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December 3, 2013

RMU eyes growth in wake of painful cuts

Calling it a "sad, unhappy day", Robert Morris University athletic director Dr. Craig Coleman and president Dr. Gregory Dell'Omo announced the school will cut seven athletics programs to support additional funding for its remaining sports.

The cuts include men's indoor and outdoor track and field, tennis and cross country as well as women's golf, tennis and cross country. It impacts 80 student-athletes, and trims the number of sports at Robert Morris from 23 to 16. The elimination of those sports will be effective at the end of the 2013-14 academic year.

"We went through a very lengthy, very thorough and very agonizing process," Coleman said. "To actually choose the sports, we went through an extensive process of analysis. We had numerous factors that we looked at."

Robert Morris cut seven athletics programs Tuesday. A look at some of the key numbers from the announcement.

23: Number of athletics programs Robert Morris currently sponsors, one of the highest amounts in the NEC and more than nearby Pitt or West Virginia
16: Number of programs that will be sponsored beginning in 2014-15 academic year
80: Number of student-athletes impacted by the cuts
1: Number of full-time coaches impacted by the cuts
$13,812,756: Amount Robert Morris spent on athletic expenses in 2011, according to the most recent data from the Office of Postsecondary Education. The number ranks second in the NEC
$1,356,722: Amount RMU spent on basketball expenses in 2011, sixth in the NEC.
$2,186,475: Amount Robert Morris spent on football expenses in 2011, 4th in the NEC
$1-to-1.2 million: Amount Robert Morris expects to save annually from cuts to put into remaining sports

Coleman said the cost of the program, athletic and academic success, the status of the facility and any upgrade costs, Title IX requirements, and more factored into the elimination process. With 23 athletic programs - more than larger regional schools such as Pitt and West Virginia - and the university eying the next potential route for growth, Coleman said the size of the athletic department was no longer feasible.

"The university spends a low amount per student athlete, not because the funding wasn't there, but because of the sheer volume of student athletes that we have," Coleman said. "We want all of our athletic programs to be excellent and we couldn't really achieve that goal trying to maintain the number of programs we had."

Coleman said that retaining the programs but reducing funding or eliminating scholarships for those programs was not an option for the university.

"It's viable under Division I rules but it's not viable under our philosophy of running an athletic department," Coleman said. "We want all of our athletic programs to be very competitive. We don't want an athletic program around just for the sake of its existence. We want to be excellent."

The cuts are part of the university's regular strategic review as it formulates a new strategic plan. The previous strategic plan helped generate some of the largest growth in school history and featured two new dorms, the acquisition of the Holiday Inn, the renovation of the Wheatley Center and the construction of a new business building, among other items.

The new plan won't be finished until 2014 and released to the public until some point in the Spring of 2014, but Coleman said he wanted to make the decision regarding the athletic cuts as soon as possible to help aid those impacted in figuring out their futures.

"My concern was that we wanted to do this and time this in such a way that if we had athletes that made the choice to transfer elsewhere, that this type of announcement would be made early enough in the recruiting process that they would be viable candidates to move to other schools and compete for scholarship money at those schools," Coleman said.

The university will honor any athletic scholarships for those impacted by the cuts until those student-athletes either transfer or graduate. If they choose to transfer, RMU will aid them in finding a new school with their sport.

Coleman and Dell'Omo informed the coaches of the sports involved Tuesday morning and then met with as many student-athletes as possible in the afternoon prior to making a public announcement. He added that making the university more attractive for another conference was not a motivating factor in the cuts.

The university expects to save about $1-to-$1.2 million annually, which it will put back into the 16 remaining sports. If spread equally, it would be an additional $75,000 per year for each sport, though it's more likely that certain improvements will be prioritized first.

"Our job now will be to do a need-assessment of each of our remaining teams and our administrative functions within the department, and make a decision on how for the next three to four years we can utilize those funds to reach our goals of excellence across the board," Coleman said.

According to the most recent numbers from the Office of Postsecondary Education, Robert Morris spends around $13 million per year on athletics, second most in the Northeast Conference behind Sacred Heart. But it's basketball expenditures, as well as other sports, rank more in the middle of the back in the NEC. Coleman said a major reason for that is travel costs, pointing out that while nearly every road trip in the NEC is an overnight stay for RMU, it's a day trip for the Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York schools.

"They are spending far less in transportation costs, lodging costs and meals on the road than we are, just to play a standard schedule," Coleman said. "We could look like we're spending more money and you might assume that we're doing new and exciting things, but all we're trying to do is play our schedule."

Coleman said because they're spending more on travel costs, other expenditures saw less attention. The cuts will enable RMU to close the gap between the school and its NEC rivals in those areas.

"This is a sign that we want to be more competitive across the board in all of our sports," Coleman said. "We want to be regularly competing for conference championships in every sport that we have and we want some of our sports to be regionally and nationally ranked."

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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