Drexel leaves players adrift Dropping baseball and volleyball may make those players scramble to transfer.

Posted: May 23, 2003

The realities of NCAA Division I sports visited Drexel last week, leaving two groups of Dragons athletes feeling disenfranchised and twisting in the wind.

That was the result of the announcement that the university is dropping baseball and women's volleyball from its sports program - immediately.

Baseball coach Don Maines and volleyball coach Melanie Dahl have been dismissed. Maines put in 14 seasons at Drexel while Dahl, a former volleyball player for the Dragons, spent six seasons with her team.

"We had no idea it was coming," said B.J. McFarland, a junior outfielder from Radnor High who batted .350 for the baseball team this year. "It's a big disappointment. Other schools have made it work. I don't see why Drexel can't."

"I don't think people really know how much this affects us," said a sophomore Drexel volleyball player who asked to remain anonymous. "We are a family, and everybody is talking about transferring. I may not see some of these people again."

Drexel, which in 2002 was named the No. 1 school in gender equality among Division I programs by U.S. News and World Report, will retain eight men's sports and eight women's sports.

In a statement, Drexel athletic director Eric Zillmer said the move to cut baseball and volleyball was made so the Dragons could be more competitive in the Colonial Athletic Association, which the university joined in 2001-2002.

"When you take the passion out of the equation, it becomes a business decision," Zillmer said Tuesday. "Drexel is growing, and in the world of Division I athletics, it's a very expensive operation. There is an increasing cost in doing business in Division I athletics.

"I understand sports and what they mean, and that's what made it a hard decision. But you have to figure out what you can do in this environment, and on paper, it was really simple to figure out without any emotion involved."

Though Drexel has promised to honor all scholarship agreements it has with the baseball and volleyball players who don't have a team to play on, the athletes are still in a difficult position.

Under NCAA rules, college athletes who transfer after a school has dropped the sport in which they participate are eligible to play right away for another program.

But at Drexel, the baseball and volleyball players who are thinking about transferring are expecting to lose valuable scholastic credit hours. And for others, it simply may be too late. The baseball team has 16 players who will be seniors next year.

Zillmer met with both teams to break the bad news.

"I think I'll have to start over again almost as a freshman," the volleyball player said about transferring. "We got a vague explanation. None of our questions were answered. They told us it was for financial reasons, and left it at that. We asked if other options had been explored, and we were curious as to why this happened so late. Not to know it was my last time putting on a Drexel uniform . . ."

"This is the worst time of the year," said another volleyball player, who also wanted to remain unidentified. "Our sport takes place in the fall, and colleges have usually given out their scholarships even before now. [Drexel] told us at the wrong time."

Zillmer said losing records by both programs this season were not a consideration when he looked at cutting expenses in the athletic department.

The Drexel baseball team went 12-34 overall and finished last in the Colonial Athletic Association with a 3-17 record. The Dragons' volleyball team, 11-20 overall last fall, was 3-13 in the CAA.

"The long-term vision is that this is necessary to keep us competitive," Zillmer said. "We have cut 42 student-athletes from our program. We still have 408. We had discussions at the highest level of the university. What would it have been like to compete for a year knowing your program will be cut? We want to help the kids and coaches move through this as quickly as we can."

Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum at 215-854-2583 or ktatum@phillynews.com.

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