Robert Morris to cut seven sports

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In many ways, Matheus Neves Ferreira had been expecting news.

A sophomore on the Robert Morris men's tennis team, he had heard of possible athletic cuts at a small school that had a proportionately large number of intercollegiate teams. He and other athletes at the university were even preparing for what was to come.

Still, when the Sao Paulo, Brazil, native heard about the school's decision, one thing immediately came to mind.

"I was like, 'Damn, what are we going to do now?' " he said.

Robert Morris will eliminate seven Division I sports in an effort to allocate resources to other athletic needs, the school announced Tuesday. The sports being eliminated are men's indoor and outdoor track, cross country and tennis, and women's golf, tennis and field hockey.

Overall, the decision will impact 80 athletes such as Mr. Ferreira, as well as one full-time coach. The cuts will come at the conclusion of the 2013-14 academic year and will trim the number of sports offered at the school from 23 to 16.

Robert Morris athletic director Craig Coleman said he expects the move to save the athletic department around $1 million to $1.2 million per year, money that will be used for additional scholarships, facility upgrades and travel and recruiting budgets, among other things.

In an era of increased operating expenses and at a 5,000-student school that sponsors more sports than larger institutions such as Pitt and West Virginia, the decision was described as something of an inevitability.

"Today is a very sad day, it's a very unhappy day," Mr. Coleman said. "No one does this with any enthusiasm, but we're doing it because we're trying to run an athletic department that is the size that it ought to be at a university of our size and is excellent in quality. We felt like this is something we had to do."

Tennis coach Jeff Layman knew something was wrong when he and other coaches were asked to come to a 10 a.m. meeting Tuesday on campus.

It was at that meeting that Layman was told that, after six seasons at the school, both teams he coached were being phased out.

Mr. Layman has enjoyed his time working for an athletic department that he said always gave him overwhelming support, but the decision stung.

"It's a major disappointment," he said. "You not only feel it personally and from a career standpoint, but you put your heart and soul into the kids.

"You bring them here and you recruit them. All of my kids -- I have 16 or 17 total between my two teams -- and 15 of them are international. I'm bringing these kids over from another country and I'm kind of their second parent in a way."

All athletes on scholarship will be able to remain at Robert Morris on that grant until they graduate, and if they wish to transfer, they will not have to sit out one season, under NCAA rules.

That didn't make the news any easier to accept for some of the athletes.

"They were all shocked," Mr. Layman said. "They have to tell their parents and deal with that and then decide their futures, which have pretty much been turned upside down."

The cuts were the culmination of what Mr. Coleman described as a lengthy and agonizing process, ones that were made, more than anything, out of necessity. Robert Morris is a member of the Northeast Conference, a league comprised primarily of schools in the New York metropolitan area and New England. Thus, travel costs are sometimes prohibitive for the Moon school that's something of a geographic outlier.

Nearly four years ago, Duquense made a similar move, cutting four sports to bring its overall total to 16, and larger schools such as Maryland have been forced to drop sports amidst financial strain over the past few years.

"One of the issues that we all have, regardless of what level of athletics we're at, is we're all facing escalating costs," he said.

At about $14 million, Robert Morris has one of largest athletic budgets in the NEC, but because of the number of sports it offers, it spends among the least per athlete. The savings generated from the cuts are expected to help further fund the university's burgeoning basketball and hockey programs.

Though the move makes sense for the school, it takes a toll on a number of athletes like Mr. Ferreira and coaches like Mr. Layman.

"It honestly hasn't fully hit me," said Kourtney Passero, a junior on the women's tennis team. "I'm upset, obviously, and it's hard to control your emotions sometimes, but I guess there's nothing we can really do at this point except move forward."

Craig Meyer: and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG. First Published December 3, 2013 2:59 PM

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