The student-athletes left in the lurch by the University at Buffalo’s decision to drop four sports will have to scramble to find spots on teams at other colleges and universities in the next several months.
The timing is bad for the members of the baseball, men’s soccer, men’s swimming and diving and women’s rowing teams.
“I’d say 90 percent of scholarships have been handed out,” said UB baseball coach Ron Torgalski Monday afternoon. “The kids we signed in November were kids that had been committed for a year already. It’s a tough time right now because I’ve got 22 kids who need to go someplace and eight recruits who need to go someplace. Guys who thought they were set and excited to be a part of what we had going, their world has been turned upside down. Everybody’s scrambling.”
The UB baseball team has played 24 games and has 30 to go. Torgalski said he told his players his main mission the rest of the spring is to find landing spots for them.
“That’s the one thing I told my kids at the team meeting this afternoon,” he said. “My priority is getting you placed somewhere where you’re going to be comfortable, enjoy it and have success. I said for the next two months that’s all we’re going to focus on. We’ve got a season to play, and we’re focused on winning games. But our main focus is making sure these kids have a place to go, continue to their education and play baseball.”
Even the best players on UB’s eliminated teams are concerned about their future.
Sophomore Mason Miller was named the Mid-American Conference’s outstanding swimmer of the year after winning three gold medals at the MAC championship meet.
“Since it’s late in the year, a lot of teams have a limited budget and roster,” Miller said. “So that makes it hard for people looking to transfer. . . . It stinks for the teams being strung out with little or no time to try to find schools and teams that will take them. . . . I personally don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I’m weighing my options.”
UB said it will honor the scholarships of the impacted students if they want to continue their education at UB and not continue their athletics career. The vast majority of the students were high school stars. The likelihood is most will want to try to continue competing.
“It’s not going to be easy this late because the scholarship dollars are gone,” Torgalski said. “But there’s some programs out there that are still looking. We gotta work hard to try to take care of these guys, because we made a commitment to them when they came to this university.”
UB soccer star Russell Cicerone, now playing in the MLS Portland Timbers’ organization, empathized with the current athletes and soccer coach Davie Carmichael, hired in January to replace Stu Riddle.
“If they had any idea this was going to happen (which I believe they did), they should have been up front to allow everyone hurt by this decision time to move forward,” Cicerone wrote in a letter posted on Twitter. “Allowing coach Carmichael to recruit 11 young men is embarrassing. These 11 high school seniors with the same dreams, aspiration I had as an 18-year-old really crushes my heart.”
UB Athletics Director Allen Greene said there was no preconceived plan for cutting teams when the university began its review of athletics spending.
“There is no good time,” Greene said. “Certainly when we came to the realization we would have to discontinue some sports, we looked at a wide variety of cases. Given our situation and the timing of which we made the determination to discontinue sports, we wanted to notify the student athletes as soon as possible. This was the best available time to do it.”
All of the coaches and students were informed at an 8 a.m. meeting with Greene and UB President Satish K. Tripathi.
Torgalski said he had no inkling the cut to his program was coming.
“Not one bit,” he said. “Nobody was led to know anything. We were coming back from our first conference weekend where we took a game from Kent State, the MAC favorite. Just excited to get the conference rolling. We were called in at 8 o’clock this morning and blindsided with this.”
The baseball team was on the chopping block because of UB’s need to meet Title IX requirements (balancing men’s and women’s scholarships) and because baseball faces more climate challenges than other sports.
Torgalski, the baseball coach the past 11 years, doesn’t buy the notion that climate prevents Northeast teams from producing quality programs.
“There’s 100 schools in the Northeast playing baseball,” he said. “We all deal with it. We make it work. We get our games in. We develop players, just like teams down South. We’ve had guys drafted five years in a row, and we’ve got three or four potential draft guys this year.”
“Everybody deals with the climate, but if you’re doing the right things with your guys and they’re committed to wanting to be good players then they’re going to have that opportunity to develop and play at the next level,” he said. “That’s what they all want.”