DOVER — Wesley College told its athletics staff on Monday afternoon that the school will be discontinuing its NCAA Division III sports programs at the end of the school year.
The decision comes as the entire college is transitioning to becoming part of Delaware State University, which entered an agreement to take over some aspects of the Dover school last year.
Wesley president Dr. Robert Clark said that the decision was made by Delaware State.
“Wesley College is fully committed to Division III Athletics and looks forward to the opportunities this Spring holds for our student-athletes and Campus community,” Clark said in a statement. “As far as next year, and post-acquisition of Wesley College, the decision regarding Division III Athletics lies with Delaware State University and questions regarding that decision should be addressed with them.”
According to Dr. Steve Newton, DSU spokesman, the school isn’t able to comment yet on the situation.
“DSU is not allowed by NCAA regulations and policy to comment on the status of Wesley Athletics until the NCAA compliance office confirms that Wesley College has formally notified them of this decision,” he said in an email. Like almost all small college, Wesley hasn’t been involved in any athletic competition since last March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A former junior college, Wesley moved up to NCAA Division III in the last 1980s. The Wolverines have had their share of success, especially in football, men’s basketball, golf and field hockey.
In football, Wesley reached the NCAA Division III national semifinals six time times under former coach Mike Drass. It also produced a pair of Gagliardi Trophy winners as national Division III Players of the Year (Rocky Myers, Joe Callahan).
Callahan and former Wesley offensive lineman Matt Gono both made it to the NFL.
The Wolverines also reached the NCAA tourney fives times in men’s basketball, including last winter, and challenged for a Division III national title in men’s golf. Wesley finished second in the country in golf in 2003 with Chris Noll taking the national individual championship the year before.
On Monday afternoon, Wesley’s coaches were in the process of breaking the news to their players.
Football coach Chip Knapp, whose team has been working out in preparation for a spring season, said the Wolverines are still planning to play a handful of games this spring.
Knapp, who has been at Wesley for 30 years as both an assistant and head coach, said the decision is especially difficult knowing how hard Drass and others worked to build the football program from the ground up.
Drass passed away unexpectedly in 2018 after 25 seasons as the Wolverines’ head coach. The field at Wolverines Stadium is named in his honor.
“It’s a sad and disappointing day knowing what we’ve built here as a football program,” said Knapp. “Being a nationally-recognized program and having such a great winning tradition, and having it going away, we’re still processing the whole thing.
“I think of all the players who have come through here, all the great experiences we’ve shared. I think about Coach Drass.”
Men’s basketball coach Dean Burrows told his players about the decision on Monday afternoon. The Wolverines practiced in the morning in hopes that they can play a short schedule in March.
Burrows said he also told former basketball coach Jerry Kobasa, who is a former student-athlete at Wesley.
“It’s a punch to the stomach,” said Burrows. “Now my job is to help them with what they (the players) want to do.
“It’s just tough. At the end of the day, my heart just goes out to the kids. This isn’t a knock on academics but when you think of Wesley, you think sports, you think athletics, you think football, you think men’s basketball and the other sports.”
Most followers thought it might come to this point when Wesley and DSU entered into their agreement. Delaware State already fields most of the same athletic programs, but at the NCAA Division I level.
“When I first heard about it in the summer, this is a scenario I saw playing out,” Knapp said. “But it was just pushed back with the process that they went through. We were kind of in limbo for a long time. We were hoping for a good outcome but not really seeing a precedent set by other acquisitions and schools combining and keeping sports programs.
“I haven’t seen that happen so I wasn’t expecting to see that happen here.”
Long-time field hockey coach Tracey Short, who took over as athletic director in 2018, declined comment.
Burrows said he was looking forward to the possibility of having the basketball program be part of DSU. But both he and Knapp said they know the bottom line is that the decision to drop sports is a business one.
“At the end of the day, we knew it was an acquisition,” said Burrows. “Regardless of what people wanted to say, DSU was the one holding the cards. That’s what happens in acquisitions. It wasn’t a merger — as much as everybody wanted to say it was in the beginning. I don’t blame DSU.”