UNI Baseball decision hits home


Iowa head coach Jack Dahm understands why the question must be asked. In fact, he expects to hear it a lot over the next three months.

With Northern Iowa announcing on Monday that its baseball program will be cut at the end of the season, he knows it’s natural for people to question him about his job security.

But even as the eventual last Division I team standing in the state, a team that finished last in the Big Ten a year ago, Dahm said he feels safe.

“Gary Barta doesn’t want to drop any programs. He brings that up on a regular basis with us,” the sixth-year Hawkeye head coach said. “The program here is in good shape, and we’re very fortunate that football has been very successful. We have a lot of TV revenue coming in, and [men’s basketball] coach [Todd] Lickliter is going to get that basketball program going. We’re not concerned about the baseball program here. We’re on pretty safe ground.”

What Dahm is concerned with is the dwindling number of in-state opportunities available to Iowa high-school hardball players pursuing Division I careers.

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Northern Iowa is the second state school to eliminate baseball this decade. Iowa State dropped its program in 2001.

More significantly, the Panthers boast 24 Iowa natives on their 35-man roster this season — four of them being seniors.

Iowa senior pitcher/infielder Wes Freie feels for the numerous Northern Iowa underclassmen, who are currently facing hardship. At Wilton High School, he played alongside Drake Austin, a true freshman this season playing for the Panthers.

“I haven’t really gotten a chance to talk with him yet,” Freie said. “It’s just a hard situation for, not only them, but the state of Iowa — losing a Division I program that’s been competitive the last couple years.”

Dahm said he had spoken with Northern Iowa head coach Rick Heller several times during recent years about the fate of the Panther program.

At an early February meeting with the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches’ Association, Dahm said, Heller again squashed the doom and gloom rumors with confidence when the topic arose.

“He didn’t think [Panthers] would drop the program,” Dahm said. “I’m disappointed for Rick Heller. He’s done a tremendous job. He does so much with not a lot of resources. And I feel bad for the players, especially the timing of it.”

“They’re getting ready to go through their season, and they find out the day of their first game that their program is going to be dropped.”

Despite the announcement to cut the program on Monday, though, Northern Iowa Athletics Director Troy Dannen released a statement on Tuesday regarding the possibility of Heller and his team staying afloat through private fundraising efforts.

According to the statement, in order to sustain the program for the next three years, the Panthers need to raise $1.2 million by college baseball’s national letter of intent signing day in early April. After that, they would need an additional $10 million to fully instate the program and maintain it beyond 2012.

“After meeting with the baseball team and head coach Rick Heller, they were adamant that they have the chance to attempt to raise funds to save their program,” Dannen said in the statement. “The program has the opportunity to raise funds privately in place of those eliminated as a result of the funding cuts … While this is a steep hill to climb, they have accepted this challenge.”

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