Robert Morris cutting 7 sports at end of school year
When sophomore golfer Gianna Pro received a text message Tuesday about a meeting with Robert Morris University President Gregory G. Dell'Omo and Director of Athletics Craig Coleman, she knew the news wasn't going to be good.
Pro said rumors had been floating around campus in recent days about possible athletic department cuts.
Those rumors proved to be accurate. Pro is among 80 athletes who will be affected by the university's decision to eliminate seven Division I sports teams, effective at the end of the 2013-14 academic year.
The elimination of four men's teams — cross country, tennis, indoor track and outdoor track — along with three women's programs — golf, cross country and field hockey — is intended to enable RMU to reallocate nearly $1.2 million into its remaining 16 athletic teams.
“I think we knew what was coming; we put two and two together,” Pro said. “We're all pretty devastated. It was a pretty big shock for all of us. Friends have shown a lot of sympathy. It really is impacting everyone here. It's tough because we all love the school so much.”
The move is part of the university's strategic review process that scrutinized every university unit. RMU undertook that process in preparation for its next five-year strategic plan, which RMU officials expect to complete in 2014.
The savings generated by phasing out seven sports will fund improvements for the remaining sports, including additional scholarships, facility upgrades, bigger travel budgets and increased recruiting budgets.
“We want every program to benefit from this,” Coleman said. “We're going to look at the remaining programs and see what their needs are. Our goal is to have every team compete for a conference title and be competitive against anyone in Division I.”
Before Tuesday's announced cuts, Coleman said RMU had offered more athletic programs (23) than either Pitt (19) or West Virginia (21). RMU isn't the first regional university to reduce athletic programs in recent years. Maryland cut seven in 2012, and Duquesne cut four in 2010.
Coleman said it was an agonizing process and that the committee explored several scenarios.
“There were numerous factors,” Coleman said. “I'm not going to go through every sport. We looked at the positives and the negatives.”
“Seeing the other teams (that were cut) was a shock, especially the men's track team,” Pro said. “There had been a couple rumors, but no one would have expected something like this.”
The NCAA sets scholarships cap for all Division I programs, and then conferences can impose further limits to ensure competitive balance. It's up to each conference member to determine if wants to spend to the limit. At Robert Morris, only basketball currently uses its entire allotment.
Coleman said one of the primary reasons the university chose to cut sports is that RMU has one of the largest athletic budgets in the Northeast Conference, yet spends among the least per athlete because of the number of sports it offers.
“We're spread too thin across the board,” Coleman said. “We want our programs to excel.”
Coleman also said there are no plans to change conferences and that only one full-time coaching position is being eliminated.
The university said it will continue to honor all scholarships currently being received by the affected athletes. RMU also will assist any impacted athlete who wishes to transfer to another university. Under NCAA rules, athletes who transfer from a school that has eliminated their sport are immediately eligible to participate and are not required to sit out a season.
Sophomore track and cross-country runner Richard Lednak received an automated text message from the athletic department during a class on Tuesday.
“It's shocking and devasting,” said Lednak, a Kiski Area graduate. “We were coming off a great year in cross country. You read about this stuff, but you never think it will happen to you.”
Lednak is an accounting major and said that played a key part in him choosing to run at RMU.
“I will probably look at some of the other schools (that showed interest),” he said. “But none of them will come anywhere close to what I have here. I am stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
University President Dell'Omo and Coleman met with students to explain the decision.
“We owed that to them, and we were able to answer some of their questions,” Coleman said. “It's not a happy day around here. It's a disappointing day.”
Pro said she is looking forward to her final golf season at RMU. She's unsure if she will transfer after that.
“I am excited for the spring,” said Pro who averaged 83.7 per 18 holes in the fall. “I am definitely ready to play well in my last season here at RMU. I think all of us are.
“I'm involved with so many things here at RMU, so leaving would be a very hard thing to do. Still having a scholarship puts a positive on the decision-making process to stay here.”