On Friday September 21, 2012 the University of Richmond Board Of Trustees announced that they had made the decision to add a Division I men’s lacrosse team and that they were eliminating the men’s soccer and track and field teams. The University indicated this decision was made after a “thoughtful and forward-looking assessment of the University’s Division I sports to ensure that we meet the future needs of the University and the next generation of student-athletes.”
The decision was apparently based on the assumption that a men’s lacrosse team was a better fit for the University and that a lacrosse program would be well positioned to compete for conference championships and attain national recognition. The University indicated in a written question and answer statement that accompanied the announcement that “the only practical way to add men’s lacrosse is to substitute it for other men’s Division I sports.
The University of Richmond has fielded a men’s club lacrosse team since 1967. They also currently have a women’s lacrosse team at the Division I level. Richmond athletic director Jim Miller said in a statement, “We are planning for the men’s club lacrosse team to transition to a Division I team by the spring of 2014” and that “the prospect of building a nationally regarded men’s lacrosse program,” was a factor in the decision.
Miller also indicated that the men’s soccer and track programs would be discontinued at the conclusion of their 2012-13 seasons. The eight scholarships in men’s soccer will go to the men’s lacrosse program. Soccer players on scholarship can remain at the University of Richmond on athletic grants until they graduate or for a period equal to their remaining eligibility. The men’s track and field program has no scholarships.
Richmond is an excellent school and the Board of Trustees certainly have the right and the duty to make decisions that they feel are in the best long term interest of the University. The decision to add a Division I lacrosse program has merit but in our view the decision to do so at the expense of the men’s soccer program and the track and field program does not.
The Richmond area has long been a hot bed for youth soccer, support of the sport continues to grow in the United States at the grassroots level, the program enjoys a great deal of support from the community, the student body, faculty, and alumni. Interim head coach Leigh Cowlishaw, a former soccer standout at Richmond, appears to have the program headed in the right direction in terms of becoming more competitive. It is also significant that the soccer program attracts excellent students to the University.
The decision has not been a popular one and the communication process has been flawed. Clearly the team had been given no warning that this was going to occur. Miller stated, “The reaction has been what we expected.” He added, “Mixed.”
A question and answer issued by the University of Richmond along with the announcement indicated that the programs would not be reinstituted even if the public could raise the necessary funds. Miller stated, “It’s not just a money issue.”
The issue then is what, if anything, can be done to prevent these existing programs from being eliminated? This is a fair question, one that deserves to be vetted with those adversely impacted, and one that the leaders at the University of Richmond should be willing to discuss with the many people who are upset with the decision and desire for the programs to continue to exist.
Hopefully the members of the Board of Trustees involved in the decision will listen to those who seek to find a way for the programs to continue.
Hopefully those who desire for the programs to continue will unite to actively show their support and rally around the programs but hopefully they will move beyond the emotional issues involved and press for the identification and implementation of practical solutions that will enable the programs to continue to exist.
A public meeting with University officials has been scheduled for Sunday, September 30, 2012 at 5 p.m. inside the Robins School of Business Building. Supporters of the men’s soccer program have also requested that the community show their backing of the men’s soccer program by being present at Robins Stadium on Friday, October 5 when Richmond opens Atlantic 10 play against George Washington.
In the meantime Richmond junior midfielder Brandon Hauser stated, “I speak for the entire men’s soccer team when I say we can’t thank the Richmond community enough for the unwavering support we have received throughout this past week.” He added, “Have no doubt, we will continue to play as hard as we can, for as long as we’re allowed to do so.”