As the Oct. 19 faculty strike draws near, uncertainty about what effect the potential strike would have on the state universities continues to rise.
Both the faculty and coaches of the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) schools have been working without contracts for 465 days. The coaches union has not yet set a strike date, but the Oct. 19 faculty date would happen right in the middle of seven SRU fall sports’ seasons. SRU football, men and women’s soccer, field hockey, volleyball, and men and women’s cross-country could all be affected.
SRU athletic director Paul Lueken, a member of the faculty union, is hopeful that both the coaches and faculty unions will be able to reach agreements with the state before the strike comes into effect, but he has plans for if the coaches were to strike.
“Well our plan is to maintain athletics as usual,” Lueken said. “We do have graduate assistant coaches in almost all the fall sports, and the winter sports, and the spring sports. We also have volunteer coaches in a lot of our sports so we would try to continue it that way.”
Luken also believes that, in the event of a coaches strike, some of the SRU coaches would not strike and would continue to coach their respective teams. Director Lueken did not name any specific coaches he believed would not strike, nor want to comment on the record on whether or not he, himself would participate in a potential faculty strike.
Luken said his biggest concern would be a strike by the athletic training staff, leaving the athletic teams without trainers in case of injuries. Lueken said he is working on a solution to this potential problem and that there are a few student athletic trainers that would still be around during the strike.
If faculty or coaches were to go on strike the remaining games for all Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) fall sports teams could be called into question. In the event of a work stoppage, the PSAC policy is that if a team is unable to participate in or travel to a game then the game if forfeited. Forfeiting teams would also be disqualified from post-season play. This creates a problem as there are four schools in the PSAC that are not a part of the state system. Gannon University, Mercyhurst University, Seton Hill University and the University of Pitt-Johnstown are all non-PASSHE schools that would not be affected by any sort of union strike or work storage.
Without coaches, teams may be unable to play scheduled games and if athletic directors went on strike with the faculty union, teams may be unable to travel to games.
This creates a problem around SRU’s Oct. 22 homecoming football game against Edinboro University. Lueken said that he is worried that if the Edinboro athletic director were to strike on Oct. 19, then the Edinboro football team might not be able to travel to Slippery Rock on the 22nd to compete in the game. In this situation, Lueken said that the homecoming game would turn into a green and white scrimmage of the SRU football team against itself.
Edinboro athletic director Bruce Baumgartner was reached out to for comment on the situation but did not reply.
SRU coaches union president Kevin Reynolds said the coaches negotiating team refuses to make a public comment until a deal with the state is finalized.
“I just hope the faculty can settle the contract,” Lueken said. “The disruption it’s going to bring upon students is going to be immeasurable. It’s going to be tough. If the coaches would strike those student-athletes aren’t going to get those opportunities back that they miss. Especially if you look at the senior class. Those aren’t going to be rescheduled.”
Lueken said the athletics department will continue to “operate as normal” for as long as they are able to “maintain continuity and consistency.”
The coaches union held a negotiation session with the state on Oct. 3 and has not yet made public when another session is planned.