University News

In shift, Simmons says $2M could save ski teams

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, October 13, 2011

With the Corporation set to decide the fate of Brown’s skiing, fencing and wrestling programs by the end of next week, the threatened teams are making final efforts to increase their likelihood of survival.

After the release of the Athletics Review Committee’s report in April, the three programs have organized fundraising campaigns in hopes of convincing administrators and Corporation officials of their viability.

Men’s and women’s skiing team captains Alex Salter ’12 and Kia Mosenthal ’12 met with President Ruth Simmons in mid-September to better understand the prospects for their program’s future. The women’s skiing team competes at the varsity level and faces elimination. The men’s team is a club team that shares funds, a coach and other resources with the women’s team.

Simmons recommended the program raise $2 million to save itself from elimination. According to Salter, Simmons said it would be difficult to cut the program if it were financially self-sufficient. Assuming a 5 percent annual return, $2 million would be enough to cover the team’s operating cost of about $100,000 per year.

But the skiing teams are a long way from achieving that goal. To date, the skiing program has raised approximately $140,000, Salter said. He said the fundraising campaign had a late start because team members were told in the spring that raising money would not help their chances for survival. The skiing team has only begun to receive donations in earnest in the past three weeks, Salter said.

The women’s team’s small size and relative youth has also posed a significant challenge to fundraising, said Head Coach Michael LeBlanc. “There isn’t much of a support network, an alumni base, out there,” he said. The money raised over the past few weeks shows the teams are not helpless, but it could take a few years for them to raise $2 million, Mosenthal said.

Salter said he thought it was “a little unfair” that the skiing teams were told in the spring it was futile to raise money, leaving them only a few weeks now to collect what funds they can. The April report did not set any monetary targets for teams to become self-sufficient or avoid elimination. It cited instead concerns about the safety of ski team members traveling out-of-state for practices and the University’s inability to provide sufficient facilities.

The wrestling and fencing programs have had greater fundraising success. The wrestling team has raised $770,000 since last spring, Head Coach David Amato said. The team has another $1.5 million coming to them in the form of pledges from alumni and other supporters.

The review committee cited expenses as one of the reasons to cut the wrestling team, but Amato said he did not think it was about the money. The wrestling team’s budget amounts to $228,000 every year, but the team’s endowment and donations cover about $120,000 of those costs annually, he said.

The Athletics Review Committee is more concerned about admissions slots tucked away for wrestling recruits every year than about the money, he said. “I think they want the admissions spots back,” he said.

The fencing team has raised about $700,000, said men’s captain Andrew Pintea ’12. Brandon Tomasso ’13, a member of the men’s team, said the fencing teams have also been pledged additional support. But a number of those pledges will only be fulfilled if the fencing teams do not get cut, Tomasso said.

The Athletics Review Committee cited the fencing program’s lack of proper resources and facilities as weaknesses of the program. Tomasso said the teams plan to raise enough money to be self-sustaining and are looking for a permanent practice and competition venue nearby. They are considering putting together an investment strategy to stretch the capital they receive from donors, he said.

In the meeting with skiing team captains, Simmons also mentioned a desire to make athletics in general more self-sufficient by instituting a collective fundraising campaign, Salter said. But for now, the teams are on their own.

Salter said he does not understand why the University would make the decision “to cut a successful team that uses very little resources.” Mosenthal cited the women’s team’s third-place finish at Nationals in 2010 as an example of that success.

“I’m hoping they’ll recognize that skiing does have a place here,” Mosenthal said. “Just as much as any other sport.”

It does not appear that Title IX will play a role in the University’s decision regarding the women’s skiing team, LeBlanc said. The University can cut skiing and still be in compliance with Title IX, he said, even if it does not cut the wrestling or fencing teams.

Title IX is a federal law requiring athletic programs to provide equal opportunities to males and females. The University lost a Title IX lawsuit in 1995 after it cut four teams, including the women’s volleyball and gymnastics squads, in a series of budget cuts in 1992.