Pittsburgh Hockey Digest

Robert Morris

Heeman: Hockey is What Made RMU Special

Luke Lynch Matt Mamros

I had to take some time to digest Wednesday’s poorly communicated hatchet job of both the men’s and women’s hockey programs at Robert Morris University.

And I’m glad, I did as new things have come to light regarding the matter.

But first things first, I have a confession.  

That confession is, that as of November of 2003, I’d never even heard of Robert Morris University. I found out though, when I saw an ad for their brand-new NCAA Division-I men’s hockey team in an area publication. 

It made a fairly undistinguishable institution in my eyes, stand out and made me take notice immediately.

I’m a sucker for some hockey, always have been. And I know where the best places to find it is. This includes the NCAA version of the game. They had the keys to one of only 60 or so programs in the country on the men’s side, one of about 40 on the women’s. It’s the sort of club most universities would be forever grateful to be a part of, an exclusive club that stood above so many other mid-level or smaller higher learning institutions.

For nearly 18 years, from being a fan from the opening puck drop to later becoming writer for various outlets, you can see the kind of impact that program and shortly thereafter, the women’s hockey team has had on me.

The powers that be, current president Chris Howard and the board of trustees, simply pulled the rug out from underneath all those years of history in shameful fashion, with no forewarning.  They probably had no idea what the program meant to many people. Nor the costs of what they are in the process of losing. Let’s remind them or educate them perhaps. Because these teams deserve far much more than what they’ve been shown to this point.
These programs brought so much to the campus, community and hockey landscape. Their overall winning percentages past the first few years of building the programs, points to two nationally recognized programs that got time in the national rankings, garnered multiple NCAA Tournament bids, and put the school in front of eyes their other sports did not.

Has anybody out there kept track of the football team’s record of success at any time in the past 15 years? Did Howard and the board not realize this? They needed to.
Maybe the decision really does come down to money? Or perhaps not. Let’s look at the explanations from the university or lack thereof.
“RMU is focusing its resources and efforts on strategic initiatives best suited to position the university for future growth,” the school’s statement read
I’m not even sure what this means. Cut hockey to grow? It was started by an amazing woman who passed away in 2005, Susan Hofacre, athletic director at the time, who sought to broaden the campus, introducing students from all over the country and world.

What are they gaining sacrificing two programs that helped the university stand out and helped broaden the campus while becoming a selling point for prospective students? That mission is still necessary going forward. Or if it isn’t, we can simply call it Robert Morris College again, where Pittsburghers can finish that bachelor’s degree program or start their master’s chase when it becomes a requirement for their job.
“The university also wanted to align our athletic offerings more closely with other similar nationally-ranked universities.”
This is not transparent at all. Hockey schools such as St. Lawrence and American International College have less enrollment and also offer more expensive sports such as NCAA football.  Cutting hockey actually diminishes RMU’s profile and makes it less attractive to some prospective students.
“The decision to discontinue the men’s and women’s ice hockey programs was made based on an analysis which included scholarships and operating costs, and the necessary investments to maintain and improve the current facility.”
RMU isn’t selling the Island Sports Center, I have learned. Howard and board never once asked for help to maintain the building, nor did they alert the coaches they might have to assist in fundraising for the facility.

They were never given a chance. Their programs were executed with one hour’s notice after 17 years of faithful service to the university where they entertained delighted fans that became loyal, worked relentlessly in the classroom, earned outstanding grade point averages and finished becoming amazing human beings. 

If it’s not a fiscal reason — and the release makes pains to say that it was not — the university has made a tragic error in conceiving justification for cutting the programs and explaining exactly what their reasoning is.
As of this writing, Dr. Howard and the board of trustees have yet to explain in full why this was done, at a time so late that the student athletes can’t even transfer to schools they can play at for the fall semester in many cases. They offered the statement that there is never a good time to make this decision. Quite frankly, unless some sort of colossal financial mismanagement has taken place and the school can’t come up with funds to run the sport with, it doesn’t need to happen at all.
It just doesn’t add up. None of it. Not the explanation. Not the fact that they gave no warning or transmitted a sense of urgency to raise funds, or even gave an idea of how much in the way of funds would be necessary to maintain the building going forward. 

“I could raise a lot of money today,” RMU head coach Derek Schooley said on 93.7 the Fan. “I could have that done. I just need to know if they want to do that and what the number is and let me get at it because it could be done very quickly. I’ve had more people reach out to me with high figures to be able to donate to this program. But I need to know if they want to do that and what the number is. I haven’t got that answer yet so far, as we move forward maybe we’ll have some of those answers. ”
So there you have it. With no press conference, virtually no notice given, at the most inopportune time they could have selected, the powers that be at Robert Morris University just made the most shortsighted and totally unnecessary decision they have made as a group of leaders. They cut out part of the heart out of what made them special as a university in more ways than one.

And they’re ashamed. You can tell if you read between the lines. Check out the media reaction if you will and it will reflect those seasoned journalists whom have covered college athletics for years are perplexed, they have no clue, and are wondering why Howard and his decision makers have not had to answer one question or even presented an opportunity to be asked. 

These programs, these student athletes, their fans and supporters all deserve better answers, and at least a chance to help save what the university is prepared to lose because they thought nobody would really mind. They do mind, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re finding that out now as a steady stream of negative press comes their way. Let us hope they learn the lesson here and reconsider.  They’re going to regret it if they don’t.

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