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Potential vs. Execution: Why UB Athletics fans are jaded amid program cuts

Robby Johnson

Three years ago I saw potential in UB Athletics to be something great, and it sure looked like they were on the trajectory to reach it.

Danny White had a bona fide dream to take a mid-major program that was just elevated by his predecessor and turn it into a powerhouse. He decided to capitalize on Buffalo’s position as the most renowned University in the State University of New York system and created the New York Bulls Initiative.

You can argue your opinion on NYBI, but it is fact that it jump started the entire athletic department and created the conversation that entailed “What can Buffalo become?”

With NYBI, White constructed a master plan for new facilities, built impeccable relationships to bring donations to an all-time high, and best of all put programs into the position they needed to succeed. Men’s basketball has won two MAC Championships since, Women’s Basketball won their first just over a year ago, while Men’s Tennis and Women’s Soccer brought Championships to the forefront as well.

A University wide branding survey was the foreshadowing of troubles to come.

There are tons of reasons you can give for Danny White leaving UB to become athletic director for the University of Central Florida: Better weather, better AD budget, and family close by—his brother is currently the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Florida. But I think White began looking for a way out when UB paid a firm several hundreds of thousands of dollars to survey UB’s brand identity.

It’s clear that higher ups were not content with the disjointed identity that UB carried, but specifically between the University and its athletics department. White probably knew what was on the horizon and bolted for UCF partially because his work for UB was going to be wasted.

Months later, NYBI was retracted and Buffalo got slapped back onto the uniforms, and it frankly hasn’t felt the same since White was AD. Performance among several programs has regressed outside of the small handful that seem to always be in the top-half of the Mid-American Conference.

Most troubling, donations have stagnated and PR disasters are becoming a monthly occurrence. Was it unfair that we made a fuss about Khalil Mack’s brother not being offered a football scholarship? A little, but the relationship between Khalil and UB Athletics shouldn’t have grown sour enough to the point where he rants about something of that nature on twitter.

But now we have even worse news on our table. Buffalo is cutting four programs — Men’s Soccer, Men’s Swimming and Diving, Baseball, and Women’s Rowing — as an effort to save approximately two million dollars. As an avid supporter of UB Athletics since I’ve been a student, this is exactly what USL player and UB Alum Russell Cicerone said regarding the matter: “Humiliating.”

Allen Greene promised in his introductory press conference that his administration would focus on the 20 programs they had and put them in the best position. Frankly, I don’t agree that cutting four of them does the job. Cutting them was only necessary because of the lackluster budget each program was operating on.

Men’s Soccer used a storage room as their locker room, women’s rowing had crippling funding to the point where a CAA championship became miracle-like, and It’s hard to name a facility that was owned by UB and dedicated to Baseball. These programs succeeded as best as they could despite not having much to begin with. We’d rather fuel the football machine that has had just two winning seasons since returning to Division I at full power.

But what hurt myself, the 120 students, and coaches of those teams is how UB handled this situation. For an upcoming decision this big, these athletes deserved to know that it could and ultimately would happen much more in advance. Davie Carmichael should’ve known when he took the position for head men’s soccer coach that he could be fired in two months for reasons out of his control. Mason Miller should’ve known that he may have to look for a new school if he wants to continue swimming at the Division I level. It’s insane that Ron Torgalski has to think about job security despite sending prospects into MLB farm systems almost every year.

Because the University did this, the knee-jerk reaction followed. If you followed social media, you saw the Buffalo community enthralled in outrage over the sudden decision.

No matter how you feel about the cuts, you have to feel bad for the student athletes. UB and their administration recklessly screwed the athletes over. They ripped a dream away from many and others will scramble to preserve it (whether it be transferring elsewhere or trying to get an MiLB deal after their season is over).

These athletes represented the University at Buffalo when many current students didn’t. There are still West Virginia and Syracuse hooded sweatshirts floating throughout campus all the time. These athletes put in hours upon hours of work to represent UB in a way no one else really could. They perfected their respective crafts but were told by higher ups today that it was a waste. Now, 120 students — some of which are international and were only able to get a valuable American education because of UB’s athletics — were left upset and having to hold back tears heading to their classes minutes after essentially hearing their hard work was “wasted.”

Three years ago I saw potential in UB Athletics to be something great, and it sure looked like they were on the trajectory to reach it. But, with each passing falter since Danny White left — whether it’s another losing season in football or knee-jerk PR disasters — myself and UB fans alike are becoming jaded. I used to see an athletics department with potential, but now I see one scrambling to stay afloat in key areas.

UB Athletics changed my life, I love many things about this department, but I’m frustrated with what has happened in the past year and a half. Building and maintaining relationships looks challenging for the current administration, something any organization will fail without.

Frankly, it doesn’t sit well with me when so many amazing people get the short end of the stick. It’s humiliating to say I’ve supported the organization that did this and I feel betrayed along with 120 other people who feel even worse.