One week ago, the Radford University student athlete body was nineteen teams strong. At the end of this semester, the Highlander clan will say goodbye to four members of the family.
On Tuesday, February 4, Robert Lineburg, Director of Athletics, announced the Board of Visitor’s decision to no longer fund field hockey, swimming and diving and men’s indoor and outdoor track and field at the conclusion of this semester. The announcement also confirmed the addition of women’s lacrosse as a member of the program.
“Essentially the Board of Visitors is the managing body of the university, so they’re the boss really,” said Tom Galbraith, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications.
Upon the decision from the board, Lineburg notified and met with each team in person. The meetings took place before the message was publicized.
“If you have the meeting the day of, the students haven’t had time to talk to their parents, and they haven’t had time to let it digest,” Galbraith said. “So literally, those meetings for the affected teams were simply just to notify them of the decision by the board of visitors.”
Lineburg provided the athletes with packets of information about their scholarships and what would happen if they decided to go to another school. Later in the evening, he held a meeting to notify all other student athletes and coaches.
Much confusion still remains on why these sports were cut. A combination of funding, fulfilling the university’s strategic plan, and keeping an allegiance to the Big South conference are all part of the answer.
In a statement from Lineburg, he said “while field hockey and swimming and diving were not Big South sports, and that was part of the justification for the realignment, the decision for all the affected sports, including men’s track and field, involved resource requirements to compete within the Big South Conference.”
Lineburg explained how the school assessed a variety of factors within the department, evaluating the budgets, ongoing expectations for support, and the costs associated with providing a highly competitive sports program.
With the changes, Radford will now have 16 varsity sports, all sponsored by the Big South conference, a membership the university has maintained since the league’s inception. This is the first time Radford has axed teams since men’s lacrosse and women’s gymnastics were cut in 2001.
The reconfiguration will go into effect at the conclusion of each team’s 2013-2014 seasons. Field hockey has already finished competition and swimming and diving has one meet left—the Coastal Collegiate Swimming Association championships later this month.
The women’s lacrosse program is set to begin in spring of 2016. The athletic department hopes to have a coach hired in a few months, but has set no specific timetable. With it being a new program, the coach will need time for recruiting, hiring staff and scheduling.
“Once lacrosse starts, they will play inside Cupp Stadium,” Galbraith said.
The empty field hockey field will provide as an additional practice space for the soccer teams and a plan for pool use is yet to be determined.
“All of our facilities right now are the subject of an athletic facilities master plan which we will probably be completing late spring,” Galbraith said. “It’s to look at the Dedmon center, the pool, Cupp, all of them, to see how we can better utilize our space for the betterment of our entire program.”
As the semester pans out, the athletic department will make an effort to help athletes who want to transfer. For current students who choose to stay, the university will honor their athletic scholarships until they graduate or for the period they are eligible.
When all is said and done, however, Galbraith explained the board’s decision is final.
A change is never easy, especially one this drastic. Though the move makes sense for the school, it has taken a toll on a number of athletes and families.
“It’s an emotional time,” Galbraith said. “The Board has made its decision, it was an informed decision, and it’s not write a check and save the program kind of thing.”