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|For Duquesne athletes, meeting A.D. ended careers, dreams|
By Jason Bryant USA Wrestling
Four times last week, Duquesne A.D. Greg Amodio introduced himself, perhaps for the first time, to athletes at the Pittsburgh campus.
Each time, he opened with, "For those of you who don't know me, I'm Greg Amodio, the A.D. here at Duquesne."
It took about three seconds, but in those three seconds, 70-something athletes knew their careers were over before Amodio read a stock release distributed to the athletes of the men's swimming, golf, baseball and wrestling teams.
It's been over a week since Duquesne announced an "athletic restructuring" plan that eliminated four men's sports. The sting still swells from the skin of Dukes athletes.
Jayk Cobbs, a senior 141-pounder from Chesapeake, Va., was blindsided by the news and understandably annoyed.
"We knew nothing about it," said Cobbs, who wrestled at former Virginia powerhouse Great Bridge High School. "Our coaches told us to bring our running shoes to practice. Then we see the A.D., who I'd never seen before."
Gene Collier's story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this past Sunday echoed that sentiment from junior baseball player Joe Lombardo.
"I didn't hear about it until about three lines into Amodio's speech," Lombardo told the Post-Gazette. "I wouldn't have recognized Amodio. Everyone in there had a bad feeling about it. About two seconds later, it was over."
"That's the first time I'd ever seen the man in four years of being here," said Cobbs.
Cobbs, like many of the athletes from the lame-duck sports at Duquesne, is bitter. He's bitter about the lack of support, the hurdles put in front of the wrestling team and the lack of dialogue between the administration and his fellow athletes.
"The school knew for quite some time," said Cobbs. "I had a Student Athlete Council meeting on Monday and we met with compliance and he admitted to knowing for at least a year they were going to do cuts."
"It's still a hot topic here," said Cobbs. "Kids are protesting for all four sports. We've gotten a lot of support from the community and everyone in the school who's not in the athletic department."
Columnists and bloggers from the Pittsburgh print media also chimed in, focusing not just on the cuts, but the silent treatment given by the school and most notably, the A.D.
Bob Smizik of the Post-Gazette titled his blog on the hush-hush nature of the cuts, "Shame, shame on Duquesne!"
Requests for interviews from USA Wrestling for this story were subsequently denied following the announcement and Amodio has not returned e-mails or phone calls from USA Wrestling in the 10 days following the announcement.
Amodio's first published comments came when he was traveling with the Duquesne basketball team in Ohio to the Post-Gazette. Roughly 48 hours after the announcement was made.
Amodio told the Post-Gazette it wasn't a cost-cutting measure, and pointed out an increase in women's scholarships and football scholarships along with a full-time strength coach.
Within Collier's story, Amodio admitted Title IX was indeed a factor.
"The new structure will be in long-term compliance with Title IX, for which we engaged an outside consultant, a nationally respected expert on Title IX issues, and all of our initiatives have been approved," said Amodio in the Post-Gazette.
Those comments regarding Title IX consultants have also fuel discussion about this "being in the works" long before any of the teams or coaches knew about it.
Cobbs felt for his comrades on the swim team. Swimming, like wrestling, is a tight-knit community and men's programs have been feeling the cut just like wrestling teams have with Title IX compliance masked by budgetary reasons.
"It's a slap in the face, the swim teams are pretty decent," said Cobbs. "They are basically killing half of that team. They were one team."
Much of the angst amongst the athletes is centering around the 3-8 football team, which started scholarship football in 2008 (they were non-scholarship prior) and will be increasing scholarships to be in line with membership in the Northeast Conference, where Duquesne's football team is an associate member.
One of the reasons stated in the release for the cuts was Atlantic 10 membership. Duquesne is the only Atlantic 10 school with wrestling. But even prior to the Atlantic 10 football conference shifting underneath the Colonial Athletic Association banner last season, Duquesne competed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in football.
"It doesn't matter the way we look at it. Regardless of Title IX, he still cut four sports and (Amodio) is not going to meet with us to talk about it," said Cobbs.
"It makes us feel that our four sports are less important than the other 16," said Cobbs. "He doesn't have the (guts) to talk to us about it and that's how he's leaving it."
