Ryan Wheeler is angry, and he’s not afraid to talk about it.
“What are they going to do, fire me?” Wheeler said.
Entering his third year as Temple’s baseball coach, Wheeler was called upon to attend a meeting Friday in the fourth floor sports offices at 1700 N. Broad St. Wheeler was present in the waiting room alongside track & field coach Eric Mobley and softball coach Joe DiPietro.
Mobley was summoned first. A few minutes later, after he emerged with visible distress from his individual meeting with Athletic Director Kevin Clark, the situation became relatively clear.
“You just had to sit and wait for your turn,” Wheeler said. “They ripped the band-aid off and they ambushed us with the news. It didn’t give us time to do anything about it.”
In the aftermath of the Board of Trustees unanimously approving Clark’s recommendation to cut seven intercollegiate sports – baseball, softball, men’s track & field, men’s gymnastics, women’s rowing and men’s crew – the administration’s handling of the announcement is being questioned by coaches and student-athletes.
After learning for certain that the baseball program was being cut during his meeting, Wheeler had to rush over to the Student Pavilion to be with his players when Clark delivered the news. Rowing coach Rebecca Grzybowski wasn’t given that opportunity.
“I wasn’t in there because I had a meeting 10 minutes prior that was late,” Grzybowski said. “I was in 1700 hearing the news and I didn’t even get the courtesy to be with my team when the announcement was handed down. I walked into the aftermath of it.”
One person who did make it to the Student Pavilion in time for the announcement was 34th-year crew coach Gavin White.
“Coach White? I think you mean Mr. White,” he said with a laugh during a recent interview.
White, who was inducted into the Temple Athletic Hall of Fame in 1985, learned of the cuts in the same manner as the other coaches – including 38th-year gymnastics coach Fred Turoff.
“One of my kids said to me, ‘How long have you known this?’” White said. “I told him, ‘20 minutes.’ He said, ‘Get out of here.’”
University officials say that the cuts were kept quiet in an effort to avoid rumors and misinformation. Some coaches and student-athletes are conflicted on the matter, as multiple individuals said there might not have been an ideal way to break the news.
White’s biggest complaint in regards to the handling of the announcement was that it came less than three days before the start of final exams. He called the timing “cruel.”
“I can’t sleep as it is,” White said. “They have to take finals. The timing couldn’t be worse in terms of academics. That part baffled me. My goodness.”
“I don’t care who you are, I don’t care how smart you are,” White added. “It’s got to be on their minds. And then they’ll hold us accountable when we have two or three guys ineligible because they didn’t do well on their finals. No kidding.”
University officials said the timing was coordinated to allow student-athletes to contemplate their future plans during the holiday break.
“The way they did it was very uncompassionate for all the hard work we’ve put in,” junior Julia Kastner, of the softball team, said. “I think the timing was just terrible. Friday was a study day, and they scheduled the meeting right in the middle of the day.”
“It’s really hard to concentrate when half of the team is trying to figure out where they’re transferring for fall of next year or maybe even spring,” Kastner added. “The other half of the team is thinking about how much they’re going to miss everybody. They’re not just breaking up the team, they’re breaking up the teammates – my best friends.”
Clark’s three-minute speech announcing the cuts to student-athletes is also being questioned.
“He read off a piece of paper,” Kastner said. “It felt like we were being fired from our jobs. It was quick and clean and then he just got out of there.”
“He pretty much just handed us over to [Athletics Advisor] Justin Miller and said, ‘See you later guys. I’m out of here,’” crew captain Fergal Barry said. “We’re not his problem anymore after July 1.”
Wheeler emphasized the “great distance” in space between Clark and the student-athletes when he took the podium. White attributed the brevity of the announcement to the fact that Clark was “probably scared to death” in cutting such historic programs.
“He could have been more personable about it – more compassionate,” Wheeler said.
“It was quick,” White said. “Chop, boom, you’re gone.”
Up until this point, a number of the sports programs that were cut appeared to have bright futures. Grzybowski’s rowing squad received new boats from the university ahead of the fall season. The baseball team recently secured a deal to play most of its 2014 games at Campbell’s Field in Camden, N.J.
Grzybowski is now attempting to keep her team focused in preparation for the spring season – using a battle cry of, “Last one, fast one” in a year that the coach says will be more about her student-athletes racing for each other than for the university that cut the sport from its athletics department. Wheeler, who had 11 recruits committed for next year before Friday’s announcement, said he is unsure if his team will even play its 2014 season.
“I’m angry at the athletic department for not giving me any sort of heads up that this was potentially coming,” Wheeler said. “I’m angry for the opportunity that is going to be taken away from these kids. I’m angry for them putting me out there in front of so many people and asking me to be the face of the program, and asking for me to try and do things.”
“Why couldn’t you tell me what’s going on or give me an idea of why this was going to happen so that I didn’t do some of these things?” Wheeler added. “So I’m not asking people to donate money or trying to play our games over in Camden.”
Wheeler said that he has worked very closely and personally in the past with Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director Mark Ingram, who also serves as the administrator for baseball. As of Sunday, Wheeler said Ingram has made no effort to reach out.
“I haven’t heard a word from him since this decision came down,” Wheeler said. “Not a text that just says, ‘Hey, I know this was tough. I just want you to know I’m thinking of you.’ Whatever it may be. I haven’t heard a word.”
“That bothers me,” Wheeler added. “I know they didn’t like delivering the news. Mark has known for a while, and he couldn’t share that this was coming. Now, to not even check in…that’s hitting home even more.”
Avery Maehrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AveryMaehrer.
This is a tough blow. Seven teams of talented student-athletes. I was a member on the University of Rhode Island field hockey team when four teams were eliminated (including ours) at our school as well. I was heartbroken as were all of the girls. We got the news in mid-April–and a few of the girls were lucky enough to find other places to play, others had to put their sticks down for good. I don’t think there’s a good time to cut a team–or a good way to tell a team they are the one to go. The truth is many of these athletes have worked hard at their sport almost their entire lives–they are told to dream as big as the skies will allow them, then attain their goal only to have gravity pull them back down again. Whether it’s before finals–right before a season–or at the end of a school year there’ll always be the biggest negative of all: the team is gone. I wish these student-athletes the best. It gets easier–I promise <3