by Chris Horne
Earlier this week, The Devil Strip reported that, according to comments made by President Scott Scarborough, the financial difficulties being shouldered by former UA baseball players and their families do not seem to be the result of university’s budget crunch but rather the administration’s desire to invest more into football and other programs by expanding Cost of Attendance scholarships, which they did on August 19, about five weeks after they eliminated the baseball program with approval from the Board of Trustees.
Thursday, the university released a batch of documents and emails to The Devil Strip that indicate another factor may have been involved: Ideas about removing the baseball field in order to create a “Grand Entrance,” as Scarborough describes it in the emails.
Scott Campbell, the university’s lawyer in charge of records compliance, writes “these documents are preliminary ideas and do not consist of University of Akron ‘plans’ approved by the Board of Trustees. The drawings provided are conceptual drawings and a project for a new entrance has not been approved by Board of Trustees.”
On the list of campus improvements Scarborough told capital planning chief Ted Curtis he wants—a list that includes new banners, a $200,000 video screen on the back of Buchtel Hall, about $1 million to light building exteriors, phase 1 renovations for James A. Rhodes Arena, and demolishing Gallucci Hall, some university-owned church properties and the Wonder Bread factory, which was built in the 1890s—there are mentions of a new “Grand Entrance” off of Exchange Street.
These emails, which date back to May 6, 2015, explain the baseball field would have to be “eliminated” and the track moved to accommodate the entrance. An email dated June 18 lists moving baseball to “Rubber Duck Stadium” as an option.
In his July 23 interview with 92.3 The Fan, Scarborough describes the logic behind eliminating the baseball program, after couching it in context of the university’s looming budget cuts, which he says would only address “$50 million of the $60 million problem.”
“We didn’t have a long list of other alternatives,” he said. “We looked at whether we could do something with the [Akron] RubberDucks to save the baseball and those very intelligent people looked at it and said, ‘No, we can’t make it work either.’ So when they said that, we just didn’t have any alternative because we need to invest in the other athletic programs to move them, and to take them to the next level.”
He does not explain how moving baseball to Canal Park or partnering with Akron’s Double-A affiliated team would help save enough money to address the university’s “financial challenge”—just that absent an agreement with the RubberDucks, the baseball program, which first took the field in 1873, would have to be eliminated.
Coupled with Scarborough’s comments about the failed RubberDucks partnership, these emails and conceptual drawings, in which the ghostly outline of the baseball field is still evident, it would be hard to conclude the baseball program, its coaches and players held any priority over the “Grand Entrance.”
Indeed, after meeting this week with university officials about reinstating the team, baseball alum Tom Farmer says, “[CFO Nathan] Mortimer confirmed to us that the land usage was part of the reason for elimination of the baseball team. Along with several other reasons.
While the proposed entrance has not been approved by the Board of Trustees, university officials have met as recently as August 6 to discuss those plans and other campus improvement projects.
The documents and emails do not list a cost associated with constructing the proposed entrance, but moving the track is estimated at $3 million so it is likely the entrance project would cost at least as much, probably more. Far from a cost-saving move, it now appears that eliminating the baseball team could cost taxpayers millions.