The departmental release said roughly $1 million would be redistributed to the remaining sports for "Long-term competitive excellence." What that's translated to is more money for "money sports" like men's basketball and football. Art Rooney Field, the on-campus facility where Duquesne plays football, seats approximately 2,200 (according to the Duquesne media guide). Montana led all FCS (formerly I-AA) football programs in attendance with an average of 24,417 per game.
Duquesne's football team averaged 1,274, ranking them 118th out of 141 schools in the FCS, including all seven provisional members moving up from Division II.
"We're out there running stadiums with like 2.2 scholarships," said Cobbs, directing his frustration towards the increasing numbers of scholarships football will be receiving as a direct result of the cuts.
Assistant coach Brad Shrum, who wrestled for Duquesne prior to joining head coach John Hartupee's staff, said it was a rough week for the team heading into duals with Princeton and Rider in New Jersey.
"We were trying to maintain our focus and let the guys know we still have a job to do, we still have time on the clock," said Shrum. "Last week, it was difficult. This week, things are turning around. The intensity in the room has picked back up and it's now at a level we haven't been to this year. Right now, we're trying to do everything we can to pick the morale back up."
Cobbs is graduating in the spring and now will have the choice to make. Use his final year of eligibility at another school, perhaps Division I, or call it a career. Teammate Nathan Reinhart doesn't have the same option. He's too far into his degree program to transfer without losing credits.
"He's not going to be able to leave," said Cobbs of Reinhart. "He's highly upset."
Questions from athletes also circulate about why the basketball team stays in hotels the night prior to home games and is treated to buffet style dinners.
"And why did we fly our football team to Louisiana for a football game when there is plenty of competition within driving distance?" asked Cobbs.
The cost of sending 80-plus players and coaches to play Nicholls State (who finished 3-8 last year) is more than the entire wrestling budget, sans salaries. That budget is reportedly $36,000.
Facilities were also listed as a reason, but just days before the announcement was made, the Duquesne student paper released a story detailing the demolition of the building which housed the wrestling room - something that came as news to the wrestling program.
Shrum pointed out the new recreation center on campus, which, according to him, originally had plans for a new wrestling room. When the facility was completed, there was no wrestling room.
In the meantime, the staff and wrestlers and supporters of the program have quickly tried to rally the alumni base and start raising funds, which hasn't been an easy task.
Former wrestler and volunteer assistant Mark Himes was starting the arduous task of building an alumni database, which is hampered by the gap between times the program was active. Initially cut in the 1970s, the program was revived in 1991.
"Contacting alumni has been extremely difficult," said Himes. "The only thing we had to go on were some old addresses, even mine was out of date. Getting people from recent times hasn't been tough, but the early 90s has been difficult."
But the number of dollars Himes and Duquesne wrestling supporters need to raise is still in question, because of lack of communication with the athletic department.
"I talked with (NWCA Executive Director) Mike Moyer a couple of days ago, and at this point, no one has been able to talk to the administration if we raise money, will they accept it?" said Himes.
"The next step on the agenda is attending the next Board of Directors meeting and that isn't posted on the web site, since it's a private university," said Himes.
A $2.5 million figure has been thrown around by both wrestling and swimming, but nothing concrete to base a plan on from the administration.
"First off, we're tying to find out if we do raise the money, is it going to be worth it? The next is do we have to raise $2.5 million now or just enough to where that's a long term goal to sustain the program indefinitely," said Himes.
Moyer drafted a Call to Action to the wrestling community last week and is bothered by the fact few steps were taken to look for other options.
"The most unconscionable part of this whole situtaion is the administration did absolutely nothing to head this off," said Moyer. "Eliminating programs should be the last resort, not the first resort. Five years from now, when money's tight, are you going to drop more? Five more years, cut some more?"
Moyer points to other programs which dropped the sport, then engaged their alumni to bring the programs back.
"We lost Arizona State, and within weeks, it was reinstated," said Moyer. "How can you not justify reaching out to the alumni first? We saw it at Bucknell. The easy thing to do is cut sports. The right thing to do is reach out to the alumni and community first to try to save them."
If you're a Duquesne alum or are interested in helping financially contribute to helping save the wrestling program
Contact Mark Himes
Volunteer Assistant Wrestling Coach
NWCA Call to Action: Save Duquesne Wrestling
Duquesne flunked handling of athletic cuts (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Shame, shame on Duquesne! (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)