The consolidation of Long Island University’s Brooklyn and Post athletic departments has rankled some student-athletes who said they were caught off-guard by the school’s Oct. 3 announcement.
“They dropped a bomb on us,” said Liam Kunkel, a freshman basketball player from Glen Head. “Nobody saw this coming.”
The school’s decision to combine the two campuses into one Division I program puts the future of its Division II athletes in limbo as they consider what they say are undesirable options.
The school said it will honor all of its current scholarship athletes, including those who do not make 2019-20 rosters. LIU said it worked with the NCAA throughout the process and received waivers that will allow student-athletes to transfer to new schools.
Affected sports — those which are currently being played by both campuses — are baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s bowling, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s golf, women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s soccer, softball, women’s swimming, women’s tennis, men’s and women’s track and field and women’s volleyball.
The choice for most of the Division II players comes down to transferring to a new school or to stop playing sports. While the athletes can try out for the Division I team, they risk losing their scholarship because of Division I scholarship limits. It also would mean that athletes at Post might have to travel to the Brooklyn campus for practices and games, though the school has said it will provide transportation.
“Everyone came here, they fell in love with the program, the campus, the academics, then all of a sudden, I feel like they’re saying they don’t appreciate what we do,” said Lauren Kloos, a sophomore volleyball player from Kings Park.
Kloos said her teammates share her disappointment with the school. On Oct. 5, in the first home sports event after the official announcement, members of the women’s volleyball team warmed up with white tape covering the “LIU” on the backs of their jerseys before a 3-0 win against Queens College. Referees asked players to remove the tape for the game, Kloos said.
Supporters demonstrated similarly, with representatives from the student body and other teams packing the gymnasium in their university apparel with “LIU” covered.
Jayna Rios, a freshman from Shirley on the softball team, said softball players will wear their gray jerseys that say “Pioneers” on the front during each game this season because, “We support the Post Pioneers, not Long Island University.”
Rios said she’ll likely transfer out of LIU after this season because the Brooklyn campus, where softball will be played, doesn’t offer physical education, her major. Kloos also said she is “90 precent sure” she will transfer.
A Change.org petition that raises awareness of the situation has more than 4,400 signatures, and an Instagram account called “not.my.liu” has more than 450 followers.
Athletic director Debbie DeJong responded to a request for comment with a statement that read, “We at Long Island University are dedicated to competing at the highest level of collegiate athletics.”
“When evaluating our unified rosters, we will aim to maximize the number of athletic opportunities available while carrying on our tradition of excellence,” DeJong’s statement continued.
Michael Soupios, a political philosophy professor and president of the faculty union, has been teaching at LIU Post for 40 years. He believes the reasons for the merger are more financial than for re-branding purposes.
“I think there’s a budgetary gap that they’re desperate to fill,” Soupios said.
The university has had difficulty recruiting students in recent years and has been reducing the number of staff, Soupios said. The merger may be a way to save money, by eliminating redundant staff and cutting program budgets.
"The move to Division I is not at all a budgetary issue," LIU spokesperson Gordon Tepper said. "We are elevating our university."
Soupios said,“Many of the Division II players are either not going to have a team at all, or they’re going to have to pack up and go to Brooklyn to play.”
Soupios said, “It’s unfair to the kids,” especially of those who have athletic scholarships. “They were offered an arrangement when they were first admitted. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a contract that should be binding.”
Soupios described seeing students crying after the announcement.
“The kids are really angry and very upset,” he said.
Vocal tenured faculty members have been critical of the administration under President Kimberly Cline, and have asked state education officials and accrediting agencies to take a look at budget decisions that they say are at odds with the college’s mission. Professors of both campuses last year wrote to the state Education Department to investigate a number of concerns including a lack of transparency on fundraising and accurate enrollment figures, as well as the suspension of academic programs.
Jada Butler, 21, of Reading, Pennsylvania, is a journalism major and co-editor-in-chief of the school paper, “The Pioneer.” She has been reporting on the fallout.
“For those who came to play Division II, it’s a life changer,” Butler said. “A lot of students are confused. They’re feeling a little bit underappreciated that they’re not being heard or that decisions are being made without consulting them.”