Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Dec. 20, 2014 — Another hard-to-figure coaching move

Yesterday, it was announced that Amy Robertson, the only head field hockey coach that Indiana University has ever known, would not have her contract renewed.

On one level, it’s a befuddling decision on the part of the Indiana athletic administration. Robertson has developed players at the high-performance level, including sending Kayla Bashore-Smedley to the senior women’s national team at center midfield.

She has also had no trouble attracting talent, including the then-leader in scholastic shutouts and one of the great assisters in Federation history.

And if you look at the won-loss record, the Hoosiers have been around .500 the last six seasons, but have not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2009. Indeed, it was four years earlier when Indiana had its deepest run into the postseason, winning a first-round game over North Carolina, then falling to Wake Forest in the 2005 quarterfinals.

Much like the situation at the University of Iowa, it’s hard to justify the non-renewal of Robertson’s contract, if you look at the metrics.

But there are other metrics at play here. Pay attention; this could be a trend.

Athletic administrators have replaced virtually every home field hockey ground in Division I since 1995. There is virtually no grass anymore; universities have spent upwards of $1 to $2 million to build hockey-specific stadia on university campuses from Maine to California. That’s a tremendous overhaul that has been pushed by dozens of veteran coaches who have pushed their athletic departments — often through threat of Title IX lawsuits — to build these facilities.

There has been pushback, however. Georgetown University has never come through with a replacement for Kahoe Field, which can’t be watered because it is on the roof of an indoor athletic complex. During the latter part of Laurie Carroll’s coaching career and during the entirety of Tiffany (Marsh) Hubbard’s tenure, the Hoyas never played on campus. Instead, the team practiced and competed at nearby water-based pitches at American University and at Maryland. This past season, Shannon Soares and the Hoyas played on the rubber-infill surface on the Georgetown multi-purpose stadium.

The University of California, Berkeley outright took the field hockey team’s ground and gave it to the football team for a practice facility. It has taken all of head coach Shellie Onstead’s political capital and the threat of a Title IX lawsuit to make the university build a hockey-specific stadium, the timetable of which is still up in the air.

And then there’s Radford University. The school had one of the last grass pitches in Division I, and it was about this time last year when the university closed the field hockey program. It would not be surprising if the prospect of having to build and maintain an artificial turf facility factored into the decision to shut down the program, even as it attracted a 50-goal scorer into its recruiting class.

Firing coaches (or even terminating programs) who demand equality (especially gender equality under Title IX) has two functions. One is to get rid of an employee that athletic directors see as either “too pushy,” which means that a coach with less seniority is less likely to ask for expensive improvements to their facilities, or for maintenance if something breaks (like the watering system).

The other function is to deny a pay raise for longevity. It shouldn’t escape your attention that Iowa and Indiana are state schools, and that Tracey Greisbaum and Amy Robertson were both let go in their 15th seasons. I don’t know whether state employees in Indiana and Iowa get certain privileges after Year 15, but I wouldn’t be surprised if certain benefits kick in.

But I think one commonality between the Greisbaum and Robertson dismissals that shouldn’t be overlooked is that neither of the two states have high-school field hockey. There is no pipeline of local talent to come to the schools, meaning that all of the prospects coming to Iowa and Indiana are out-of-state (if not out-of-nation).

Athletic administrators, in looking to maximize return from football and men’s basketball, are now faced with the prospect of paying student-athletes or at least providing long-term health care for concussions. Given the rejection of the low-ball concussion settlements on the part of the NFL and the NCAA in the last few months, I think there’s going to be an awful lot of budget-cutting on the part of NCAA-member institutions in the next few years.

Field hockey could be a casualty, and there may be others. More on that tomorrow.



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