Photo Credit: Justin Berl-RMU Athletics
What do we want this sport to be?
While we are not privy to the internal discussions the upper echelon of Robert Morris University management had about indiscriminately putting the future of everyone involved with two successful hockey programs up in a state of purgatory through immediate cessation of them, we hope to learn more in the coming days about those discussions. When multiple players speak of the university doing no more than a 10 minute Zoom chat with no opportunity for transparency or questions of any sort, with a bout an hour of notice of this wretched announcement to be made ahead of time, we are left wanting more answers.
One thing that many other national writers have touched on is the cruel way this horrid, wretched, no good to do at any time announcement was done.
First off, if the administration of Chris Howard believed that Hockey was not in the long term plans for Robert Morris, they owed everyone involved with both programs more notice than the mere minutes some players were given before this went public. A legacy program of Atlantic Hockey, and a CHA program fresh off pushing the number one team in the country to the brink in the NCAA Tournament were thrown aside for goals of the university, that no one seems to get.
It seems rather callous to anyone with this program to read a banner ad on the side of this reductive, overly simplified press release to have an banner ad on the side showing the philosophy of the school. ” Big enough to matter, small enough to care.” Tell that phrase to anyone associated with this program, and they will rightly be disgusted with you for bringing up a slogan that after this week, rings painfully hollow.
If hockey was not in the long term strategic interests of the school, that should have been announced far sooner, perhaps before the start of the season, or contingent upon private donations being secured to build an on campus arena, if the program was to fold due to a sport that has brought it international acclaim, it should have been announced as soon as possible to allow people to find employment and places to play for next year.
An already crowded transfer portal and late struggle to recruit players with 2000 birth years just got more crowded.
Functionally, for a school that, again, for some reason, touted its fundraising sucess in the same callous release where it ended so many hopes, dreams, jobs, and aspirations of all of those involved in it, the world of college hockey wonders.
Why not one more season?
What harm would there have been in allowing transfers, and playing the season out?
The broader scope of things
While the tragic choice to end Robert Morris Hockey was made by an administration without much reasoning beyond not wanting the sport on its campus, the release included this quote from President Howard that was, well interesting to us.
“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,” said RMU President Chris Howard. “However, this is the best course of action to leverage our strategic assets and position us for future growth.”
If this was the course of action, why it took until a leadership retreat last weekend is hard to justify.
In the grander scheme of this sport, while college hockey is expensive to run, the image and opportunity for brand building is unlike many other things at the Division One level. Instead of being a part of two growing sports in the men and women’s game ( 61 teams, and 41 teams respectively), the school has chosen to focus on football and basketball only with its new arena plans.
The rational person wonders?
Why cant this school where the money and desire to play the game is there not support it in its mission. Unlike Alabama Huntsville, no clear mandate for the program exists, no conference issues for either the men or women were ever present, and the money was there.
College Hockey gives the opportunity to a diverse (and hopefully soon to be growing again) group of schools around the country the opportunity to compete for a national championship, send players around the world, and on to the NHL. This sport has so much talent that has not been given the chance to play at its highest level that many aspire to, and for a sport that produces 33 percent of NHL rosters, it was thrown away at Robert Morris, not even worthy of its own press release, earlier announcement, opportunity for the players and program to say goodbye, or fundraise to save it (we hope the programs are given an opportunity by Howard to earn reinstatement).
To other interested schools
If you read this wondering about what schools like Tennessee State (conducting a feasibility study), Liberty, Lindenwood, Navy, and hopefully more, should do, we would encourage them to look at the amount of support not that the administration has, but at how the hockey community has rallied around Alabama Huntsville (reinstated last year after a massive fundraising campaign, and waiting for a new conference home), Alaska Anchorage (getting closer to playing as an independent once they hit the three million dollars raised), and now Robert Morris with over 15000 people interested in demanding answers from Howard on why the program was cut, and a chance to show long term strategic value to the school itself.