Duquesne flunked handling of athletic cuts

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Duquesne opens its baseball season Feb. 19 at South Carolina, so with the first pitch arriving within weeks it smelled a little funny when Monday's conditioning session was suddenly put aside for a team meeting at Fisher Hall on campus.

There was no warning, unless the players simply ignored those fliers that said:

Baseball calls team meeting to announce permanent end of baseball team meetings.

"I didn't hear about it until about three lines into [athletic director Greg] Amodio's speech," said Joe Lombardo, the junior shortstop and pitcher from Shaler. "I wouldn't have recognized Amodio. Everyone in there had a bad feeling about it. About two seconds later, it was over.

"We were just shell-shocked."

Baseball got wiped from Duquesne's athletic future at that meeting, and before Monday ended, three more men's sports -- golf, wrestling and swimming, would be dead programs walking as well.

They'll play out their schedules this spring, then fold into a sleeker athletic department refurbished by what's getting identified officially as a redistribution of assets.

"It's been tremendously difficult," Amodio said of his week, and that was hours before tipoff in Cincinnati, where Xavier put an 86-50 pasting on the men's basketball team, which figures to get a sizeable chunk of the redistribution. "It's not an easy decision to come to because you know it's going to affect the coaches, their staffs, the athletes, and their families. You just try to move into it with compassion and try to make it as easy as possible."

What Duquesne dropped in the laps of some 70 athletes in four doomed sports this week requires some urgent decisions that few of them are going to wind up describing as easy. I suppose it's magnanimous of the administration to declare that everyone remains on scholarship until the end of their eligibility, and that those who want to transfer can expect the university's assistance. But on the other side of this difficult processes, I doubt many of the impacted and perhaps even fewer of the merely observant will look back and say this was handled well.

The university announced the death of four sports in a faxed statement late Monday, overnighted some letters to the families of the athletes, then clammed up until Thursday afternoon when Amodio called me from Ohio. In the interim, there was no public face of the university on this issue, no one at a podium, no channel for the inevitable emotion, of which there was plenty.

It wasn't doing a lot better behind closed doors.

"Although [Amodio] indicated in your article [Friday] that the university studied the issues over the past two years, no one seems to have shared this information with the affected programs before this week's announcement," Ron Frank told me in an e-mail. "I am interested in what alternatives were explored. I have sent requests for information to multiple individuals at Duquesne this week and not received a reply. There are many unanswered questions in this week's surprise announcement at Duquesne and no one is available for answers to those questions."

Frank is a teacher and a coach at Fox Chapel and the father of three Duquesne graduates. As the president of the WPIAL Wrestling Coaches Association, he fears that moves like Duquesne's will further ravage the landscape of his sport and the others.

"Where will tomorrow's coaches develop if small budget sports are removed from our universities," Frank wonders. "Intercollegiate athletics has always provided a strong training program for individuals who will help shape the lives of generations of high school student-athletes and Duquesne must continue to model that mission in Olympic sports as well as football and basketball."

Some swim team parents are trying to raise enough money to sustain the men's team themselves, but Amodio indicated earlier this week that facilities are a major obstacle.

"If you take a look at the [eliminated] sports -- and we looked at the financial impact of all of them -- but baseball is played at an off-campus facility, golf is off-campus, wrestling is on campus but at a facility the university is considering what to do with, and in swimming we do not have a diving well," Amodio said. "As well as our swimmers have performed, that's a facility limitation that we're not going to be able to change."

There are some larger realities that aren't changing either. All universities are rightly concerned with Title IX compliance, the broad meaning of which is that you must have opportunities for women in approximate proportion to the percentage of female enrollment. But in Duquesne's specific case, it's evident that what the athletic department believes it needs more than opportunities in the four eliminated sports is for its football team to improve and the men's and women's basketball teams to eventually make money.

It's no crime to try and turn Suzie McConnell-Serio's team into something more like Agnus Berenato's at Pitt, nor is it criminal to help Ron Everhart's compete with the likes of Dayton and Xavier and Temple.

But did the hard choices have to be this hard, this ham-handed, this impersonal?

"I definitely see myself going somewhere else," said Lombardo, who'll have two years of eligibility left. "But there are guys here in the pharmacy school who really can't go anywhere, guys who had three more seasons of baseball. Some guys have fewer options than I do.

"It's tough to see them suffer."

Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283.


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