Sports, University News

Athletics program enters new era

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, March 1, 2012

The field hockey team will play on a new field after renovations are completed this summer.

As the University prepares to enter a new phase with the impending retirements of President Ruth Simmons and Director of Athletics Michael Goldberger, the athletics department, though a top priority, remains in flux with major changes planned or already underway.

Those changes include cutting roughly 20 admission slots for recruited athletes, pumping $1.1 million into salary raises for coaches, designating about $52 million for facilities renovations and a significant enlargement of the athletics endowment, opening the new athletics facility in April and potentially ramping up a pilot program designed to encourage academic diversity among athletes. And just a year after four varsity teams faced potential elimination, all of the University’s 37 varsity teams are secure for the foreseeable future. 

Fundraising 

The administration is looking to increase funding significantly for a range of athletics priorities over the next several years. Among the more immediate and definite changes is a total of $1.1 million over two years to raise coaches’ salaries. The University has pledged to include the funds in its budget.

 “Over the course of these two years, we should get close to or match the league average,” Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 said. Since the $1.1 million is part of the general budget, it “will be paid for by the regular University budget process,” he said.

To maximize fairness and efficiency, “we actually went position by position” to determine salary changes for individual coaches and athletics administrators, Goldberger said. Though the issue of gender disparities in compensation was also discussed, Goldberger said it will be addressed by human resources. He added that the University has less significant gender inequities than most schools. Schlissel said the allocated funds will address efforts to narrow the gap. 

Goldberger expressed excitement over the University’s efforts to double down on fundraising for athletics. “The fact that the University has established this as a priority is a dramatic statement,” he said.

Roughly $42 million is slated for long-term athletics enhancement. The number was calculated after funding statistics for 32 teams were compared to the rest of the Ivy League, and administrators discovered that 16 of those teams received the least funds in the league, with only one matching the league average, Goldberger said. “This was maybe the biggest thing that came forward from the president’s response to the Athletics Review Committee,” he said.

The $42 million will come through a fundraising push led by the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body. In past years, a surge in donations meant the University would decrease its contributions, Goldberger said, “but now they’re growing the budget” in addition to the roughly $3.2 million already designated to athletics annually.

“It’s really pretty amazing that Brown has decided to elevate athletics to one of seven important priorities for the University, so that is kind of a game-changer for us,” said Davies Bisset III ’85 , executive director of the Brown Sports Foundation. Athletics has not always ranked among other leading priorities like brain sciences, dormitory renovations and engineering, he added.

“The Corporation and the president are saying, ‘Yes, you can go ahead and try to endow the athletics program, so that we never find ourselves in the position we were in last fall.’ … It’s just something we really dreamed of,” Bisset said. “We’re just happy to be among that rarefied group of important aspects of the Brown community and the Brown experience.”

The four teams that were almost cut from the University last year — skiing, wrestling and both fencing teams — can also breathe a little easier, Goldberger said. “I think the success they’ve achieved has been remarkable,” he said.

In her recommendation not to cut the teams, Simmons included the stipulation that they cover their own operating budgets, which all four are on track to achieve, Bisset said. Additionally, “fencing and wrestling are trying to build up their endowments,” he said. Wrestling has raised $1.5 million in pledges thus far, he said, and fencing has raised between $800,000 and $900,000. Skiing has raised less, but the exact total is “a little harder to pin down.”

Bisset attributed the fundraising successes to the networks of alumni and parents that mobilized in response to the threat of elimination. The teams activated fundraising through a variety of means, including social media, he said. 

“They’ve been very organized, and they have been the leaders,” he said. “I’ve just been overwhelmed by the outpouring of passion.” 

Facilities renovations 

In the more immediate future, the University is pledging $10 million for facilities renovations, many of which are badly needed, Goldberger said. The funds for these renovations will come out of the Corporation’s pledged fundraising drive.

Of those funds, $6 million will finance a variety of projects this summer, which include a new field hockey field, a conversion from grass to turf on Stevenson Field, drainage renewal to make fields more playable and renovations to the fields’ lights so they spill over less into city residents’ property, Goldberger said.

Beyond this summer, $2.5 million is scheduled to renovate the space vacated by the varsity weight room in the Pizzitola Center. The money will remedy violations of the fire marshal’s code, increase the size of the sports medicine training room and give teams more space in currently crowded locker rooms, Goldberger said. The timetable for these renovations will depend on how quickly sufficient funds can be raised, he added.

