Dreams Grind to a Halt as UCLA Dismantles Program
Steve McCain was only 10 in 1984, but he remembers the United States’ shining moment in men’s gymnastics.
McCain, who grew up in Missouri City, Tex., watched as the U.S. team won the gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics. It was a UCLA affair of sorts, with Bruins Mitch Gaylord, Peter Vidmar and Tim Daggett leading the victory at Pauley Pavilion.
“Those guys were my role models,” McCain said. “When I was in junior high, I aspired to be a top gymnast and I wanted to go to UCLA because of what Daggett, Vidmar and Gaylord had done.”
McCain’s dream came true. He earned a scholarship to UCLA and won an NCAA championship in the vault in 1993 and high bar in 1994.
In August, as McCain prepared for his junior season, he heard the news: UCLA was dropping the program, along with women’s gymnastics and men’s swimming, after the 1993-94 academic year in an attempt to eliminate a departmental deficit of $900,000.
“It was my goal and dream to compete at UCLA and become its next star,” McCain said. “Now everything was being taken away from me.”
When the women’s gymnastics team threatened the school with a gender equity lawsuit, UCLA backed down and the program was reinstated.
Athletes from the two men’s programs also tried legal action, claiming discrimination because of their sex. But on May 17, a Superior Court judge in Santa Monica denied a request for a preliminary injunction against UCLA.
Chancellor Charles Young and Athletic Director Pete Dalis made the decision to drop the three programs based on a study made by the university’s Athletics Administrative Review Task Force. Cutting the programs would allow the school to recover $670,000 in costs annually, most of which involves funding athletic scholarships. The savings were reduced to about $520,000 annually when women’s gymnastics received its reprieve.
UCLA’s success in men’s gymnastics made the decision even more difficult. Coach Art Shurlock guided the Bruins to NCAA championships in 1984 and 1987 and eight top three finishes. Eight of his gymnasts have won Olympic gold medals. The 30-year coach accepted an early retirement package in October.
Shurlock, 56, points to Title IX legislation as a deciding factor to drop the men’s sports. Adopted in 1972, Title IX requires that male and female athletes be treated equally in all areas of education, including athletics and scholarship awards.
College football offers the most scholarships, 85, effective in August, down from 87 in 1993. Minus football scholarships, most schools offer more scholarships to women’s programs than to men’s. For example, the NCAA allows only 4.5 scholarships to men’s volleyball and 12 to women’s volleyball. In gymnastics, it’s 6.3 for men and 10 for women.
Shurlock believes UCLA could have eliminated scholarships from women’s sports and saved men’s gymnastics and swimming.
“Why do we give women’s track more scholarships than men’s track? It’s not fair,” Shurlock said.
“If a men’s team can be successful with fewer scholarships, why can’t a women’s team be just as successful? We are giving away scholarships just to give them away. I think we should exclude football from the count and make everything else equal. Either that or form a women’s football team.”
Most schools depend on revenue from football and men’s basketball to fund athletics programs. At UCLA, the athletics department receives no state money. Athletics are funded through revenue generated by football and men’s basketball, student registration fees and donations from Bruin supporters.
UCLA women’s Athletic Director Judith Holland said the athletic program is reviewed overall under Title IX regulations, not sport by sport.
“Football is factored into men’s sports and all those scholarships figure into the equation,” Holland said. “We then compute the total opportunity for men against women and it has to be roughly comparable to the enrollment rate of the school, which is roughly 50-50 at UCLA. Nothing is done looking at one sport against another.
“The law was created by the federal government and the state and I don’t have any choice in that.”
So the losers at UCLA became the men’s gymnasts and swimmers. The school will honor the existing scholarships of its athletes affected by the cutbacks, which was welcome news for McCain and his four teammates, who have chosen to stay at UCLA and try to compete as a club team.
“In one way, it could benefit me overall because now I have more time to train for the Olympics and concentrate on school,” McCain said. “The downside is that we won’t be able to compete in the NCAA championships.”
McCain does not harbor a grudge against the women’s gymnastics team, which will remain intact for at least another season.
“I was relieved that they decided to keep the women’s team,” McCain said. “It meant the school was getting the gym back and we could all work out.”