Coach Mike Moody on Colorado State’s Decision to Drop Water Polo

Colorado State women’s water polo coach Mike Moody has been aware of tentative plans to drop water polo for several months, he told TWp in a phone interview today. Athletic Director Jack Graham informed Moody during a late-summer 2012 meeting that water polo was under a “review process” and “may not be renewed” as part of a reassessment of the department’s strategic direction. Former business leader Graham was hired by the university in December, 2011 and arrived with an “agressive” new vision for the athletic program and a desire to raise the status of the Mountain West Conference. His most prominent efforts thus far have included leading efforts to raise private funding for a $250 million on-campus multi-sport stadium, and hiring high profile football coach Jim McElwain from Alabama to take over the underperforming Rams squad.

Graham informed Moody and the other coaches on Wednesday evening that their sport would be discontinued in favor of women’s soccer, which was a “better fit” with the athletic program’s direction, including the desire to utilize the new stadium. CSU was the only member of the Mountain West Conference, and the only college in Colorado, without a women’s soccer team. The state also boasts a robust youth and high school soccer presence whereas water polo has failed to gain much traction. The Rams water polo team was also well known for having inadequate facilities; Moby Pool did not meet NCAA standards and the team now plays home matches at a pool 50 miles from campus.

A Thursday morning team meeting was where the athletes were told the news. The coach described his athletes as “heartbroken.” Moody sounded resigned, even calling Graham’s decision “logical,” though confessing his own calm demeanor was “a front.”

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“It’s hurtful,” he said. “But what’s the job of an athletic director? To strengthen the program and the conference.”

Upon the news, each player has been given her outright release from any commitment to play at the university. Athletes are immediately free to contact or be contacted by any other institution, though Moody was clear that the news was too fresh for his players to consider such prospects. The school will honor all water polo scholarships so long as the student-athlete remains enrolled at Colorado State.

The coach, married seven months ago to a CSU nursing student who will soon finish the program, remains focused solely on completing the current season but admits he “wouldn’t pass up [coaching] opportunities” if they arose. Moody will depart the program having been a part of it for nearly every one of its nine years of existence. Colorado State announced the addition of water polo in October of 2003 to meet NCAA guidelines for Division IA institutions, which required schools to host 16 sports. Former head swim coach John Mattos convinced then-Athletic Director Mark Driscoll that sponsoring women’s water polo would be a “cost effective” way to fulfill NCAA and Title IX requirements, according to Moody (read colleague Jeremy Mauss for a brief on the financials). That effort succeeded as water polo beat out soccer and Mattos was chosen to coach the new team which began competition in the 2004-05 season.

This story was updated at 10:48 PST on Thursday, January 24.