Today is National Signing Day, the first day that verbal commitments become real. All over the country, male and female athletes get in front of tables and cameras and sign their National Letters of Intent.
But yesterday, what was set to be a bonanza of a recruiting class for the Radford University field hockey program was yanked out from under them. Athletic director Robert Lineburg made public a series of recommendations to cut four sports teams — men’s indoor track, women’s swimming, men’s outdoor track, and field hockey.
Jeff Woods, the long-time Radford field hockey coach who was all set to sign 58-goal scorer Summer Parker from Suffolk Lakeland (Va.), was devastated.
“I didn’t see it coming,” he tells The Roanoke Times. “It was such a shock, but not so much for me, but my players. We’re hurting right now.”
A number of field hockey programs have been dissolved the last decade — the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, Catawba, Philadelphia University, the University of Rhode Island, and Robert Morris. But Radford’s cut is extremely unkind. Woods has, by dint of hard work and determination, been able to form a Division I program with serious chops. There was the 1991 team that gave national powers North Carolina and Virginia absolute fits. The 1996 team hung with conference powerhouses Old Dominion and James Madison in the regular season only to be dismissed from the postseason tournament by the Monarchs in a rather inhospitable fashion.
Since that November afternoon, Radford’s field hockey program has finished above .500 for the season just once, and finished just 5-16 this past season. The team has never qualified for the NCAA Tournament and only once qualified for the AIAW national tournament, and that was back in 1981.
The program, moreover, has seen the ground literally shift out from under them. Radford is one of the last NCAA Division I field hockey programs to play on natural grass. And the administration of the university, rather than build a state-of-the-art turf facility, has chosen to shut down the team less than 24 hours before National Signing Day.
That doesn’t put a school administration in the best light, does it?