Finally, $1.5 million will allow athletics to move the women’s softball team to a permanent, year-round field in the northeast corner of the Aldrich-Dexter Field. Administrators also plan to take the area currently used by women’s soccer and lacrosse and create a practice grass field for men’s and women’s soccer and softball, a process Goldberger said he expects will happen in summer 2013.

Bridget McNamara ‘1
2, a tri-captain of the field hockey team this fall, said the current field is “in disrepair” and that a new field will help the team attract fans and recruits. She added that other teams have been unwilling to play on the field. “It definitely affects a team mentality psychologically when you’re told that your team or your field is further down on the list,” she said.

Admissions and financial aid 

Current plans call for the number of recruited athletes to fall from 225 to 205 over three years, beginning with the class of 2017, though both numbers are general benchmarks and not specific quotas, Schlissel said.

Schlissel framed the move as an unfortunate but necessary change, given the shifting dynamics of the application process and the University’s commitment to academic prowess. “As the quality and breadth of the applicant pool for Brown keeps growing and getting more competitive, President Simmons felt that this number represented too large a fraction” of admitted students, he said, but the intent was “not to adversely affect the competitiveness of our teams and not to penalize very successful teams.”

The administration’s goal is to maintain the current standard of recruiting 80 percent of the team for as many sports as possible, Schlissel said, and to keep each team within one of the average number of recruited athletes across the Ivy League. Most affected teams are likely to lose just one slot.

Goldberger said the impact of the cuts will be dulled by spreading them across teams, and some of the best-performing teams — including women’s crew, football and men’s soccer — will likely see no reductions. “The teams that have been strong for us — we don’t want to weaken them,” he said, while sports that have often relied on walk-ons, like the equestrian team, will continue to do so.

In her October recommendations, Simmons proposed to couple the cuts with an increase in financial aid. The current financial aid budget is more than $90 million, but the University hopes to enhance its ability to match offers from other Ivy League schools for desired athletes, Schlissel said. An Ivy League rule that prohibits differential financial treatment of athletes means this commitment to match financial aid offers will apply to a top athlete just as it will to “an academic superstar.” 

“We haven’t set aside a specific number of dollars,” Schlissel said. “What we’ve done is we’ve enunciated a principle.”

Though the financial aid push is not limited to athletics, Goldberger said the impact for teams would be noteworthy, especially for recruits whose family incomes are between $100,000 and $175,000, the range in which financial aid differentials between the University and other Ivy League schools can stretch to $30,000 a year. “It will give us the opportunity to go after a lot of people that we’re really not competitive for right now,” he said.

Schlissel also looked into the Academic Index of the University’s recruits last semester and over winter break. An Ivy League rule stipulates that the AI — a metric based on SAT score and GPA — of a university’s recruited athletes must be on average no less than one standard deviation below that of the school’s student body. Brown’s current average AI is 217 on a scale of 240, Schlissel said, with a floor of 203.7 for recruits — and when he looked at the most recent class’s data, he found that athletes had an average of 207. 

“As long as we continue exceeding the league standard, then I’ll be satisfied,” he said.

Academic tracks 

The University has also examined athletes’ academic tracks once they reach Brown. One for Me, a pilot program currently in its second year, is designed to encourage varsity athletes to vary their course loads, since athletes often cluster in courses with their teammates, said Stephen Lassonde, deputy dean of the College. The initiative has recruited seniors on four teams to write letters to incoming recruits that tout the benefits of academic diversity and urge them to take at least one class without teammates. The project has seen a 97 percent success rate among the recruits, Lassonde said. 

The program was designed to address issues of academic diversity with which all universities struggle, Lassonde said, and it relied especially on the First-Year Seminar program.

Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn said the reasons athletes often take classes with teammates are understandable and not always negative, including strong cohesion within teams and the campus culture of relying on other students’ recommendations. 

“That may be fine, but does that mean that you’re also not hearing as much about other courses?” she said. “That’s a strength of team culture, but we wanted to make sure that it was operating in the best possible way.”

Through the program, administrators have sought to ensure that many course options are available to athletes by making sure enough first-year seminars are offered in the mornings, which conflict less with practice schedules, Klawunn said. She added that the administration hopes to expand the program to other teams next year. Currently, it is operating for women’s soccer, men’s lacrosse and both swimming and diving teams, said Sarah Fraser, assistant athletic director for compliance.

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