Athletes, coaches and parents angered and confused by UB Athletics’ abrupt decision to cut four teams
Players question Athletics’ spending, say they still want answers
Four UB Athletics teams walked into a meeting Monday morning silent and confused.
They all walked out heartbroken and stunned.
President Satish Tripathi stood in front of four teams at 8 a.m. Monday morning and told them their athletic careers at UB were coming to an end. Men’s soccer, baseball, rowing and men’s swimming and diving sat in the Center for the Arts Drama room blindsided by the news that their teams would be cut from UB Athletics, effective at the end of the spring 2017 season. A total of 120 student athletes will be affected by the cuts.
“It was just kind of jaw dropping,” said Charlie Sobieraski, a junior baseball player. “We all kind of looked at each other like, ‘did that really just happen?...’ Everyone ran to their phones calling their parents. It’s not something you want to tell your parents, ‘hey ma, I gotta find a new school.’”
Tripathi and Athletic Director Allen Greene did not tell any of the athletes why their teams were the ones being cut, according to multiple athletes who were at the meeting. They also did not inform them of how much money would be saved or where that money is going.
About a half hour after the meeting, the university sent out a press release answering a few questions, but many athletes are still searching for answers.
“The university no longer has the resources to support 20 athletics teams,” the release said.
UB Athletics, which has a $32 million budget, is saving approximately $2 million annually by cutting these sports. The decision will not reduce the amount students pay in fees to support Division-I athletics.
The university took into account program costs, athletics’ facilities, Title IX, geographic location and a comparison of sports sponsored by Mid-American Conference (MAC) schools. Athletics is still honoring all national letters of intent and scholarships of affected student athletes who stay at UB.
The number of Division-I sports teams at UB has now dropped from 20 to 16, a number in line with many other schools in the MAC.
Greene took questions from The Spectrum via email, but answered multiple questions with statements taken verbatim from the university’s press release.
When asked if he anticipated more teams to be cut in the future, Greene answered with a quote from the press release that said, “The University at Buffalo is committed to Division I athletics and remaining competitive in the Mid-American Conference.”
As of Wednesday, a school is required to have 16 sports programs to remain in the MAC.
Most players understand that the decision was financial, but many are bothered by the way the school went about it.
Around 8:30 p.m. Sunday night, UB’s Athletic Compliance departmentsent out a mass text message to all of the school’s athletes saying there was a mandatory meeting Monday morning. Twelve hours later, students left the meeting more confused than when they had entered.
The other 16 UB Athletics teams sat in different rooms in Alumni Arena where administration told them about the four other teams that would be cut. Coaches and players were in awe, looking around the room on the verge of tears, knowing that it could have been them.
There was no warning of what the meeting would be about beforehand. Coaches of the four affected teams were only told within an hour before the meeting that they would no longer have a job next year.
Head baseball coach Ron Torgalski, who has been the head coach since 2007 and has worked for the program since 2001, says he was told at 7:45 a.m. Monday morning that his team would be cut.
“It was never mentioned, never brought up,” Torgalski said. “Any meeting I’ve ever had was ‘we’re not in the business to drop programs.’”
UB men’s soccer head coach Davie Carmichael, who was hired on Jan. 31, sent out a Tweet Sunday night praising his team’s effort in their first spring game with the hashtag #progress.
On March 8, the men’s soccer program announced Michael Tanke as a new assistant coach.
Carmichael, Tanke and an upward of seven other coaches, will now have to find a new job.
High school seniors and college freshmen, sophomores and juniors who committed to UB will now have to make a quick decision: stay at UB to finish their degree, or transfer to another school to continue their athletic career.
“This isn’t a good point in the year to get recruited by anyone as a transfer,” said Kyle Brennan, a senior baseball player. “It’s late in the recruiting season and other schools gave out their money pretty much already, so you couldn’t help but just feel for [underclassmen.]”
Torgalski also expressed concern that most baseball programs have used most of their money at this point in the season.
“These kids may have opportunities, but from a financial standpoint, it’s probably gonna cost them a lot of money,” Torgalski said. “Especially the in-state kids that are here at a state institution and we can put a nice package together for them, it becomes very affordable and that’s how we got some of these kids… now, not only is the kid affected but the whole family is affected because financially, they gotta figure things out.”
Athletes and coaches question UB Athletics’ spending and conduct
Many athletes wonder how long the school has planned these cuts. They are unsure why the university waited until now to tell them.
