By Jada Butler, Josh Tolentino
Co-Editor-In-Chief, Staff Writer
“Beginning in the 2019-20 academic year, LIU will compete in all sports at the NCAA Division I level, with a unified athletics program that will join our campuses into One LIU,” university president Kimberly Cline wrote in an email announcement to the LIU community on Wednesday, Oct. 3, halfway into the fall 2018 season, and two weeks after the academic add/ drop period deadline on Sept. 18.
“The unification of the Division I and Division II athletic teams into a more robust Division I program will have long term benefits for LIU and the Northeast Conference from an athletic, academic and community standpoint,” NEC commissioner Noreen Morris said during an LIU press conference at the New York Athletic Club on Oct. 3.
Along with seven Post sports teams being elevated from Division II to Division I, the LIU Post basketball (men’s and women’s), women’s bowling, women’s fencing, softball, women’s swimming, track & field (men’s and women’s), and women’s volleyball teams will move to the Brooklyn campus, where a multipurpose athletic facility will begin construction in 2019. New women’s ice hockey and water polo teams will be added in Brooklyn.
The LIU Post football team will move to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), the lower of the two Division I levels. Football players are excited about the change, as they will not be losing their positions. LIU Brooklyn has no football team, and their stadium will be renovated to meet Division I regulations.
The announcement, which emphasized the unity of the individual athletics programs into “One LIU,” has rocked student athletes on the Post campus. For many of the Pioneers, this is not exciting news.
All Post sports teams play under the NCAA Division II, as they have since their inception. The sudden announcement of the transition to Division I in the middle of the current season has caused distress and uncertainty among many Post athletes about their future athletic and academic careers. Post students will have to re-tryout for positions on the new Division I rosters, competing with current LIU Brooklyn students and freshmen recruits for those same spots next year.
Sports that are combining include basketball (men’s and women’s), soccer (men’s and women’s), baseball, softball and women’s lacrosse. The men’s lacrosse and men’s cross country will move to the Northeast Conference.
Ashley Melendez, a senior childhood and early education major, was one of the unhappy students on the softball team. “We could not believe the news. We were all heartbroken that this selfish decision was made without even speaking to any of the athletes,” she said. “We were completely blindsided and devastated that this selfish act is going to break our family apart.”
An FAQ page posted on Oct. 3 on the new one.liu.edu, or athletics.liu.edu website addresses questions about the change. The question of Post athletes being able to continue their positions in the Division I teams has student athletes most concerned. According to the site, the athletics department “will personally work with each individual student-athlete to review all potential opportunities athletically and academically within the new athletic department.”
Newsday reported on Wednesday, Oct. 3 that, “LIU teams will draw athletes from both campuses,” but, “the 2019- 20 rosters will be decided at the discretion of each team.”
Many Post athletes, who qualified for Division II sports, fear they will not make the new teams. “There’s a chance that we might get cut. We don’t know anything; we don’t know
if we are going to keep our coach. We literally have nothing,” Jillian Lomanto, a junior education major and member of the lacrosse team, said. Without further information, Lomanto believes nothing about their team will remain the same.
The method and timing of the announcement were questioned by students and faculty. Many athletes feel underappreciated. “When the president announced it, she didn’t take the athletes’ feelings into consideration. She literally just said this is fine, she’s getting paid for this. It’s the athletes who are getting hurt right now,” Lomanto said.
The students are also concerned about their coaches. “It’ll be very hard if my coach is not the same coach [for women’s lacrosse]. If she’s [Coach Megan McNamara] not the coach, none of us are going to be playing,” Katelyn Politi, a sophomore elementary education and special education major, said.
International student-athletes were especially concerned. Those who were recruited internationally were either signed into a contract to play in Division II, or can only play in Division II based on their semi-professional athletic careers in their home countries before enrolling at LIU Post. Multiple Post teams, such as the women’s and men’s soccer teams, have rosters comprised of mainly international players.
The unified sports teams will have an even bigger impact on campus. The school’s colors will change from the Pioneers green and gold and the Blackbirds blue and black, to a unified blue and gold. The cost of replacing and redesigning the signs and facilities, including the upgrade of both campus athletic facilities, the Bethpage Credit Union Stadium and new uniforms, apparel and signage on both campuses, could be high.
The Bethpage Credit Union Stadium will receive a makeover, with upgraded grandstands to improve sight lines for fans, and to meet Division I standards. “This project will make Bethpage Federal Credit Union Stadium among the most modern facilities of its size on the East Coast and provide an ideal game day environment for our student-athletes and supporters,” according to a statement on the athletics.liu.edu site.
Roy Fergus, the director of facilities services for both campuses, did not respond to the Pioneer’s inquiries about the timing, execution and price of these projects.
Unifying the university athletic departments under Division I could help increase the profile of the school, as LIU’s administration stated in the statement announcing the change, however it will come with sacrifices, according to multiple students and faculty members.
“What’s stunning about the LIU announcement is the consolidation of sports from two autonomous campuses, one Division I and one Division II, with different colors and mascots, and telling roughly half the 1,600 student-athletes that they’ll no longer have an athletics future at LIU,” Willie Hiatt, associate professor of history, said. “We’re forcing them to compete against each other for roster spots. I can’t imagine that a ‘Hunger Games’ scenario like that happens very often.”
Hiatt believes there was an unspoken reason for the merger. “The timing of the announcement also was a slap in the face to athletes. The slick ‘One LIU’ branding didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “Why didn’t the administration make this announcement at least last spring or summer to give students the chance to find another school? With another small freshman class of 550 students or so, was this to avoid worsening our enrollment crisis? And why do this after the add/drop period? If we care about our students, we should allow them a full tuition refund if they choose to leave LIU right now. That’s the least we can do. If I were a parent, I’d be asking for that for my child,” Hiatt said.
Lacrosse player Politi agrees with Hiatt on the timing. “I don’t think [the administration] did it in the right way,” she said. “Especially for people recruited over the summer. They didn’t tell them and [the recruited students] make decisions [on where to go to school] and they had no idea that they were going from a D.2 to a D.1 program, which is a huge difference.”
Students and faculty believe that the change had been planned for some time. “If they knew about [this change] for years, they should’ve told us the summer of 2018 so people had time to digest this new information, instead of telling teams during and right
before their seasons,” Veronica Saager, a junior special education major and member of the women’s soccer team, said.
“If I was a freshman, I might look into transferring,” Lomanto said.
Student athletes are still debating their next steps. Students have created several protests on social media, including a petition that now has over three thousand signatures and a not.my.liu.post Instagram page that has over 400 followers.