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Gophers AD Mark Coyle declined chance to discuss program cuts with '60 Minutes'

Minnesota's now-former men's gymnastics coach did agree to be interviewed.
Mark Coyle

After slashing some "non-revenue" sports from the University of Minnesota athletics department earlier this year, the U's director of athletics, Mark Coyle, declined an opportunity to discuss the decision when he was asked by CBS News.  

During Sunday's episode of 60 Minutes, the long-running weekly program said Coyle "did not agree" to join the show, instead electing to issue a statement regarding the decision to eliminate men's indoor track and field, men's outdoor track and field, men's gymnastics and men's tennis.

"The University of Minnesota believes that the changes it has made, however heartbreaking, will best position its department of athletics for sustainable, long-term success," Coyle's statement said. 

CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker claimed during the program that the decision to cut the teams was a direct result of losing "TV money from football and basketball" that was lost when the coronavirus pandemic stopped last season's NCAA basketball season, while also delaying the Big Ten football season and forcing games to be played without fans. 

The U of M announced the cuts Sept. 10. Fifty-eight student-athletes were directly impacted, in addition to numerous coaches. Mike Burns, coach of the men's gymnastics team, agreed to speak with 60 Minutes. 

"It was kind of a surgical strike, if you will. A 15-minute call to tell you that your life as you know it is now changed forever," Burns explained. "We had a text message at about 1:20 p.m. and it said you need to be on a Zoom call at 2 p.m." 

Cutting the teams saved the athletic department approximately $1.6 million, according to 60 Minutes. The money saved lightens the blow of an estimated $75 million in lost revenue from the pandemic. 

"Even as three Big Ten schools eliminated a total of nine non-revenue sports, the conference moved heaven and earth to get football players back on the field and back on the air in order to preserve TV revenue," said Whitaker. 

Burns doesn't believe the small savings justified cutting his team, which in 2019 finished second at the NCAA Championships. He added that an attempt to save the program through a revenue-generating youth gymnastics program was denied by Coyle. 

"I think every athletic director who is dropping programs is using the COVID pandemic as an excuse," Burns continued. "There's financial issues everywhere, I get it."

No women's programs were slashed to maintain the U's goal to "remain steadfast in our commitment to provide Title IX gender-equitable participation opportunities," the department said in its September announcement.  

Coyle's decision not to appear on 60 Minutes attracted criticism from some in the Twin Cities sports media.

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