When asked when the department made the decision, Greene told The Spectrum that the process “recently concluded.”
All four teams continued to recruit athletes to their programs throughout the year and even into the spring semester. The men’s soccer team was ready to announce a new recruiting class of 11 players, according to multiple former players.
The baseball team was also prepared to announce an eight-member recruiting class, according to Torgalski. Torgalski said it was “by far the best recruiting class” he had gotten since becoming the head coach. He also says administration “absolutely” knew that he was still recruiting players throughout the year.
“We worked diligently to explore every option,” Greene said when The Spectrum asked why the department continued to let coaches recruit players to the program. “Regrettably, after exploring many scenarios, the reality is our current path is not sustainable and reductions reluctantly became the only option.”
Many athletes expressed concern for incoming freshmen committed to the program. Some wonder how difficult it will be for them to re-start the college search process this late in the year.
“It’s basically a month and a half before school’s over and you’re expecting however many athletes you just took away to find new schools,” Sobieraski said. “[Incoming freshmen] are at a really big disadvantage because those schools that they passed up on, are now gonna look back and be like ‘well you passed up on us the first time so why should we give you another chance.’”
Since the news has dropped, former and current athletes, students and faculty have questioned UB Athletics’ spending. Some wonder if Athletics could have saved the $2 million if it had not undergone two re-branding efforts in the last three years.
“My freshman year was two logos ago,” said Braden Scales, a fall 2016 graduate and former men’s soccer player. “My first thought is, how much did all that cost? I know it takes a lot of money to fund a soccer program, but you do look at a lot of the small things that add up over time, that makes you wonder. There’s been a lot of decisions from the Athletics department as a whole that have been quite shocking.”
Torgalski said he wonders if there would still be a baseball program if not for the two re-branding efforts.
“I think it cost the Athletic Department a lot of money,” Torgalski said. “When you look at the signs and the logos and everything that had to be changed a couple of times, that’s not cheap… Amongst other things, but I think that is a big contributor.”
Torgalski said Athletics made promises to improve the program’s facilities since he took the job, but eventually he “didn’t expect anything.”
“Since I’ve been the head coach, I never even asked those questions because I knew what the answer would be,” Torgalski said. “That was one thing that I never told a kid because I knew it probably wasn’t gonna happen, so I didn’t try to sell a kid on ‘hey, we’re gonna get a new stadium,’ or ‘we’re gonna get this.’”
The team played home games at Amherst Audubon Field, a field across the street from UB.
“When we had kids on visits, we tried to avoid our field,” Torgalski said. “If we had to show a kid our field we just said ‘hey, it is what it is.’ This is the hand we’ve been dealt and this is what we’re gonna deal with.”
Senior baseball player Tyler Utz said the baseball team did not have a groundskeeping staff and had to work on the field themselves before and after games to keep it playable.
“On game days, there are always one or two people that come out and do the lines and batter’s box, but other than that, our assistant coaches drag and water the field pre and post game,” Utz said. “The players have assignments for fixing up the field after games and practices. Pitchers will fix the pitcher’s mound and catchers will fix home plate, etc.”
The most controversial cut was the men’s soccer team.
The team had the highest GPA of all teams last fall and had made back-to-back MAC Championship game appearances. According to the 2015-16 UB Athletics budget, the men’s soccer team got $464,761 in institutional support and brought in just $1,051 in contributions.
Mary Cicerone, mother of former UB men’s soccer player Russell Cicerone, said parents of men’s soccer players often donated to the program in the last four years.
Mary says she wonders why administration wouldn’t let her or the other parents know that the program was in such financial need.
“I just wanted it to be known that we parents did contribute and we contributed a lot,” she said. “We did not want it to look like we did not help support the program.”
The baseball team received $395,857 in institutional support and brought in $14,657 in contributions. The men’s swimming and diving team received $387,959 in institutional support and made just $1,811 in contributions. The rowing team received $271,117 in institutional support and brought in $5,378 in contributions.
However, in the 2015-16 year, none of UB’s other 16 teams turned a profit either.
Almost $9 million of student fees were allocated to all 20 teams. Men’s soccer received $152,342, baseball received $197,570, rowing received $722,210 and men’s swimming and diving received $101,535.
Football received almost $1.5 million in student fees and men’s and women’s basketball received $538,646 and $986,297, respectively.
“All resources are university resources and the two million dollars we’ve been asked to cut are not going back into football or the athletic department, they are going back to the university,” Greene told The Spectrum.
