Amid an 11th-hour effort to save their programs, two U.S. International University coaches were granted permission Monday to present proposals on how their baseball and softball teams could play the 1991 season at no cost to the university.
Should the proposals gain acceptance, it could signal the start of a revival of athletics at USIU, which has declared bankruptcy and scrapped all 12 of its Division I sports to reduce its budget.
Baseball Coach George Kachigian and softball Coach Ray “Gunney” Hewitt, who got the go-ahead after meeting with university President Kenneth McLennan, will try to convince USIU’s board of trustees Wednesday that they have the financial resources to be self-supporting this season.
If the proposals satisfy the trustees--the same group that suspended USIU athletics Friday--and the players are allowed to take the field, the Gulls’ Division I status will remain intact. But USIU Athletic Director Al Palmiotto said those proposals can’t have any loopholes.
“The key word is guarantee up front (there will be) no cost to the university,” Palmiotto said. “Zero is a hard number to come to.
“But if it’s not costing the university anything and (it will allow) the student-athletes the chance to fulfill the aspirations they had when they came to the university, (baseball and softball) should be given the green light.”
While other USIU coaches were cleaning out their desks Monday, Kachigian and Hewitt were finalizing their proposals (which will depend partly on public and private donations) and imparting optimism to their players, many of whom were returning to campus from the holiday vacation.
Palmiotto will be watching the proceedings from the sidelines. All seven of the detailed proposals he drafted in hopes of saving some form school sports were shot down by the trustees Friday. Palmiotto, however, had kind words for Kachigian and Hewitt, two men he had to lay off the same day.
“I can’t begin to give them the accolades they deserve,” Palmiotto said. “They’re athletes. They’re fighting to the end.”
Kachigian, who was the only coach on campus when the trustees rendered their decision Friday, fought off tears when he received the news and still appeared emotionally shaken Monday. He said he is fighting for the rights of his players and, during an informal practice that afternoon, he announced a joint commitment with his players to raise the estimated $24,000 in operating costs needed to complete USIU’s 60-game, 1991 schedule. It’s a schedule that includes 15 top-20 Division I opponents and four Division II powers.
Kachigian said he has already received $7,000 through fund raising and pledges. He said the remaining $18,000 could be raised through a 30-game, $30 season-ticket package, advertising banners on the outfield fence, program ads and other donations. Kachigian said the 1991 team has the potential to be the school’s best in years. The Gulls also have 13 juniors and seniors, as many as four of which could be drafted by major league clubs, who now face an uncertain future through the loss of a year of eligibility.
“In two days I don’t know where the money’s coming from,” Kachigian said. “I’ll just give them my own personal guarantee. I’ll pay for it myself if I have to.”
Like many USIU coaches, Hewitt, who doubled as the athletic department business manager, is facing an uncertain future. He has lost his only source of income. He is moving out of his apartment and selling his car. But his only concern Monday was for his softball team, which he said is good enough to reach the NCAA regionals this year.
“I have seven seniors graduating,” Hewitt said. “They’ve worked hard. I’m not getting a penny for any of this. I’m done, fired or whatever you call it.”
Hewitt said he will pull his team out of three tournaments, eliminate four long road trips and cut the number of games from 60 to 32, five above the Division I minimum. He said it will cost $6,000 to fund the season, or as little as $3,500 if the eight-team USIU Softball Classic tournament is scrapped or rained out. He said his players’ parents have already guaranteed a $3,000 donation.
USIU trustee Ted Vallas said Saturday that his group will consider restoring athletics after the school turns some of its assets into cash. The key, he said, is the planned sale of the $50-million school campus in London. If baseball and softball can make it on their the own while USIU cashes in, the possibility of a Division I future still looms. And that, Palmiotto said, is “one more option to consider.”