Unlike its peers across the country, Robert Morris University didn’t focus on financial difficulties when announcing it was cutting athletic programs.
Robert Morris’ Wednesday press release said the Pittsburgh, Penn., university ”will no longer field NCAA Division I men's and women's ice hockey teams as part of a series of strategic initiatives intended to position the university to be amongst the most agile and professionally focused schools in the nation as it prepares for its upcoming 100th anniversary.”
“I was in shock. I don’t know any other way to put it,” Derek Schooley, the only head coach since the Robert Morris men’s hockey program started in 2004-05, told TribLive. “These last four hours have been a blur.
“I had no inclination that it was coming. I’m saddened for our players, staff, incoming players and alumni who have put so much into our program.”
The Robert Morris senior leadership team introduced a group of strategic initiatives, called ”RMU: Beyond 100,” last week. Among them were eliminating men’s and women’s hockey to drop down to 15 Division I sports.
The press release noted that discontinuing hockey will put Robert Morris “in closer alignment with similarly sized institutions. The men’s and women’s hockey teams were formed in 2004-05 and 2005-06, respectively. The men went 15-9, including 10-5-1 in Atlantic Hockey, in 2020-21, while the women went 16-8-1 overall, including 11-7-1 in College Hockey America. The university has committed to honoring the current scholarships among the 55 student-athletes impacted by the decision.
"We are saddened for the student-athletes who will be unable to continue in their sport at Robert Morris University and are committed to assisting them during this difficult time," RMU president Chris Howard said. "However, this is the best course of action to leverage our strategic assets and position us for future growth.
"All these strategic initiatives, and everything we have accomplished over the past year, put us in a position of strength as we enter our second hundred years.”
In the “Frequently Asked Questions” portion of the release, Robert Morris said there are no plans to discontinue any other programs, but the decision to remove sports came from the university continually evaluating “its curricular and extracurricular offerings, including benchmarking itself against institutions of similar size, to ensure it is providing the best, most affordable experience for its students. RMU is focusing its resources and efforts on strategic initiatives best suited to position the university for future growth.
“The decision to discontinue the men’s and women’s ice hockey programs was made based on an analysis which included scholarships and operating costs, and the necessary investments to maintain and improve the current facility. The university also wanted to align our athletic offerings more closely with other similar nationally-ranked universities of our size.”
The FAQ section also downplayed the impact of finances on the decision. When answering other cost-saving measures the university is implementing, the press release said, “The decision to discontinue D1 hockey is part of a broader strategic initiative intended to position RMU for future growth and success. It includes ending the university’s sponsorship of the Pittsburgh Speakers Series in favor of hosting more on-campus events for students, faculty, and staff. Over the past two years, the university has completed a thorough review of its academic degree programs, adding some and discontinuing others to reflect market demand, while also restructuring its administrative workforce.”
Further, when asked if the decision was in response to the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, the response was “The COVID-19 certainly had a negative impact on university finances, similar to what many other colleges and universities experienced, but it was not the primary factor influencing our decision. The decision to discontinue D1 hockey is part of a broader strategic initiative intended to position RMU for future growth and success and align our athletic offerings more closely with other similar nationally-ranked universities of our size.”