Sports

Women’s ski team in danger of demotion to club status

One of most successful athletics programs given March deadline to raise $1.5 million, skiers say

By
Sports Editor
Friday, March 13, 2015

The women’s ski team — which has won its last 40 conference competitions, the longest such streak for any sport at Brown — is in danger of demotion to club level due to a lack of funds and insufficient fundraising efforts.

The women’s varsity ski team will likely be demoted to club status, members of the team said. The change could happen as soon as March 18 unless the team is able to meet an endowment goal of $1.5 million set forth by the Brown Sports Foundation and Director of Athletics Jack Hayes, skiers said.

Though Hayes may want to demote women’s skiing for financial reasons, the team has met fundraising goals the past two years and “operated at virtually no cost to the University” last year, said co-captain Nika Mosenthal ’15.

The women’s ski team has emerged as one of Brown’s best athletics programs in recent memory. Brown sports have struggled of late, registering the lowest average Ivy League finish across all sports for six straight years, but the ski team has dominated.

Over the past four seasons, the team has not lost a division race, going 40-0. In 2012, the team won a national title in the slalom, becoming only the third Brown team to win a national championship since 1879. It finished fifth at the USCSA National Championships last week in its fourth consecutive appearance at the event.

Despite its success, the program has been in jeopardy of being slashed for the past few years. In 2011, then-President Ruth Simmons formed the Athletics Review Committee to create a report detailing “a plan which articulates a vision for athletics at Brown.”

Among other recommendations, the ARC report called for the elimination of four teams: men’s and women’s fencing, men’s wrestling and women’s skiing. The report cited an imbalance between Brown’s athletics budget, the lowest in the Ivy League, and the number of teams it supports, the second highest in the Ancient Eight.

After an outpouring of support for all of the teams, Simmons ultimately chose not to accept the recommendation to eliminate those teams. Instead, teams “should be given the chance to demonstrate that their supporters are able to endow their sport at the level deemed necessary by the University,” she wrote in a response to the report.

Specifically, “these sports should demonstrate over the course of the year that they have assembled gifts and pledges that, when combined with existing team-designated support, constitute an income stream sufficient to generate no less than 100 percent of the current annual budget for that sport,” Simmons wrote. For the ski team, this amounts to approximately $30,000 after accounting for a $32,000 contribution from the NCAA for holding varsity status.

Head Coach Michael Leblanc said the team has “struggled awfully bad” with fundraising since 2011, largely due to a diminutive alum base. As a small outfit, the nine-member ski team graduates about two athletes each year, and it has only held varsity status since 1993.

Despite its monetary troubles, team members said they did not hear from the athletics department about its fundraising efforts until spring 2014.

“There wasn’t much hubbub about it for a few years, and then last spring (Hayes) … really put some pressure on us to raise more money,” Leblanc said.

The team responded to Hayes’ pressure and met its fundraising goal for the first time, raising $26,000 in time for the fiscal year 2014, said Mike Cohen ’11, a volunteer assistant coach on the team and head of Friends of Brown Skiing. The team has carried that momentum to this year, already meeting its goal for fiscal year 2015.

While those associated with the team feel their efforts have fulfilled the requirements set forth by Simmons, Leblanc said Hayes is “looking more at our endowment.”

In his first meeting with Leblanc last April, Hayes did not mention the team’s endowment, Mosenthal said.

The team’s endowment is currently about $85,000 and pushes $200,000 if combined with the men’s club skiing team’s endowment.

The Brown Sports Foundation informed Leblanc of the $1.5 million endowment that it expects from the team in December 2014. While team members knew being demoted was “a possibility” after meeting with Hayes last April, the skiers did not know how serious their situation was until captains Amanda Engelhardt ’15 and Mosenthal met with Hayes Feb. 26, Leblanc said.

According to the captains, Hayes made no concrete statements about the fate of the team, but Mosenthal said, “In all non-verbal ways, he communicated that … demotion to club was inevitable in as little as three weeks time if we didn’t raise $1.5 million and fully endow ourselves.”

Hayes did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and Director of Athletic Communications Christopher Humm wrote in an email to The Herald that no decision has been made about the team.

