BY LUKE REYNOLDS
PHOTO COURTESY, BY SPORTGRAPHICS
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In 2020, at 5 p.m. on Aug. 7, a bulletin was published on the website of Nova Southeastern University.
The item was only four paragraphs long, but its impact was wide-ranging.
“It is an understatement to say that this was a very difficult decision for all involved. We are also mindful and empathetic of the consequences that this decision has and will have. Our focus right now is the current student-athletes, the alums, and the staff who have been directly affected. The student-athletes and coaches who have represented NSU rowing since the inception of the program have been true ambassadors, true leaders, and true champions of the university who will always be celebrated within the NSU Athletics family,” Director of Athletics Michael Mominey said.
The Nova Southeastern women’s rowing program—a Division II national championship-winning team—was suspended indefinitely.
“It was tragic knowing that rowing was the only team to get eliminated,” said Nova Southeastern alumna Nicki Fellucha-Brugler.
As any rower would, Fellucha-Brugler, along with several other former rowers and coaches, got to work immediately. After the initial wave of anger and frustration, the group turned the suspension into an opportunity to build the program from the ground up.
“Nikki, I, and a bunch of other alumni established a committee and now we are turning it into a foundation/boosters-club type of support for the university,” said Nova rowing alumna Megan O’Donnell. “We have worked hand in hand with the athletics department and had very open, candid conversations about the future and what the next couple of years will look like for the rowing program.”
The effort paid off. As of Sept. 7, the Nova Southeastern women’s rowing program has been reinstated, and the search for a coach for the 2023-2024 academic year is under way.
“We are pleased to welcome women’s rowing back as the 17th NCAA Division II sponsored sport for NSU Athletics,” said Michael Mominey, NSU Director of Athletics / Associate Vice President for Advancement. “The NSU women’s rowing program has been one of the most successful sports in our history and we look forward to them continuing to succeed on the water and in the classroom.”
Fellucha-Brugler says their story is unique compared to other rowing programs that have been cut.
“We supported the athletic director [Michael Mominey], and that’s where our story differs. We were never working against him,” Fellucha-Brugler said. “We provided talking points. We provided information on the rowing community. The athletic director is not going to know every detail about rowing. Nobody knows jack shit about our sport. As far as they’re concerned, they can buy a canoe at Dick’s and it’s rowing. We gave him the ammunition to help fight our cause. Once we started supporting him and making it easier to forge a road with us, the conversation started to turn.
“They realized our tenacity, beginning with the Save NSU Women’s Rowing Committee to becoming a rowing foundation and looking at the bigger picture. They realized the caliber of student-athletes they produce and that they’re [the university administration] losing out more than we are. That’s how we rooted ourselves in—as partners working together to turn this around.”
Fellucha-Brugler believes approaching the suspension from a logical, practical standpoint is why the effort to reinstate the team paid off.
“We were clear and concise with our messaging: We can’t throw around money. We don’t have a single alumnus over the age of 40. We’re all young and not yet in our wealth-generating years. We don’t have the resources to say, ‘Let’s just fix this financially.’ We came with a business plan and said, ‘Let us show you what rowing can do for the university, and what we can do.”
The path ahead, O’Donnell said, will be about building the program from the inside out by focusing on athletes already on the Nova Southeastern campus.
“Instead of going out and getting bigger recruits, we’re going to find people on campus and push them and build up the program from there,” O’Donnell said. “That’s where we’re going to see success the first couple of years. Then we’re going to go after athletes from all over the country and the world. We’re hiring a coach and we’re going to do a good job finding kids and teaching them the first couple of years until word about the program gets out and we see those bigger commits in the next couple of years after that.”