The UMass Lowell volleyball team finished with a 5-21 record in the 2018 season. (Courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics)
Student-athletes and coaches involved with UMass Lowell’s volleyball program were met with disappointing news on Dec. 19. Their sport will be immediately discontinued by the university.
Although their scholarships will be honored by the university, they will be unable to attend UMass Lowell as student-athletes.
“We didn’t see it coming,” said head coach Resa Provanzano, who had been with the university since 2014. “I found out the same day that they put the release up on the web. It was definitely difficult to swallow.”
The reason for the sudden cancellation of the volleyball program comes from the university’s need to address budget problems in the athletic department, said athletic director Peter Casey.
Funds from the volleyball program will be used to improve coaching salaries, financial aid packages for student-athletes and to bring several members of the training and coaching staff up to full-time.
The need to reassess the athletic lineup came from a $650 thousand holdback on their yearly budget which prevented them from addressing their immediate priorities of expanding benefits for coaches and student-athletes alike.
Casey put together a committee with the purpose of reviewing the budget to find a solution, knowing that UMass Lowell would need to do all that it could to keep up with other Division I programs in the country on a competitive and financial basis.
The committee reviewed the problem closely and on Dec. 14 suggested to Casey that volleyball would need to be discontinued if UMass Lowell wanted to recover from its “bad year,” as Casey put it, and stay competitive as a Division I school.
The decision to do so did not come easily for Casey.
“When I got into this business of athletics it was to provide opportunities. The last thing I ever wanted to do was deny opportunities or even in some cases take away opportunities,” said Casey. “This was a decision that no one took lightly, definitely myself and certainly the chancellor, but it was one of those things where we thought it was for the greater good.”
Five days after receiving the suggestion Casey broke the news to the available members of the volleyball team for the finals week emergency meeting.
“There’s no good time to deliver that disappointing news,” he said. “That’s why we decided to tell them sooner rather than later to provide them an opportunity to do what they thought was best for them at that point in time considering the circumstance.”
Despite Casey doing what he could to report the news as soon as he got it, the players were left feeling upset and angry.
“Some of us burst into tears immediately. I didn’t,” said Kat Claybaugh, a junior outside hitter.
Claybaugh said that she was deeply unhappy with how fast the process went, hinting that it did not surprise her due to the university’s past treatment of her team.
“Our program has kind of been consistently ignored by the administration at UMass Lowell. Ignored. Underfunded. It felt like we were the easy cut to make. I was just really, really angry,” Claybaugh said.
Lindsey Visvardis, senior libro and captain of the volleyball team, was unable to make the meeting and heard the news from a teammate over the phone. She says that she was completely shocked, as were the rest of her teammates.
“There was no indication, no talk of anything financial,” she said. “I don’t know if there was much consideration to how not only the current players would be affected and coaching staff but everyone else who has a part in this program.”
Claybaugh says that over the past few weeks since the news broke she and her teammates have been subjected to hearing countless rumors. “[We’ve heard that] they might be starting a women’s hockey team, a lot of crazy stuff about why we were the ones that got cut,” she said.
Casey addresses these rumors by saying that there will be no implementation of a women’s hockey team as a result of volleyball’s cancellation, as that is financially not feasible.
He says that he and the department are now focusing on evaluating which players will leave and which ones will remain with the university, with the intent on keeping their scholarships in place until they obtain their undergraduate degree. The department has put together a team of individuals who will assist the student-athletes in their next steps.
“I’ve been spending most of my break here talking to student-athletes and parents and trying to help them work through that process and that decision,” he said. “The priority right now is to help these young ladies transition during this difficult time.”
Claybaugh plans to stay at UMass Lowell to finish out her degree and expects that most of the junior players will stay at the university while the first- and second-years will leave.
“I definitely think a lot of the young girls are gonna transfer,” Claybaugh said. “I decided that although I didn’t get a senior night, and I didn’t get any proper closure, I decided I’m not gonna transfer because I have built my home here. I think transferring at this point would hurt more.”
She says that she plans to use “every dime” of her scholarship and will take her senior year as an opportunity to do some of the things she never had time to do as a student-athlete, such as join clubs and work on her art.
“We’re trying to find the silver lining, even if it’s totally for devastating reasons,” she said of her teammates.
Visvardis, who mentions that she was “very lucky and fortunate” to be a senior this year, says that her sympathies lie with her teammates.
“It’s definitely devastating to think that you’re going to a school and making a commitment for four years and then to get such sudden and tragic news,” she said.
She also sincerely thanked her coaching staff for their hard work, saying that she thought the move to discontinue the program was deeply unfair for them as well.
Provanzano found herself out of a job right before the holidays. Her voice brimming with tears, she explained that she saw herself at UMass Lowell for the rest of her career, so the move to discontinue the program hit her especially hard.
At this time, she does not know what her next move is.
“It’s hard to go from that mindset to something else quickly,” Provanzano said. “But I’m trying to learn from the situation and reflect on all of the things that we did correctly, all of the things that we [built], and the things that I could do better.”
Casey says that this entire process has been tough for him as both a new athletic director and as a father. He says that he regrets solving this financial problem for the athletic department had to come to such an extreme end, but unfortunately the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few.
He would like to “personally thank [the volleyball program] for all of their hard work and their dedication.”
Visvardis said that at the time she did not know what the university planned to do with the money gained from cutting volleyball, but hoped that it was, “worth it in their eyes.”
“I don’t really know what money numbers can quantify our livelihoods,” she said.