On June 23, 2023, a Friday morning not long after the end of spring semester, Cavaliers everywhere woke up to a story announcing that their beloved institution was closing its doors.
The news blindsided students, faculty, and alumni. Before they received a notice from the school, outside entities knew about it and released stories that spread rampantly around social media.
“Cabrini University to be sold,” read the headline from D3sports.com. It was a stunning message that led to plenty of questions.
How long was this in the works? What happened to a merger? Why did we find out now?
While we may never know what truly happened behind closed doors, we’re starting to get an idea of how we got to this point and where we are headed.
An open secret around the media
Dave McHugh, a reporter for D3sports.com, was initially tipped off by an unnamed source to the talks between the two schools. McHugh covers DIII basketball and hosts the internet show “Hoopsville” which airs throughout the college basketball season.
“We had one very good source who I knew had it,” said McHugh. “It was when we started hearing from sources not as directly involved that I finally decided we needed to do something.”
McHugh turned to D3sports executive editor Pat Coleman, and the two were able to get multiple sources to confirm the schools were in conversation about a deal.
Other media outlets also received tips about Cabrini and Villanova in mid-June. According to reports, the language of the talks, at first, considered a possible merger. Coleman and McHugh continued to speak with sources and soon found out that instead of a merger, there was another deal in the works, and the Cabrini community was being left in the dark.
“When we’re talking about something as monumental as a school closing,” said Coleman, “the thing that was most important to us when reporting on this is that we do every piece of legwork possible. We would never have published something like this without being 100 percent sure that it was accurate.”
Another piece of the puzzle that put them in a peculiar position is that they were told by an anonymous source that another media entity was also covering the story. The difference was that this publication reportedly was holding the story until the schools were ready to announce the deal.
“They wanted to report on their timeline and do a disservice to the student body,” said McHugh. “I didn’t agree that this was something you sat on.”
McHugh and Coleman finished their article and were confident that their reporting was accurate enough to release. Amidst the work that they had on their plate in late June, they decided to hold off on publishing the article and give time for the two schools to make their move. With days going by without a word from either party, Coleman felt it was time.
“This story was getting to the point where it was an open secret,” said Coleman. “To actually get something out there that was as close to on the record as possible and official, rather than have people continue to spread rumors about it, seemed like the right way to go.”
Big news that drops on a Friday morning usually gets lost in everyone’s weekend plans. But with this story, the news spread fast.
D3sports published the article on the morning of June 23 and it was quickly picked up by other major media outlets. Within hours, Inside Lacrosse, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Inside Higher Ed, and most local news channels began to report on the situation going along with a joint statement put out by the two universities. Cabrini quickly moved to announce the launch of cabriniuniversitylegacy.com, complete with FAQs and a video address from President Helen Drinan.
“Part of our goal in breaking the story was to make sure that people had the information in hand as early as we could give it to them,” said Coleman. “We just wanted to make sure that everybody in the community understood what was going on.”
Understanding the next steps
The Inquirer’s article, reported that both schools’ boards of trustees agreed on a memorandum of understanding (MOU). This is a non-binding agreement that states each party’s intentions to take action and conduct a business transaction. The details of the MOU were laid out in the joint statement put out by the two schools on June 23.
“It was upsetting,” said Zackery Donlen, junior accounting major. “I don’t think [the statement] did a good job of explaining why, but I also don’t think it necessarily had to.”
With the MOU agreed upon, we remain in the waiting period for a definitive agreement. This agreement would be a legally binding contract laying out the final terms and conditions between the two entities.
Cabrini Executive Director of Marketing and Communications Angela Buchanico says we are getting close to hearing an update on the final deal.
“At present, Cabrini is working toward completing our agreement with Villanova sometime this October,” said Buchanico. “As this is a legal process … there isn’t anything specific that can be revealed until the definitive agreement is signed. At that point, more information will be provided to the Cabrini community.”
Cabrini’s board of trustees will sign the agreement, leaving it to VIllanova’s board, which reportedly meets on Oct. 10. After that, the Missionary Sisters, who own our property, have the final say, and they can decide to take an extra 30 days to make their decision.
The Loquitur will continue to follow the status of the agreement as this process continues.