Pennsylvania’s state university system has cleared the last remaining hurdle in its plans to merge six of its 14 schools: The universities will be allowed to keep their own sports teams.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association met Tuesday and decided that the six universities — Bloomsburg, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Edinboro, Clarion and California — can maintain their teams with separate athletic budgets and directors, state system officials announced. Athletes and their teams will remain in the NCAA and be able to compete for championships.
Score one for the Bloomsburg Huskies, the Lock Haven Bald Eagles, the Mansfield Mountaineers, the Clarion University Golden Eagles, the California University Vulcans and the Edinboro University Fighting Scots.
The NCAA has not yet released details on its decision, but system officials were told the plan got the green light.
“The NCAA’s decision is another major step toward building these powerhouse institutions and is great news for our universities, our system, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, and above all, our student-athletes,” Daniel Greenstein, system chancellor, said in a statement.
System officials had been bracing for the decision, with athletic teams key to maintaining some measure of the schools’ identities as they merge their administrations and curriculum.
“Intercollegiate athletics hold a special place as part of the fabric of each of our campus communities and institutional brands,” said Bashar Hanna, president of Bloomsburg and interim president of Lock Haven and Mansfield, who served as the system’s liaison to the NCAA.
“I don’t know what I’d do,” Gavin Troutman, a Lock Haven University junior from Oley Valley, said last summer when asked how he would feel if the school couldn’t keep its teams. He plays baseball for Lock Haven.
The system began contemplating the mergers — the biggest change in the state system’s 39-year history — after the legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf in 2020 approved legislation that allows the system to consolidate or merge some campuses. The state system’s board of governors last summer approved the merger of Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield in north-central Pennsylvania into one university and California, Clarion and Edinboro into another. Collectively, the campuses serve about 29,000 students.
Under the plan, all six campuses will be maintained, but the merged entity will report to a single leadership team and operate with one staff and budget. The mergers, which are scheduled to take effect in July, come as the 88,651-student system tries to operate more efficiently and keep costs down for students. The system has lost more than one-quarter of its enrollment since 2010.
But last summer’s approval came with several uncertainties, including how the NCAA and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the system’s accrediting body, would react. Middle States gave a nod to the plan in March.
Bloomsburg, Mansfield and Lock Haven will operate under a new entity known as the Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania, while California, Clarion and Edinboro will become Pennsylvania Western University, Penn West for short. The campuses, however, will continue to use their individuals names, mascots and logos for most messaging. That includes the degrees students are awarded, though those degrees must carry the name of the new entity, with the individual campus as a secondary name, according to Middle States.
The commission has required the system and its universities to report on progress in a number of areas over the coming months, including mission, faculty, academic programs, and fiscal resources. Two of the universities — Bloomsburg and California, the primary leaders — will have degree-granting authority under the new names. The four others will not, according to the commission decision.
System officials have said the mergers will grow enrollment, save millions, and improve operating margins within three to five years. But the integrations also yielded backlash from some faculty, students, and alumni, who feared the schools would lose their identities, see a further drop-off in enrollment, and offer students fewer in-person learning opportunities.
System officials countered that the mergers will offer students a greater array of courses and enable them to graduate more quickly. They also say that although students in some majors may need to take some classes online, 75% of students concentrated in eight to 10 majors will have in-person access to all classes.