- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Corleone Desimone played baseball at Jimtown High School and then at Adrian College in Michigan for two years on a scholarship.

He transferred to Holy Cross College this year, ready to keep playing ball throughout his college career. Then, just before final exams started last week, he and his teammates learned the baseball team would be cut at the end of the spring 2015 season. Now, the players, most of whom are on partial athletic scholarships, are scrambling to plan their futures.

Desimone, of Elkhart, says he wouldn’t have transferred to Holy Cross if he had known baseball could be eliminated.

“If this was in the works, if baseball was going to be cut, we should have been warned about it,” he told the South Bend Tribune (https://bit.ly/1GsxTxJ ).

The decision was a financial one, based on the college’s strategic plan and academic priorities, said Brother John Paige, the college president. The four-year Catholic college also will suspend its men’s and women’s cross-country teams (a club sport that doesn’t offer scholarships) for the 2015-2016 school year.

“It’s disappointing,” Paige said in an interview Tuesday. “I would love to be able to continue NAIA baseball. But as we look forward, that program is unsustainable.”

The savings from the cuts - about $400,000 per year - will be reallocated, mainly to expand academic programs, Paige said. And some of the remaining varsity athletic teams will see a boost in their budgets.

Holy Cross will have six varsity sports teams left: men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s golf. There also are lacrosse and ice hockey club sport teams. Modest funding for lacrosse scholarships, a total of less than $10,000 per year, will be eliminated.

On the baseball teams, 13 players are seniors who will graduate at the end of the spring season. About a half-dozen players are juniors, and the college will seek to replace their athletic scholarships with a comparable level of financial aid.

After this academic year, no athletic scholarships will be available to the approximately 15 sophomores and freshmen on the team. Those students must decide whether to stay at Holy Cross or transfer to another college for the chance to play baseball.

“I have to make a decision about whether I’ll stay,” said freshman Colin McNamara of Osceola, who played for Penn High School. McNamara is a walk-on baseball team player with a partial academic scholarship. “I definitely want to play college baseball, but I have to think about this academically,” he said, adding that he’ll have to weigh the amount of financial aid available at other schools.

Head baseball coach Brian Blondell said he had no inkling the team would be eliminated until he was told Dec. 7.

About 70 percent of the players are receiving athletic scholarships, with an average amount of about $6,000 a year, Blondell said. (Listed price of tuition at Holy Cross is $26,200 a year.)

“They’re basically losing about 25 percent of what they receive to go to school. It’s a huge deal,” the coach said. “It creates a major predicament for many families.”

The team budget is about $100,000 a year, not including the cost of scholarships, the coach said.

Because Holy Cross doesn’t have a baseball field on campus, renting facilities is a large expense. Some home games are played at Four Winds Field, a deal that cost about $12,000 last season. The cost of that lease arrangement is expected to rise to about $18,000 for 2015, in part because the South Bend Cubs’ home stadium replaced the artificial turf with natural grass, Blondell said.

The Saints compete in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference CCAC and the athletic program is regulated by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). The baseball team finished 24-33 last season, including 15-12 in their conference.

Assistant baseball coach Todd Marazita of Niles, Michigan, has a son, Maris, who is a freshman on the team after playing for Edwardsburg High School.

“I was speechless,” Maris Marazita said, describing hearing the news the team would be eliminated.

Parents are upset, too.

“It’s a shame. If they had given us a heads-up, maybe there’s something we could have done to save the program,” said Beth Schwitz of Granger. Her son, Matt Schwitz, is a St. Joseph High School graduate and a freshman on the Holy Cross team.

Schwitz has written to the college administration to protest the decision and the way it was handled but hasn’t heard back. “They haven’t handled it very professionally,” she said.

Paige, the college president, said short-term fundraising wouldn’t have saved the program. “It has to be sustainable to the college in the long run,” he said.

Holy Cross has been undergoing a campus-wide restructuring for the past 18 months based on a five-year strategic plan. Athletic program changes are part of that plan.

“We can’t sustain our athletic teams with that expense,” he said.

Paige added, however, that Holy Cross isn’t facing a financial crisis.

The college is building a new women’s residence hall and new parking lots. This fall, Holy Cross added a science track in science designed for students who plan to enter a professional school, such as medicine, dentistry, pharmacy or law school. New academic programs have required adding more faculty members, Paige said.

Holy Cross also isn’t backing away from its commitment to athletics, and a goal for the future is to fund full-time coaches for varsity teams, Paige said. There also may be some full athletic scholarships in the future, he said.

Holy Cross has about 535 students and an annual operating budget of about $12.5 million.

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com


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