When Rick Rowland, who has been involved in swimming and water polo for more than three decades, was told last month that Pepperdine was considering dropping the men's swim team from its athletic program, he said that he tried "get some support from the administration to re-start the program."
Rowland, who has coached Pepperdine's men swimmers or its water polo teams--or both--for most of the last decade, said that at the time he was so involved in coaching the year-round programs that "I had blinders on."
But between Jan. 20 and this month's official announcement that men's swimming would no longer be a sport, Rowland, 51, said he was "forced to rethink my vocational objectives."
He said the administration had asked him to stay on as water polo coach and to take over as coordinator of the athletic department tutorial program. But Rowland, a tenured associate professor of communications, said he decided he would be happier if he got out of coaching to devote more of his time to teaching religion classes and to "broaden my involvement in the campus ministry and missions and student affairs."
No Financial Loss
He said that although his new job has not yet been clearly defined, his teaching and campus ministry posts will equal the workload he had as a coach and teacher and that he will not lose any money in the change. The campus ministry gets students involved in working for such groups as Athletes in Action, Campus Crusade and Intervarsity.
He said he decided to change the direction of his career only after "a lot of prayer."
Rowland has had a long and distinguished career as a swimmer and water polo and swimming coach. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, he was twice named an All-American swimmer as the Sooners won two Big Eight Conference championships.
He began coaching in 1957 at Garden Grove High School, where he stayed for six years. He went on to Santa Ana College for two years, spent about 10 years at UC Santa Barbara and was also in AAU coaching from 1958-to 1965. He came to Pepperdine in 1976 and started the swimming and water polo programs.
More Than 500 Victories
His career record for swim teams, not including this season, is 282-85. His water polo teams have won 243 matches.
His 1967 Santa Barbara swim team won the NCAA College Division championship and he was named division coach of the year. His 1966 Gaucho swimmers finished 14th in the NCAA University Division. His 1972 Santa Barbara swim team won the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. title and his 1984 Pepperdine swim team finished 19th in the NCAA Championships.
His Santa Barbara water polo teams were PCAA champions twice, and at Pepperdine they finished fourth in the NCAA four times. Among his players was three-time All-American Terry Schroeder, who starred on the U. S. team at the 1984 Olympics.
That's an illustrious career to give up. But Rowland said he understands why the university decided to drop the men's swim team and make him reorient his career.
He called the decision to discontinue swimming "a mistake. But at the same time, I understand why they're doing it."
Hand Was Forced
Wayne Wright, Pepperdine athletic director, said the university's decision was "was not based on any vendetta or anything against the program." He said the university's hand was forced in the past two years when it increased women's athletic teams to six to meet NCAA requirements for Division I status. With men's swimming gone, Pepperdine now has seven sports for men and six for women; the NCAA requires six each.
"We did a study of our athletic budget and decided to redirect some funds ($167,000) to the entire women's program," Wright said. "There were only three sports we could look at: water polo and men's swimming and volleyball." In volleyball, the Pepperdine men are defending NCAA champions.
Wright said that men's swimming was the logical candidate to be cut because it offers 11 scholarships and water polo and men's volleyball offer five each. "We never even considered modifying water polo or volleyball, but we had quite a bit more invested in swimming (with its 11 grants).
"Our philosophy is to keep down the numbers (of sports) and try to fund them as well as we can."
The athletic director said that Pepperdine won't feel the impact of dropping the swim team "till a couple of years down the road" because the university will continue the grants of swimmers on this year's squad.
Rowland said that Pepperdine swimmers are "distressed (but) trying to figure out the best way to go as far as their swimming careers are concerned."
He said that the swimmers who are upperclassmen and on scholarships (including junior Peter Rohde, a member of Denmark's national team) probably will stay at Pepperdine to get degrees.
He said the freshmen and sophomores "are just a little bit unstable. I am meeting with them daily and they're looking at other options. In most cases they will go (to another school). They want to compete. Some may stay for a semester or a year to look around because they are being caught so late in the year."