LOCK HAVEN - Three days ago, the Lock Haven University baseball team was celebrating a chance to return back to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference playoffs for the first time in seven years.
Friday, a shocking development took away that happiness in an instant.
University President Keith T. Miller announced the institution will discontinue its men's baseball program, effective at the end of the 2009 season.
According to a press release issued by the university, the primary reason for the decision is financial, and by eliminating the program, the long-term annual savings will be approximately $110,000 per year.
LHU officials said about $15,000 is transportation costs, while the other savings will be salaries.
The release and a "Question and Answer" segment was e-mailed to media and posted on the university's Web site at www.lhup.edu on Friday afternoon.
"The current economic climate is such that every area of the university must consider and implement cost-savings measures," Miller said. "The university is not able to sustain its athletics program as it presently exists without doing significant harm to intercollegiate athletics as a whole and to our core academic mission."
The timing of the announcement is questionable to students and has left a lot of harsh emotions and feelings on campus.
The decision comes with two weeks left in the regular season; one where the Bald Eagles are sitting fourth in the PSAC West and are looking for the school's first playoff berth since 2002. The regular season ends next Saturday.
Team members tell The Express they were taken off the bus at the Thomas Fieldhouse around 7:30 a.m. Friday before making a trip to California, Pa., went into the classroom and were informed of the decision.
"There was no indication that it was going to happen. No one knew about it at all. It was totally unexpected," junior pitcher Josh Rote said. "You know, there were rumors floating around, but baseball was never mentioned. It's a horrible feeling for everyone associated with the program."
Lock Haven (15-27 overall, 8-8 PSAC West) played a doubleheader yesterday, and will return home today for another twinbill against the Vulcans. The game at Foundation Field is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.
"News like that puts you down after such a high. I mean, we are in a playoff race here," said sophomore pitcher Andrew Simonik, who was the winning pitcher in Game 1 on Friday. "The future for Lock Haven baseball was so bright. Everyone talked about how special it could have been for us. No one wants to leave. We want to be Bald Eagles."
LHU Athletic Director Sharon Taylor didn't return a phone call from The Express for comment.
The release states the LHU administration sought input from coaches, athletic administrators and other internal and external stakeholders. It does indicate that in the short term, there are no plans for further changes in varsity sports.
Manager Smokey Stover said he was informed by Taylor Thursday night following his practice that an announcement was going to be made Friday.
"I was shocked," he said. "It just doesn't make sense. Baseball is probably the most widely-played sport in this country. When she told me, I said that it didn't make sense. This is disgusting. What I have today is a lot of broken-hearted kids. There was a lot of tears on that bus going to California."
As for for the chances of baseball being reinstated, the administration said it is "possible," although a price tag of approximately $2 million has been assigned to endowing the program.
"Across-the-board cuts in athletics programs have been implemented consistently in recent years," the release said. "We have reached the limit of that strategy. Further general cuts would undermine all sports."
NCAA regulations state that current players can transfer to another school and be immediately eligible for the following season, providing they meet all eligibility requirements. If a student-athlete has an existing scholarship and chooses to remain at Lock Haven, the administration said it will be honored for the period the athlete would have been eligible for competition. Again, the student would have to meet NCAA and academic requirements.
There are 28 players on Stover's Bald Eagle roster. The university said that 11 were scheduled for partial scholarships in 2009-2010. Out of those 28, 25 will still have eligibility.
"You hear all these guys talking about our future, and now, they don't know what the future holds," Rote said. "Everyone was in total shock. I think everyone still is. We are trying to focus on the playoffs, and all of a sudden, this happens. It does make you angry."
The news came as a surprise to PSAC Commissioner Steve Murray.
"It's depressing for all of us," he said. "You are talking about good kids, and I've known Smokey since I moved back here. He was a conference guy who would pitch in and do whatever it took to make sure the conference was better. It's a tough thing for everyone involved. It's a sad day. I don't know if it's the end of the cuts in the league or throughout the country. It's an economic situation. It's what happening even at the institutional level."
Lock Haven's departure from the sport leaves the PSAC with an unbalanced number of 13. Edinboro University dropped its baseball program in 2002.
It's not the first hint of bad news around the league.
On March 31, Kutztown University President Dr. F. Javier Cevallos announced KU would discontinue its varsity men's soccer and men's swimming programs. That decision, according to KU's release, means a savings of about $150,000.
Clarion University, two years ago, eliminated its men's track and cross country programs.
The most widely-publicized athletic cut in the PSAC was when Mansfield decided to eliminate its football program. It was recently reinstated as "Sprint Football," which puts a weight limit on players.