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February 6, 2008

Hartwick needs to come clean on D-I drop


On Page 1 of a media release sent by Hartwick College to this newspaper Monday, the second paragraph started: "Over the past five years the college's endowment has grown from $50 million to $75 million and enrollment has increased from 1,397 to 1,537."

In a separate release, the college had a question-and-answer session with itself over the possibility of dropping the men's soccer program from Division I to Division III.

The release said Hartwick would save about $550,000 annually if it stopped awarding scholarships for men's soccer and women's water polo.

Let's take a closer look at the most important numbers listed above.

$75,000,000.

$550,000.

To put those numbers into terms we can understand, say you hit a jackpot on a Vegas slot machine and win $75,000. Would you be all that upset if you lost a roulette bet for $550 on the way out?

So, if money isn't the reason Hartwick wants to downgrade the sport that gave the school its most memorable moment _ a 1977 Division I national championship _ what is?

Jim Lennox, who coached the Hawks _ then known as the Warriors _ to that national championship and four other trips to the national semifinals, said competition seems to be the obvious reason.

"The way I was treated by Hartwick College leaves me empty in a way," he said Tuesday night. "I'm at a loss for words. They fired me (in 2003) because they wanted 1977 again (Hartwick President Richard P. Miller said via e-mail Wednesday the school had no comment on Lennox's departure and that the soccer team's on-field performance had nothing to do with the decision).

"The demographics of Division I soccer have changed," Lennox continued. "It's now geared toward the major conferences. There's no way we are going to do what we did in the 1970s and 1980s. That will never be recaptured. Division I men's soccer has advanced and because of that progress and growth of the game, the major conferences have taken to soccer and the schools in the mid- to lower-conferences have been left behind."

Lennox, the head of Hartwick's program for 27 seasons, said there's really no reason for the college to have a Division I program.

"The basic assumption would be, if you can't advance in the national tournament, why keep the program?" he said. "The smaller conferences are being bypassed by the soccer world."

To further Lennox's point, since 1990 NCAA Division I men's soccer championships have been won by the Big Ten (five times), the Atlantic Coast Conference (seven times), the Pac-10 (three times) and the Big East (once).

The lone school not affiliated with a big conference that won a national championship was Big West Conference member UC-Santa Barbara, which beat UCLA, 2-1, in 2006.

Another problem Lennox pointed out was the lack of support the program has generated lately.

The only Hartwick game Lennox said he's attended since his dismissal came last year, when his most recognizable former player _ the late Glenn "Mooch" Myernick _ was being honored.

"No one was at the game," he said. "I don't know that (Division I soccer) will be missed."

Still, it's tradition. This is Soccer Town USA, the home of the National Soccer Hall of Fame and at one point, home to two Division I soccer programs. Oneonta State dropped its D-I program two years ago.

Now, it appears Hartwick will follow suit.

And why?

According to the release, the college wants us to believe that a liberal arts school can only succeed with non-scholarship athletes. Someone will have to explain to me what one has to do with the other.

Miller also wrote in his e-mail Wednesday that equity among Hartwick athletes played a role in the college's decision.

"We also believe that students in various sports should have equivalent experiences in the nature of their travel, coaching, uniforms and other amenities," Miller wrote. "This is not the case today."

Hartwick cited travel as the biggest difference between the Division I teams compared to the Division III programs.

The timing of the release also seems curious.

The school dropped this bombshell while students were away on a winter break and the water polo team was competing in California. The vote by the board of trustees will come Saturday, and that seems a mere formality.

"The College's decision to deal with our D-I programs is timed with the Board of Trustees meeting taking place later this week," Miller wrote. "Coincidentally students are on their winter break and the water polo team is in California. There was no notice to the College constituencies until Monday of this week."

That's great.

How would you like to be a Hartwick soccer player home on break and find out through a friend that you'll need to starting searching for another college?

If a college is going to do this, at least have the guts to tell the athletes to their faces. At least have the common courtesy to explain to those who committed themselves to represent your college for four years why you're doing this.

And be honest.

Don't say that it doesn't jibe with the school's liberal arts mission. Don't say the $550,000 could be better spent elsewhere. Don't talk about equity throughout the sports programs.

Tell them what Lennox said. Say the school has neither the visibility nor the resources to compete at the highest level and there's not enough interest in your programs.

Rob Centorani is a sports writer for The Daily Star. E-mail him at rcentorani@thedailystar.com.