The initial ARC report recommended the team be cut for a number of reasons, including travel commitments and the lack of adequate facilities — all of which the team has refuted. But the captains said Hayes did not seem concerned with those issues.

“He brought (the ARC’s justifications) up for less than 30 seconds” during the meeting, Engelhardt said.

“He said it’s about the money,” Mosenthal said.

The team expressed frustration with the demands set forth by Hayes and the Brown Sports Foundation.

To ask the team’s supporters “to come up with the approximately $30,000 it takes to fund our season on a year-to-year basis is reasonable, and we can absolutely do that,” Mosenthal said. “We will raise enough money to be self-sustaining.”

“If we were hemorrhaging dollars from Brown and single-handedly making the Athletics Department go into the hole, then sure, please cut us,” Mosenthal added. “But we’ve looked at the numbers.”

“To ask 40 alumni under the age of 50 to come up with $1.5 million is, we believe, rather unreasonable,” Engelhardt said.

In addition to Hayes’ insistence that the team fully endow itself, the skiers also take issue with the time frame he imposed on them.

“I think we’re capable of raising the money, I just don’t think we’re capable of doing it in three weeks,” Mosenthal said.

The skiers were also upset with Hayes’ lack of communication. Engelhardt cited another section of Simmons’ response to the 2011 report that notes the University should help the teams plan their fundraising process, which she said the Athletics Department “didn’t follow through on.”

“All sports should be given goals and milestones for meeting the funding obligations set by Athletics and the University. The Athletics Department should submit sport-by-sport goals, plans and strategies for each team’s fundraising,” Simmons wrote.

“They didn’t hold up their end of the bargain,” Mosenthal said, adding that there was a “lack of understanding about what was truly expected.”

“All it would have taken was the athletic department, after this transition, saying … ‘this is what’s expected of you in concrete terms; these are the dates we want this by,’” she said.

Being demoted to club status would come as “a ridiculously huge blow,” Leblanc said. The team would no longer be allowed to use the varsity weight rooms or the University’s athletic trainers and would be barred from NCAA races.

“It would be just like flipping a switch,” Leblanc said. “All the competitiveness of the program would be gone.”

As for his future, he said, “I’m a varsity ski coach. I don’t really have any intention of running a club ski team. That’s not what I do.” But he emphasized his desire to remain in Providence, saying, “I really don’t want to leave.”

Without answers from the school, the team is left with an uncertain future.

“I work endlessly to be the best I can be for this team, and the fact that it isn’t recognized by the school is really discouraging,” said Natalie Pearl ’17, who was named ECSC MacConnell Division Skier of the Year for the second time this season.

“I’ve turned this into my life’s work,” Leblanc said. “I sure hope that I’m not left out on the street after 11 years of dedication to this institution.”

“Every time I think about this it just makes me crazy because it’s such an incredible program we have,” he added. “When you have something you’re good at, why wouldn’t you embrace that?”

 

  • S Wolff

    The lady Bears are tops in this game. It would be a real loss to Brown in terms of prestige and recruits; and to competitive skiing if the program were to be defended

    • skiingbrownbear

      Do you mean demoted?

  • GreenGuy

    Brown’s number of varsity teams is not “the second highest in the Ancient Eight,” as the article asserts, but rather the third highest, behind Harvard and Princeton. Also, Brown’s ski team, while successful in the stratum in which it competes, is hardly a national power. Brown competes in the USCSA, not the NCAA. Dartmouth, a past NCAA national champion, is an actual national power in skiing, as is the University of Vermont among eastern schools. So the status of your ski team, in national terms, is analogous to the competitive stratum of your gymnastics team, which is in the USAG, rather than the NCAA.

    • Murph

      Yo Greenguy

      Why don’t you at least get your facts straight before you go ahead and start bashing an NCAA affiliated ski team that is just trying to survive the stupidity of their own institution. Brown competes in BOTH USCSA and the NCAA. They are not members of EISA, which you you assume to be NCAA sanctioned competitions. EISA races are no more NCAA sanctioned than Macconnell division races are. There are only 3 ‘NCAA’ races in NCAA skiing all season and its Easter and Western NCAA regional champs and the Nationals. The Maconnell division is essentially just another conference in the east that feeds athletes to the NCAA post season just as EISA does.

