Alone onstage at Ukrop Auditorium, microphone in hand, University of Richmond President Edward Ayers struggles to talk finances and long-term feasibility to a room full of incensed men’s soccer and track athletes whose teams he’d just disbanded.
The players and their supporters quiz him about the much-contested swap to make way for men’s Division I lacrosse.
The decision was fiscal, Ayers says, and the math was impeccable: “We’re using the most sophisticated technology you could ever imagine,” he explains, referring to the university task force on the matter.
“Playing on the D-1 level requires expansive and costly investments,” Ayers says. “The people here are imagining a world without constraints.”
The irony of Ayers appearing in an auditorium with the family name of former Richmond Kickers star Rob Ukrop didn’t get much mention. Ukrop turned down UR to attend Davidson College, where he was a soccer standout.
There’s no doubt lacrosse is exploding in popularity. It’s been the fastest-growing youth sport in the last decade. Last year the number of people participating in organized lacrosse teams increased to 680,000 nationwide, an increase of 60,000 from the previous year, according to the 2011 U.S. Lacrosse Participation Survey.
The rising popularity means that adding lacrosse would give the university an edge with graduating high-schoolers. Still, Ayers fails to answer some basic questions at the Sunday afternoon forum, such as why students and faculty were excluded from the decision-making process.
“The problem is that they’re not releasing the information,” says Peter Kaufman, a leadership studies professor who mediated the forum, “and that often means that the information is embarrassing.”
Kaufman says he isn’t personally concerned with the lack of transparency, and he understands the importance of fiscal responsibility — “Presidents chase money. That’s what they do for a living,” he says. But some people think UR should be more forthcoming about its rationale, he adds. Amid shouting and unanswered questions, the public forum comes to an abrupt halt after a little more than an hour.
The university’s explanation seems to change few minds of those in attendance. Kaufman, too, is ready to move on. “My ass is on the line if we don’t clear this place for a film,” he says. “I need everyone out.”
Correction: In earlier print and online versions of this story, we incorrectly reported that Rob Ukrop turned down a partial scholarship at the University of Richmond. Ukrop was offered a roster spot on the UR soccer team that didn't include scholarship dollars. We regret the error.