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NCAA Oct 31, 2012

Part II–Spinning a tangled web: University of Richmond men’s soccer players deal with decision to drop program

Note: This is Part II of a two-part story. Read Part I here.

By Jimmy LaRoue

In a meeting shortly after the initial announcement, in front of students, many members of both the men’s track and soccer teams spoke up in support of keeping their programs, while University of Richmond president Dr. Ed Ayers, who also attended the meeting, defended the actions of the school and was adamant that there was no chance the two programs could return.

Ayers, as part of that justification, and outlined in a university document defending the decision, notes that “after extensive analysis, the university concluded that this reconfiguration of the athletic program and the prospect of building a nationally regarded men’s lacrosse program put the university in the best position to achieve objectives established in the athletic strategic plan and more fully leverage out athletic assets.”

The university has also stated that it wants to maintain a 13 percent population of student athletes on campus–citing that it’s on the high end of schools in which the University of Richmond competes for students–and hasn’t budged on increasing that.

Alumnus Brett Myers, a former player and 2002 UR graduate, says that’s an artificial number, and has forwarded the university administration numbers that show the school could take on a higher percentage of student-athletes (http://pro-to-prof.blogspot.com/2012/10/university-of-richmond-spinning-of-web.html).

The university calls men’s lacrosse “an excellent fit” for Richmond, and because there are just 65 Division I men’s teams, it feels it can recruit and build a competitive program quickly, citing the sport as the fastest-growing male high school sport and one of the fastest growing NCAA men’s sports, which current and former soccer players dispute. It also cites the success of the club team.

With those changes came a $3 million athletic endowment for the men’s lacrosse program–reports note that the money came from men’s lacrosse supporter Paul Queally, an alum of the school and a member of the board of trustees, though the university said the money came from multiple sources.

Ayers and the university administration note that over the course of the last year, an internal task force–with no representation from the men’s soccer program according to interim coach and former player Leigh Cowlishaw and Byrnes–analyzed a plan to add men’s lacrosse and to eliminate men’s soccer and men’s track and field.

“Unfortunately the soccer committee had been ready to go for 6-to-12 months to raise money [but] were never given the green light,” Cowlishaw said. “So for lacrosse alumni to be secretly allowed to raise the money when other sports were not, is just plainly wrong and dishonest. So that’s infuriating. But I do think we have the alumni capable of raising a significant amount of money.”

The task force also met “on multiple occasions” with the Board of Trustees, who were asked to support a recommendation that the school add the men’s lacrosse program and cut the men’s soccer and track programs.

At no point throughout the decision-making process, players, coaches and alumni say, did anyone associated with the soccer program–from Peay to current interim coach Cowlishaw, to the former and current players–know about the impending decision.

* * *

Cowlishaw has told the team about demonstrating the “utmost respect” toward the people involved in the decision to cut the program, but has also told players not to take any information about the decision for granted.

Players say they’re doing their best to adhere to that, but they are frustrated with the decision and the school administration’s unwillingness to listen to them.

“I don’t want to say we’re going to war, but it’s like we’re going to war with the administration,” said freshman Chris Hill, a current member of the men’s soccer team.

While program supporters fight on and point to a December Board of Trustees meeting to lobby to have the decision reversed, the players say they’ve been doing their best to focus on the classroom and on-field results, though they are also preparing for two eventualities–the reinstatement of the program, and what to do if it isn’t.

“[Players] are all over the map,” said junior goalkeeper Zac Brown, who is undecided on his future plans.

Hill has already made a visit to another school, and Cowlishaw has met with each player to gauge what they’re thinking and aid them through a tumultuous time.

Ayers, at the public meeting and in the school’s previous statement, said the decision would stand, and has left little wiggle room in his public statements.

“I think that the 100 percent message is that this won’t be changed.”

The school announced Monday the hiring of Loyola University (Md.) assistant Dan Chemotti as the Spiders’ first Division I men’s lacrosse coach. Loyola won the Division I national championship last season.

“Richmond made a huge statement to the Division I lacrosse world in hiring coach Chemotti,” said Bryant head coach and former Duke head coach Michael Pressler in a statement, adding that, “for Richmond to land the first assistant at the defending national champion, it tells the lacrosse world how serious Richmond is about competing at the highest level of Division I lacrosse.”

The announcement also serves as another reminder of the university’s intentions.

“I’ve yet to see a situation where soccer, or track, has been replaced by lacrosse,” Cowlishaw said. “Maybe it’s a fantastic move for the university. I’m just looking for the actual data presented to justify it. If it’s there, you’ll not hear from me again. And I’ve told [Ayers] that.”

Still, the men’s soccer program hopes to make a loud statement of its own Friday with potentially the last home game of its history in a crosstown rivalry matchup with Virginia Commonwealth.

“I wake up and hope that I wake up from the nightmare that I’m living,” Brown said.

[ +See “Carry the Flag” here ]

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