Finn Schirmer jumped in on Minnesota athletic director Mark Coyle’s Zoom conference with athletes on Sept. 10 and could not believe what he heard.
“I was listening and (Coyle) said it and I was like, ‘Wait! What did he just say?’ ” Schirmer said. “He repeated it and I was like, ‘What does that mean?’ My jaw literally dropped.”
Coyle delivered the devastating news that the Golden Gophers were cutting men’s track and field, men’s gymnastics and men’s tennis after the 2020-21 school year. Schirmer, a 2020 Marengo graduate and one of the most decorated sprinters in McHenry County boys track history, entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal a few days later.
The university attributed the necessity for the cuts to the COVID-19 pandemic and the havoc it wreaked on the athletic department’s financial condition. The university said it projected a $75 million financial loss this fiscal year, a number that would have impact for years to come.
The athletic department did not feel it could sustain 25 varsity programs, so those three men’s sports became the unfortunate cuts.
Schirmer has spoken with several NCAA Division I track coaches, looking at a possible transfer for next semester. He hopes, while knowing it is a longshot, he might stay in Minneapolis.
“The (Minnesota) Board of Regents meetings are Oct. 8 and 9, so we’ll find out then whether it’s for sure the programs are getting cut,” Schirmer said. “If they do, I will be looking for a school to transfer to in January, just to save that eligibility to have under that coach for four years.
“If it comes back, there’s a lot of hope here with football coming back to the Big Ten and projections about the finances. If it does come back, I’m going to stay.”
The Big Ten announced this week it planned to start a fall football season in late October. The conference previously had chosen to move football to the spring. Big Ten presidents and chancellors voted to resume fall football because daily testing capabilities and confidence in the latest medical information.
Schirmer hopes Minnesota can reconsider.
“I don’t know if (Coyle) expected this much backlash,” Schirmer said. “We had a march, we did a petition and lot of athletes and alums spoke on it. People are upset. There’s a lot of history at this university that isn’t just track, but on the gymnastics team and on tennis. There’s people who want these sports.”
Schirmer (6-foot-1, 205 pounds) was recruited heavily for track and football. He ran for more then 3,200 yards over the last two seasons in football and helped the Indians to a 17-6 record over that time.
In track, he turned in one of the greatest state meets in history in 2019, scoring 34 points in four individual events at the Class 2A State Meet. Schirmer won the 100 meters, the 110 high hurdles and 300 intermediate hurdles. He was fourth in the 200 by .12 of a second.
The pandemic wiped out the 2020 spring sports season and Schirmer’s chance to finish his career with 11 individual state medals, something no other boys track and field athlete has ever accomplished.
Schirmer committed to Minnesota last fall. One of the assistant coaches active in Schirmer’s recruitment was former Crystal Lake Central pole vaulter Zach Siegmeier.
Schirmer has spoken with a few coaches from schools that previously recruited him. He said two were in the Big Ten, another was in the Big 12.
“I reached out and said, ‘My name’s Finn Schirmer and I’m in the transfer portal,’ ” Schirmer said. “I said ‘The decision is happening around Oct. 10 and I want to inform you that I’m not going to be making any decisions until after that date.’ I didn’t want to lead them on and think I’m going to come there and then they reinstate the program.”
Schirmer should be a popular free agent if Minnesota goes on with its current plan. His best races likely will be the high and intermediate hurdles (which go from 300 to 400 in college).
Schirmer was recently tested for the coronavirus and will be tested again Monday. Team workouts, however, were pushed back when several of the track athletes who were playing basketball tested positive.
“After that, we are under an extremely strict quarantine,” Schirmer said. “There’s a 9 p.m. curfew in my dorm. They’ll let you leave, but you can’t come back in. If you leave your door open, you have to have a mask on, but people aren’t actually allowed in the room. I’m not allowed to go into another dorm room. I’m not allowed to see family. I have to practice social distancing in my room with my roommate.
“The coaching staff wants to get back. It’s very evident. They’re excited for this new challenge because it is tough. They send our workouts that some of us are doing on our own. We can’t do them with other people.”