Blair Alston didn't know who the "guy in the suit" was who stood at the front of Temple University's Student Pavilion on Friday afternoon.

Alston, a junior on the men's track and field team, received an e-mail Friday morning to attend a mandatory student-athlete meeting.

And Alston did not know what to think when Temple athletic director Kevin G. Clark - the man in the suit - told the assembly of 150 student athletes that seven sports would be eliminated.

Along with men's indoor and outdoor track, Temple announced that it would eliminate baseball; softball; men's gymnastics; and men's and women's rowing.

"He said if you had any questions you could ask him right now," said Alston, who is a nonscholarship athlete. "But none of us were able to say anything. Everyone was shocked, people were crying."

On their way out of the Pavilion, the student-athletes received a white envelope with a letter that detailed the news.

The cuts take effect June 2014, but in those seven sports the student-athletes' scholarships will still be honored. Any affected student-athlete can transfer immediately without penalty.

"No athletic department wants to be in a position to cut sports, but it's the right thing to do," Clark said. "We can't pretend that we don't have a problem."

Baseball coach Ryan Wheeler learned his team's fate at about 1 p.m., shortly before Clark told his players.

"I can't say that it wasn't in the back of my mind," said Wheeler. "And as we got word yesterday that we were having a meeting, some things started to go through my head."

Wheeler gathered his team after the meeting and told them he felt terrible.

The Temple baseball team announced last month that it will play most of its home games this season at Campbell's Field, a more convenient and attractive site than their current ballpark in Ambler.

A Temple statement labeled the move the start of a "new era."

The next month, Wheeler said, will determine if Temple even fields a baseball team this season.

"They can leave, effective immediately, and I told all of them that I will help them in any way that I possibly can," said Wheeler. "I won't hold it against them if they decide to leave, and I certainly expect them to take care of themselves."

"The whole thing is heartbreaking. I feel terrible for these guys," said Steve Nikorak, who was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2012 after five years at Temple. "But Coach Wheeler will do whatever he can to help them out."

Taylor Robinson, a freshman on the women's basketball team, was in McGonigle Hall when an announcement was made there to the teams that are not being eliminated.

She said the gym fell silent and no one could believe the news.

"It's not fair at all," said Robinson, as a softball player nearby walking down Broad Street screamed her objections into a cellphone. "And like she said, it's not right."

Blair Bradley, a senior from Maryland, transferred last year from Tulsa to be on the women's rowing team. She will get to finish her career, but said she feels for the underclassmen.

"We don't know what's going on right now," said Bradley. "We're just in shock."

Imani Johnson, a freshman rower from Philadelphia who was a walk-on this season, said she was hoping to earn a scholarship. She said the team was caught off guard.

Victoria Reggiani and Erin McCane, freshmen on the women's gymnastics team, said the gymnasts from the men's and women's teams were like family.

"We eat dinner together, we have classes together, we go out together," said McCane. "I can't imagine them not being here."

They saw a men's gymnast after the meeting, but McCane said he would not look at them before he "punched a wall and stormed off."

Reggiani and McCane received the same e-mail Friday morning as Alston. They did not know the reason for their meeting.

McCane thought maybe they were in trouble for something. Reggiani thought it was a way to wrap up the fall semester.

The message directed them to McGonigle Hall - not the Student Pavilion - and that turned out to be an important difference.

 
mbreen@phillynews.com

@matt_breen