Syracuse University Adds Women’s Hockey

Syracuse officially announced Friday it will cut the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams after the 2007-08 season and add a women’s hockey program beginning in the 2008-09 season.

Syracuse Director of Athletics Daryl Gross addressed the media on a teleconference call Friday afternoon and said the decisions were made based on research within the athletic department that concluded Syracuse needed to buy a new facility for the swimming teams — a financial project the university could not handle.

“If we are going to have a swimming program here, then it’s very important that we have the resources to do it the right way,” Gross said. “Part of those resources would be getting a new natatorium, a new pool facility, diving and all those type of things. The cost for those is enormous, and they’re costs that we can’t put into it right now.”

Gross estimated the cost of new facilities for the swim team to be at least $35 million. While the athletic department currently plans to build a new basketball practice facility and renovate Manley Field House afterward, Gross said those expenses benefit all 18 teams at Syracuse, not just two.

That doesn’t mean the elimination of swimming — the first teams to be cut at Syracuse since 1997 — was an easy decision, Gross said. The athletic department has been evaluating the viability of the swimming program “for a couple years now.”

“Anytime a sport becomes extinct it’s always something that none of us want,” Gross said. “But at the same time I do want to bring up the fact that the women’s ice hockey team will be given the resources to — in the culture — to foster one of the great programs in the country.”

The research conducted by the university showed a groundswell of athletes in the Syracuse area that could be recruited to play Division I hockey.

“There’s a big void at Syracuse by us not having an ice hockey team,” Gross said. “You look at us, we’re more of a winter Olympic sport town. It only makes sense that we would have ice hockey at Syracuse, given the resources in terms of facilities, given the resources in terms of our own community kids who are in the area and are recruitable.”

Gross said the search for a women’s hockey coach will begin immediately.

A determination has not yet been made where the team will play. The two rinks in the Syracuse area are Tennity Ice Pavilion on South Campus and War Memorial Arena in the city, where the Syracuse Crunch minor league hockey team plays.

Syracuse has already begun conversations with hockey conferences. Calls to three Northeast women’s college hockey conferences — the Eastern College Athletic Conference, Hockey East, College Hockey America, conferences Syracuse might join — were not returned.

Gross estimated the women’s hockey team would carry 32 players with 18 scholarships to be dispersed. Last season, the SU swimming program comprised 31 members — 18 on the men’s team and 13 on the women’s. The women’s team did not use its full allotment of 14 scholarships.

The 2007-08 season will be the 89th and final season for men’s swimming, which started competition in 1915. The women’s program has competed at the NCAA level since the 1976-77 season.

“We’re going to do anything we can to save it, but I don’t know how much can be done,” Ryan Corcoran, a rising sophomore on the men’s team, said early Friday.

Lou Walker has been the coach of the women’s program since its inception 31 years ago and the men’s since 1979.

“This is certainly disappointing and sad news,” Walker said in a statement released by the Syracuse athletic department. “This is disappointing for our current student-athletes who after the 2007-08 season will lose their opportunity to represent their University. This is a disappointing day for our alums who take great pride in the years they competed for the Orange and the continued relationship that they have through following the current team. This is a sad day for the Walker family, who has dedicated their lives to Syracuse University and the swimming and diving program.”

Corcoran said he talked to an apologetic Walker for the first time Friday morning.

“He just said that he was sorry he hadn’t called us sooner but he didn’t have any control over it,” Corcoran said. “He was talking about how this decision affects everyone, especially him. I mean, it’s his job, too.”

Rising junior swimmer Peter Gollands sat in on the media teleconference call and interjected to ask Gross a question approximately 17 minutes into the call.

“If funding did not become an issue, would you reinstate the swimming and diving team?” Gollands asked.

“If funding wasn’t an issue … let me answer that quickly,” Gross responded. “If that meant that somebody could put together a $40 million facility that was comparable to the other programs in the country and we had a line item that covered the expenses of swimming, then yeah, you could add men’s and women’s swimming.”

Moderators cut off Gollands before he could ask a follow-up question.

Gross said he’s received e-mails and phone calls since the Syracuse Post-Standard first reported of the changes in sports in Thursday’s editions, quoting anonymous sources. The Daily Orange later confirmed the story on Thursday.

“It’s the ones that we’ve all anticipated,” Gross said. “It’s understandable. You have to look at the organization and you have to make these tough decisions sometimes. These things are part of life situations that occur. It’s unfortunate.”

Gross said the efficiency of this decision will further alleviate expenses. Although not a goal of these program changes, Syracuse will also take a step in complying with Title IX, which delegalizes discrimination on the basis of sex at universities, and has most been associated with collegiate athletics.

“Now you’re talking about the female participation numbers just increasing significantly,” Gross said. “The whole decision — this isn’t about Title IX or gender equity — but every move you make in relationship to programmatic changes is always going to affect Title IX and gender equity. The byproduct of this is that we have now enhanced our gender equity and our diversity and commitment to woman participation.”

Gross is looking to the future and first on his list: A new women’s ice hockey coach. But the sting of eliminating two teams at Syracuse is sure to leave a bad taste in some mouths, something Gross knows he will have to address.

“This was a difficult decision,” Gross said, “but it’s one that we feel is really efficient and the right thing to do at this time.”