The four teams cut were among seven teams that did not charge admission for ticket sales in 2015-16. The baseball team received the fourth most money in contributions of any team, which was even more than the men’s basketball program.
Alumni speak out
Scales, Russell Cicerone, Vinny DiVirglio and Austin Place – all former men’s soccer players – expressed frustration with the Athletics department.
All four athletes say UB Athletics made promises that were not fulfilled during the recruiting process or during their time on the team. They said Athletics promised them their own locker room and soccer-specific stadium.
Instead, the team played their home games on the football field at UB Stadium and shared a locker room with other teams for all three players’ tenures.
Place said before he signed his letter of intent, he was told there was funding in place for a field house and that it would be done by the summer of his junior year.
UB does not currently have a field house but there is a push to build one, which would cost around $18 million, according to The Buffalo News.
Cicerone, who was drafted by the Portland Timbers of the MLS this January, said he is “definitely” less likely to donate to the school in the future.
“I was always so proud going to UB, making it professional from UB. I was always hyping them up and repping them,” Cicerone said. “People ask me all the time where I went to college and I almost don’t even want to tell them anymore. I almost don’t even want UB to be under my bio on the website, I would [rather] just have them put my high school.”
Scales expressed condolences for the team’s international athletes – many of whom only came to the U.S. for soccer.
“A lot of these guys are international, they came to the U.S. to have the university experience and play soccer, that was the reason they’re here,” Scales said. “They’re not at UB because they knew it was a great academic institution and leave their home country just to come here for school. They came here to play soccer.”
Nine of UB’s 15 anticipated returning men’s soccer players for this upcoming fall were not from the U.S. One international athlete, who asked to remain anonymous, said the cuts are a “cruel injustice.”
But men’s soccer players aren’t the only ones with concerns.
Former pitcher Blair Lakso, who is now signed to the Minnesota Twins organization, said he was “sick to [his] stomach” when he heard the news.
“We’re already working with half the amount of scholarships as every other MAC school,” Lakso said. “We didn’t have to pay for our field, it was a town field…[football is] in the same boat as us, they haven’t really played up to expectations.”
The baseball program has had only one winning season since joining the MAC in 2001, but a player has been drafted into the MLB every year for the past five years. They were working with 6.75 scholarships as compared to 11.7 for most other teams in the MAC, according to Torgalski.
Mike Burke, a former UB pitcher who is now in the Baltimore Orioles organization, said he was “depressed all day” when he heard the news.
“I’m in the minor leagues right now and if I had went somewhere else, I probably wouldn’t have got the exposure that I got playing for UB,” Burke said.
Junior diver Dan Roche said he and other players were “heated” when Tripathi told them their teams would be cut. Roche says many of the athletes were crying, including some of his teammates.
Roche says he will “probably not” transfer out because even though he still loves to dive, as a rising senior, he does not want to “deal with transferring.”
Sophomore swimmer Mason Miller, who was named the MAC’s Most Outstanding Swimmer at Conference Championships, said in a text message to The Spectrum that he is not sure yet whether or not he will transfer.
“I guess I would say that while I’m really upset and disappointed that this has happened to our team and the other teams, there’s nothing we can really do about it,” Miller said.
Miller will finish as the program’s all-time record holder in the 100 fly, 200 medley relay and 400 medley relay, despite only competing for two years.
“I hope that they’re being honest with us and that they actually tell us why [they cut our teams],” Roche said. “I know they didn’t tell me anything, but I don’t really like to think about that stuff.”
Some students are trying to fight back with an online petition to "stop the elimination" of the four teams.
Other players are just as upset, but are trying to make sense of Athletics’ abrupt notice.
Brennan and senior Chris Kwitzer say that most of the baseball team was “for” the money spent to improve the school’s brand over the past couple of years.
“The goal as an athletics community was to build the brand of the school and kind of elevate ourselves,” Brennan said. “We were all buying in. I don’t know how much money it cost to change all of that, we [also] don’t know how much extra revenue that brings in from them changing it, so I can’t say.”
Many of the athletes interviewed said they hope the money that is being gained by cutting their programs will be spread across all of UB’s 16 D-1 teams, rather than just the football and men’s basketball programs.
Almost every current and former athlete interviewed said they know the sports they play do not make the school much money and understand why Athletics made the decision.
Most of them just wish the school had handled the situation differently.
“I personally don’t know how they deal with their money here, what they do with the ins and outs,” Sobieraski said. “But there’s just more questions that should be answered.”
Michael Akelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org