O’Dell presents case for cut

By Steve Dennis

As expected, Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell announced his plan to discontinue NIU’s field hockey program and replace it with women’s soccer at yesterday’s Athletic Board meeting.

Members of the field hockey team, including coach Laurie Bell, current women’s soccer club participants and the board listened to the criteria for O’Dell’s recommendation with open ears.

After O’Dell’s presentation, a field hockey representative issued a sharp rebuttal.

“The university’s rationale for the recommendation is based on several critical factors,” O’Dell said.

“Surveys indicate that there is a decline in national field hockey participation rates at the Division I level and an opposite trend for women’s soccer.”

“From a grass-root perspective, specifically at the national high school level, there were approximately 122,000 participants in 4,490 girls’ soccer programs compared to 48,384 participants in 1,434 field hockey programs in 1991-92.

“Currently there are only 11 high schools in the state of Illinois with field hockey and 230 participants. Conversely, the state now has 132 high schools with girls’ soccer teams and over 2,800 participants.

“Number three, there has been a tremendous growth in youth soccer nationally.

“If Northern sponsored a women’s soccer team, the Huskies would compete in the NCAA Central Region where there are 35 soccer programs.

“Simply put, it’s a business decision.”

After O’Dell’s spiel, board members were allowed to vent concerns. Female student-athlete voting representative Pam Snavely criticized O’Dell’s handling of the whole ordeal.

“Gerald O’Dell gave us his trust to help us out in any way possible,” Snavely said. “He promised us that he would personally call all of our parents and help the players find schools in which they could transfer. However, as soon as the first parent called asking to speak to Gerald O’Dell, he turned his back on us by not accepting any phone calls.

“On behalf of the field hockey team, we feel that this whole matter was handled very unprofessionally by Gerald O’Dell and shows a lack of character and integrity in his leadership ability at NIU.”

Senior Associate Athletic Director Cary Groth responded by saying, “Gerald did not say he would call back the parents personally. He said that they would be notified, so that was not a promise that was given.”

If women’s soccer becomes the program of choice—and it was noted that the Athletic Administration has researched other sports in case soccer becomes an issue—the program would not start until the 1993-94 season, Groth added.

The Athletic Board votes on the recommendation at its May 6 meeting. An open hearing is planned for April 29 between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at the Holmes Student Center.