expressed interest,” MCTC President Phil Davis told the MSR last week. “We didn’t get money from all the people who said [they supported sports].” So Davis suspended fundraising and says he will close the basketball programs after the 2009-10 season concludes in March.

MCTC student Layton “Tony” Smith, who helped organize the meeting at Helland Center, argued that the school can indeed afford to fund the two teams, stating that there is $74,000 in Student Life funds that must be spent by this April.

“I know how they can spend that $74,000,” Smith said. “Let’s give it back to the basketball program.”

He also challenged a 2008 MCTC student survey on which the Student Senate based its decision to cut athletes. Smith said the survey “was flawed, used deception, and was culturally biased.” Also, less than 400 of 13,000 students took part in the survey.

Smith asked for a recount, but Davis, who was present at the meeting, responded, “I don’t want to create false hope. It is a done deal – the program is done.” Many in attendance at last week’s meeting openly disagreed with the school president’s stance.

“I’m frightened that this decision is at the hands of a few people,” admitted Rev. McLaurin, an MCTC alumnus and former basketball player (1987-88). “If they get the basketball program today, there will be another program tomorrow. There is enough pressure from this student body to get this decision overturned.”

McLaurin was among several community residents invited to speak at last week’s meeting. Another was MAD DADS President V.J. Smith, who said that he doesn’t believe everything possible was done to save MCTC sports. “If we had called every alumni and asked them to help save this program before we cut it, we wouldn’t have this problem.”

Chief Dolan said, “I think there are real tough [economic] decisions being made here by kids that maybe don’t see the big picture. Basketball maybe is only 35 people, [but] what education is about is that we need to value all those small programs.”

MCTC student Le’ Ona Wallace of Minneapolis said she isn’t against sports but finds the cost hard to justify. “We talk about 35 students, but what about everyone else? I am not a student who says I want to allocate all $74,000 to the basketball team when I come here every day and run two [student] clubs.”

Dan Featherstone of Eden Prairie told the audience that other student groups’ funding got cut before sports. However, 54-year-old student Mike Rosenberg suggested, “If you can give Pi Beta Kappa [a school student group] $22,000 a year, they [the basketball teams] can get just as much money. They’re students first, and they pay tuition. Why are they paying student activities fees when you won’t help sponsor them?”

“I think that if the students organize themselves and bring the right people in, we can overturn that decision,” said community activist Kenya McKnight, who came to show support for MCTC athletics.

“The president sounded like he’d already made up his mind,” Steve Winfield added. “This meeting should have taken place weeks or months ago.”

“Am I willing to sit down with you and anyone else and find ways to get support?” responded Davis. “I’m always willing to do that, but I would be dishonest with you [if I said] that we are going to save [basketball] in the last two minutes.”

Davis added he won’t use any of the $15 million in the school’s reserve funds for that purpose: “We won’t fund basketball through operating dollars.”

Although the basketball programs are slated to shut down at season’s end next month, V.J. Smith said it’s still not too late. “Everybody needs to be on the phone calling [Davis] and have a letter-writing campaign. If everybody just gives a dollar, we can save the teams. I’m willing to give a hundred.”

“I didn’t know we could give money, and I teach here,” claimed MCTC faculty member Tina Jackson, a Minneapolis native. “I don’t know how that happened, but I would definitely have given money.”

After the meeting, Layton Smith said he is hopeful. “Before [last week’s meeting], we weren’t having any dialogue on the campus. Now at least there is a door open for the program, if not to return next year, [then to] return the year after next.”

Afterwards, Davis said, “I understand why there is so much emotion. It’s a question of choices and priorities, and that’s a hard thing to do.” He said he’ll welcome any last-minute support, “but I think the question now is if we are going to find money somewhere… I don’t see any other choice but for us to be out of basketball next year.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to