Robert Morris to cut 7 Division I programs, use savings to bolster 16 other sports

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Robert Morris University is cutting seven Division I athletic programs to bolster funding for the remaining 16 sports.

Men's indoor and outdoor track, tennis and cross country and women's golf, tennis and field hockey will be phased out following the 2013-14 academic year. The move will impact 80 student-athletes.

"Today is a sad day, a very unhappy day," athletic director Craig Coleman said.

Robert Morris will honor the scholarships of those athletes and assist those who seek to transfer. Under NCAA rules, students whose sports were eliminated can play at another Division I school without having to sit out a year.

Coleman called the decision difficult but necessary. Coleman added the restructuring will eventually save about $1-1.2 million annually, money he plans to spread among the remaining programs to help additional scholarships, facility upgrades and deal with increased travel and recruiting budgets.

The Colonials play in the 10-team Northeastern Conference, which includes a cluster of schools in the New York/New Jersey area. Robert Morris, located about 15 miles west of Pittsburgh, has the most arduous travel schedule of any school in the league. Coleman stressed the decision to shutter the programs had nothing to do with a desire to become more attractive to another conference.

"It was not a motivating factor for this," Coleman said. "It's a sign we want to be more competitive across the board in all sports. We want our high-profile sports that have achieved a lot of success to go to another level."

Robert Morris has become a men's basketball power in the NEC and upset Kentucky in the opening round of the NIT last spring, with students rushing the floor in the giddy aftermath as the mighty Wildcats walked stunned to their locker room.

The men's hockey program, founded in 2004 is also finding success. To have the athletic department improve with a campus that is growing exponentially, Coleman felt it was time to reallocate resources. The decision is part of a campus-wide strategic plan set to launch next fall.

By decreasing the number of student athletes from 560 to 480, Coleman said the school will be able to invest in programs more effectively.

"The university spends a low amount per student athlete, not because funding wasn't there, but because of sheer volume of student athletes that we have," he said.

Coleman pointed out the move is not unprecedented. Rutgers and Maryland, among others, have trimmed the number of sports they offer to deal with a changing athletic and economic climate.

"This is happening at many schools of various size," Coleman said. "Maryland went through a similar point not too many years ago. I think one of the issues that we all have regardless of what level of athletics we're at, is escalating costs."