Yesterday's news was a bit of a whirlwind, as it probably should be when a school cuts 30 percent of its sports. At 10 a.m., Robert Morris athletic director Craig Coleman and president Gregory Dell'Omo informed coaches and players (those not in class) that the school was planning on cutting seven sports, a decision that ultimately impacts 80 athletes and one-full time head coaching position. Around 2:30 p.m., the school released a statement with the same information.
The details of this decision have been previously detailed, but there's still a little more to add to the situation. Robert Morris has described these moves as part of a reorganization effort, a sort of buzz term that's akin to telling someone they've been 'laid off' from their job instead of 'fired.' It was a little bizarre for a school of 5,000 students (undergrad and grad combined) to have 23 intercollegiate teams, more than much larger schools like Pitt or West Virginia. Now, the money can be devoted to an increase in scholarships, improved facilities and assorted other things, many of which can benefit emerging basketball and hockey programs.
The decision was described as something that will benefit the athletic department as a whole. Simply, it was spread thin financially and needed to eliminate teams (and the costs that go with them) in order to devote money more efficiently toward their athletes. Duquesne -- a fairly similar school in terms of size, stature -- notably cut four programs a few years ago to bring its total to 16, the same number RMU will have after the conclusion of this academic year. Even larger schools like Maryland have had to cut programs. It's an NCAA-wide trend in which seemingly no school, regardless of size, is entirely immune.
In so many ways, the moves make sense for RMU, at least on paper.
Still, it's hard to not to sympathize with those who are affected by the decision. The school made the wise -- and, frankly, only -- choice to honor the athletes' scholarships until they graduate and under NCAA rules, they can choose to transfer without penalty. But to have your life uprooted and your plans suddenly changed is difficult for anyone, particularly at such a crucial juncture of life.
Look at the school's men's and women's tennis teams, both of which were eliminated. Of the combined 15 members of the two teams, 12 are from a country other than the United States. Now, thousands of miles away from home, they are immediately faced with decisions that will have a profound impact on their futures. That's tough and as understandable as any decision is, there is a sort of human toll that comes with it.
Below, I'll post some of the more notable quotes from Craig Coleman's teleconference yesterday, as well as some comments from a coach and a couple of his players that were impacted by the decision.
Robert Morris athletic director Craig Coleman
On how they came to the decision: “We went through a very lengthy, very thorough and very agonizing process.”
“This is many, many months of study that involved a lot of people doing a lot of work to gather data.”
On why the decision was made: “We could have 23 sports or we could have 33 sports and we could just not fund any of them to win or succeed and have very unhappy student-athletes. But that’s not the kind of athletic department we would like to run.”
“What you see is a university that has a very generous funding level toward its athletic department and yet a university that spends a very low amount per student-athlete – not because the funding isn’t there, but because the sheer volume of student-athletes that we have. We felt the time had come that we wanted all the athletic programs we had in our department to be excellent and we really couldn’t achieve that goal trying to maintain the number of programs we had.”
On his own personal feeling about the move: “Today is a very sad day, it’s a very unhappy day. No one does this with any enthusiasm but we’re doing it because we’re trying to run an athletic department that is the size that it ought to be at a university of our size and is excellent in quality. We felt like this is something we had to do.”
On how the move highlights a larger trend at many different kind of schools: “One of the issues that we all have, regardless of what level of athletics we’re at, is we’re all facing escalating costs.”
On what this decision signals, as far as the university is concerned: “This is a sign that we want to be more competitive across the board in all of our sports. We want our higher profile sports that have achieved a lot of success to go to another level. We want some of our Olympic sports and other sports to excel, as well. We want to be regularly competing for conference championships in every sport we have and we want some of our sports to be regionally and nationally-ranked."
Jeff Layman, men's and women's tennis coach
On his reaction: “I was a little shocked both teams were taken from me.”
“It’s a major disappointment. You don’t want to take it personally. It wasn’t wins or losses – it had nothing to do with that – it was just based on when they did their analysis of all their sports. Tennis isn’t considered a priority sport and they just felt it was one they could eliminate.”
“It’s a major disappointment. You not only feel it personally and from a career standpoint, but you put your heart and soul into the kids. You bring them here and you recruit them. All of my kids – I have 16 or 17 total between my two teams – and 15 of them are international. I’m bringing these kids over from another country and I’m kind of their second parent in a way.”
On the reaction of his athletes: “A lot of them were shaken. There were some tears, a lot of kids were crying.”
“They were all shocked. They have to tell their parents and deal with that and then decide their futures, which have pretty much been turned upside down.”
Matheus Neves Ferreira, men's tennis sophomore
On his reaction to the decision: “It’s pretty bad, but it’s understandable that the university wants to give the proper money and prestige to the right sports."
On if he was expecting the decision: “I’m pretty sad it was tennis, but it’s understandable. It was nice being able to spend the amount of time that I have here.”
“We knew that a couple of sports were supposed to be cut and that tennis was on the list, but we didn’t know it was happening for sure. It was a shock.”
On his initial thought when he heard the news: “I was like, ‘Damn, what are we going to do now?’”
On his future plans: “With a lot of hard work and effort, we’ll be able to find the right place for me.” He said he will look into transferring to a school like Penn State or Georgia Tech.
Kourtney Passero, women's tennis junior
On her reaction to the decision: “I would say I was shocked and disappointed at the same time.”
“It honestly hasn’t fully hit me. I’m upset, obviously, and it’s hard to control your emotions sometimes, but I guess there’s nothing we can really do at this point except move forward.”