Proposed merger puzzles Rowan, Rutgers-Camden

Posted: January 26, 2012

About an hour before Wednesday night's game, Rowan men's basketball coach Joe Cassidy sat with his former assistant, Rutgers-Camden coach Jason Curbison.

"We kind of looked at each other and said, 'Now what?' " Cassidy recalled.

That's the big question, from an athletic standpoint, about the proposed merger of Rowan and Rutgers-Camden that was announced Wednesday afternoon by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Will Rowan and Rutgers-Camden remain as separate athletic programs, both of which compete in the New Jersey Athletic Conference at the Division III (non-scholarship) level?

Will they merge athletic programs and remain in the NJAC as a Division III program under the Rowan banner?

Could the merged school ultimately expand its athletic program to the Division I level, offering scholarships and building greatly expanded facilities on those 600 acres of land Rowan owns off Route 55 in Harrison Township?

"Could it happen someday down the road? Absolutely," Rowan spokesman Joe Cardona said of an upgrade of the athletic program to the Division I level. "But that's something that couldn't be farther from our minds right now. There are so many other things that need to be worked out and, of course, academics are first.

"But we're very cognizant of the fact that athletics is a community builder and could be a way to unify the new university."

Rowan associate athletic director Dan Gilmore, the coach of the men's soccer team, declined to speculate on the future of athletics at the two schools.

"We're just beginning this process," Gilmore said.

Rutgers-Camden athletic director Jeff Dean conceded that the "unknown" is unsettling to people in his department.

"We really don't know anything," Dean said. "But there's a sense that there could be change. People just aren't sure what's going to happen."

Dean said his coaches have asked what they should tell recruits who wonder about the future of the program.

"I said to tell them what we know, which really isn't much," Dean said. "There are so many unknowns. But certainly we value Rutgers-Camden athletics and Rutgers-Camden student-athletes, and we intend to maintain that."

Cassidy said he spoke with Curbison and other Rutgers-Camden athletic officials before Wednesday night's game between the conference rivals on the Camden campus.

"Nobody seems to be sure how this is going to play out," Cassidy said.

Rowan sponsors teams in 15 sports. The men's sports are football, basketball, baseball, cross-country, soccer, swimming/diving, and outdoor track. The women's sports are basketball, softball, cross-country, field hockey, lacrosse, swimming/diving, outdoor track, and volleyball.

Rutgers-Camden sponsors 19 sports. The men's sports are basketball, baseball, crew, cross-country, golf, indoor track, outdoor track, soccer, and tennis. The women's sports are basketball, softball, crew, cross-country, indoor track, outdoor track, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, and volleyball.

If Rowan merges with Rutgers-Camden with the goal of becoming a major research university with a medical school, law school, and school of engineering, a move to Division I athletics would help raise the national profile of the institution.

But an upgrade to Division I would be costly and time-consuming for Rowan, a process that could take as long as seven years - many of which would be spent in a kind of "no-man's land" between divisions that could greatly complicate scheduling - and involve a massive improvement of facilities.

In the mid-2000s, Rowan considered building a West Campus on 600 acres at the intersection of Routes 322 and 55 in Harrison Township that would have included expanded athletic facilities, including a proposed stadium with around 20,000 seats that could have been used to lure a Major League Soccer team to the Philadelphia area.

Rowan likely would need to build a football stadium with between 15,000 and 20,000 seats to support a Division I Bowl Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) program, build an arena that seats 3,000 to 5,000 for basketball, and build numerous other facilities to support Division I programs in other sports.

The cost, which could run as high as $300 million, could be prohibitive.

"It's way too early to even speculate," Cardona said.


Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports

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