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Sad and unfair, future also seems strange for five Wisconsin golfers jolted by St. Cloud (Minn.) State's sudden decision to drop golf

Kailey Godfrey, St. Cloud State

Kailey Godfrey, St. Cloud State | Soph. | Springstead, Wis. (Minocqua Lakeland HS)

Kailey Godfrey and the other Wisconsin natives on the St. Cloud (Minn.) State women's golf team spent an emotional Wednesday trying to move forward, look ahead and figure out what their next move in life just might be.

It was too soon. They couldn't get past how they wound in this position.

"It was unfortunate because the news was released to the media before we were told," the sophomore from Minocqua Lakeland told in a Facebook message, referring to the bombshell announcement the previous day that the NCAA Division II school was dropping its men's and women's golf programs as well as its football program after the current school year. "So, we found out when people we knew started texting us, saying that they were sorry."

Indeed, it was a sad day in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, which also lost Minnesota-Crookston as a football-playing member.

Some saw it coming. The NSIC recently rewrote its bylaws to remove a requirement that football be a required sport for conference membership. NSIC bylaws now allow for schools to be members without fielding a football team if they offer 11 other championship sports at the Division II level.

Godfrey wasn't one of them. Neither were fellow sophomores Shealyn McCoy, a former La Crosse Aquinas golfer, or Alexa Owen of Jefferson. They started piercing things together after getting a 10 a.m. email from Huskies athletic director Heather Weems, calling a mandatory meeting five hours later.

"From that email alone, my stomach got queasy," Owen wrote via email. "I knew this meeting wasn't going to be good."

"At first, I didn't think too much of it," McCoy wrote in an email. "But then I started asking people from the softball, baseball, wrestling, basketball and tennis (teams) if they got the same email and no one else had except us and the football team. It was at that point where I felt like I was living my own worst nightmare. It didn't seem real that they might cut us from the program, especially since they made cuts just a couple years back to other teams."

This is where this saga gets a little difficult to follow.

Reports indicate a 2016 attempt by St. Cloud State to cut six sports led to a Title IX lawsuit filed by members of the tennis and Nordic skiing teams. That  led to an August ruling by a U.S. District Court judge that found the school hadn't complied with Title IX since 2014 based on "allocation of athletic participation opportunities and treatment and benefits," one story reported.

It turns out, also working against the golf programs were financial difficulties in the athletic department and across campus. "Our university's current fiscal position is a matter of serious concern," according to a "Frequently Asked Questions" document posted to the school's athletic website that suggested Huskies athletics was running a $1.6-million deficit and the university a $5.1-million gap that "we must address by the end of the (current) fiscal year."

That its golf programs would provide any significant relief came as a surprise to the three Wisconsin natives displaced by Tuesday's announcement. "With the amount of fundraising our golf team does and how little money we get from the school to provide scholarships and funds for us in the first place," McCoy wrote, "We weren't super-worried about getting cut."

Then again, if you share my low opinion of NCAA Division II athletics, seeing the tent fall Tuesday on what became a sports-bludgeoning circus in St. Cloud wasn't the least bit surprising. I have long maintained the scholarship-waving at the Division II level is done to mask the many deficiencies in other areas and Tuesday's decision does nothing to change my mind.

A report Tuesday on the St. Cloud Times website said the 98 football players and 16 golfers impacted by the cuts shared in 20 full-time equivalent athletic scholarships. I asked around Wednesday and was told women's golf shared one scholarship, amounting to a $2,000 stipend for each of its eight golfers.

So, again, why cut men's and women's golf? That wasn't answered directly in the "FAQs," but I found the loophole in the school's explanation for adding men's soccer starting next fall to meet not Title IX but Division II standards.

"NCAA Division II member institutions must sponsor a men's, mixed gender and a women's sport in each of the three seasons (fall, winter and spring)," it read. "Men's soccer will fulfill this requirement for fall, is one of the fastest growing sports across the country, including Minnesota, and is more affordable as it relates to staffing, scholarship and operational resources."

Men's golf also competes in the fall, but — for NCAA purposes — is classified a spring sport because that's when its national championship is held. Thus, the school's hand was forced and Godfrey, McCoy and Owen were left to plot the final two years of their college experience that may or may not have golf in it.

If they choose to stay, St. Cloud State will honor their partial scholarships for two more years. If they leave, they can go anywhere and play right away.

"One of the worst parts about this whole thing happening is the fact of our team going our own separate ways on such short notice, which is something we hadn't planned to do until graduation," McCoy wrote, adding remorsefully: "Cutting our (golf) program takes away two more years of team bus rides, dinners, memories, tournaments, improving as a unit and bonding."

All three golfers expected to finish the school year at St. Cloud State and play the spring season and play a schedule yet to be announced. Godfrey and McCoy seemed open to play golf elsewhere, even in another division, but Owen said hers is a decision that may not be made for several weeks.

"Right now, everything is really up in the air," Owen wrote. "The wound is still pretty fresh, and I really don't think I have gotten the chance to fully process the information. Winter break will be a good time to take the chance to take everything in and look into some options."

Owen compared it to her senior year in high school, a recruiting mulligan that she didn't care to play. The golfers already on campus weren't alone; the news came less than a month after the early signing period for golf and I learned Wednesday that Fond du Lac's Sam Nielsen wasn't the only St. Cloud State-bound golfer from Wisconsin who suddenly has to find a different college golf home.

Ansen Nomm, a former teammate of Godfrey's on the boys team at Lakeland, had also committed to the Huskies men's golf program. He found out that it had been cut from Lakeland coach Scott Howard, who saw the news on the Internet, and got an evening call from St. Cloud State coach Sloan Wallgren.

"I had no idea at all and was excited (about going to St. Cloud State) as everything was coming together for starting school this fall," Nomm said. "I have already gotten in touch with a couple other coaches and will continue to do so. I am willing to play golf just about anywhere. I just want to find something that fits both my golf aspirations as well as my education choices."

I asked the three golfers on campus if there was anything they wanted to add as they processed such a sudden change at such a critical time in their lives.

McCoy wanted to thank Wallgren for "giving me the opportunity to be apart of such an amazing group of people ... and make relationships that will last me a lifetime." Owen questioned the school's timing of the announcement: "To drop it on 113 student athletes right before finals is just inconsiderate."

And then there was Godfrey, who wanted everyone to know that she learned a valuable lesson over the last 48 hours. "From this experience, I learned not to take the opportunity to play a collegiate sport for granted," Godfrey wrote, "because it can be taken away at any time."

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