      NCAA skiing is constantly in danger of losing members and falling below the minimum threshold of having enough member institutions to be NCAA affiliated. Its really to bad that folks who seem to be assicoated with that community would contribute to the spread of disinformation.

  • NotGreenGuy

    Calling Brown’s ski team “successful” is really a stretch. The one time that Brown competed against NCAA competition in the Eastern Regional, they finished 10th (women’s alpine). This is clearly not dominant. Brown was beaten by both Saint Michael’s College and Williams College. Both SMC and WIL didn’t qualify a single women’s alpine skier for the NCAA Championship. Brown, who scored 70 points over the two races, was also beaten by St. Lawrence (108) and Bates (131) who only qualified 1 skier for NCAAs.

    Having said this, it would be sad to see another varsity ski team go. However, before you go praising Brown’s ski team, remember that they are a glorified club team.

    Also, in response to the other commenter: Dartmouth is not a national power. It’s really cool when your team finishes only 1 out of 6 runs at NCAAs. Really powerful stuff….

    GO CATS #MJAU

    • Murph

      Not Green Gut I don’t even know where to start with you.

      First,
      the Brown Women’s team IS an NCAA affiliated Division 1 program. They
      are not members of EISA. There are several NCAA affiliated programs that
      are not members of EISA in the east. In fact, there are 6 other varsity
      teams in the east, all in the Macconnell division. They have access to
      the NCAA post season through the eastern regional champs, in fact
      Natalie Pearl almost qualified for NCAA’s at regionals this year. This
      was not Brown’s first appearance at NCAA regionals either, they have
      competed there successfully several times,in 2010 at Sunday river Brown
      was 5th in SL and 6th in GS. The Brown Women have won 40 Mac races in a row all against varsity, NCAA affiliated programs, they are composed entirely of domestic student athletes and train and compete out of Providence, RHODE ISLAND. I’d say that at least qualifies as ‘successful’.

      Either way this is hardly the point.
      Nowhere in this article does it claim that Brown skiing has won NCAA
      championships. The Brown Women are forced to compete in USCSA to some
      extent due to the fact that their Men’s team is club and cannot compete
      in the EISA regular season races. The article claims a USCSA national
      title.

      You know what the worst part is about your comment? The
      fact that NCAA skiing is one of the smallest sports with NCAA
      affiliation. Every time a ski team gets cut, it creates a difficult
      situation for NCAA skiing in general as they are dangerously close to
      the critical threshold of too few member institutions to even be a
      sanctioned sport by the NCAA. It boggles my mind that this article hurt
      your ego enough that you had to go on the Brown website and Bash a well
      accomplished team that is merely trying to survive the stupidity of
      their own administrators.
      I hope you feel better now that you put
      the Brown Womens ski team in their place. Its a good thing that everyone
      at UVM isn’t as egotistical and arrogant as yourself.

      • Andy

        Okay.

        This is getting way out of hand!

        I’m not even going to start with NotGreenGuy, because he seems like a lost cause. I will just say this:

        The University of Vermont and the University of Vermont’s skiers are not only supportive of all collegiate skiing, but are also friends with several Brown skiers. The skiing community is a small one. You are out of line, and are a disgrace to the fanbase of a great sport.

        Murph,

        You are certainly right that Brown is an NCAA recognized program, and as such, they do certainly have access to NCAAs. What you fail to realize though, is that in reality, the NCAA Regional is just like any of the five other carnivals (just with a slightly larger budget, and a banquet).

        It would be next to impossible to qualify for NCAAs based solely off of NCAA Regional results. Natalie Pearl was 51 NCAA points out of qualifying. This is certainly not almost qualifying for NCAAs. She performed well, and if Brown competed at more events where NCAA points are earned, she certainly would make the cut; she is a good enough skier. She had a great performance at SLU (13 GS, 14, SL), however, in order to qualify for NCAAs she would have needed to post at least a top 5. Eastern Regionals are NOT a qualifier; NCAA points are earned throughout the EISA season. Until Brown starts competing at multiple carnivals a season (I understand that it is expensive for a program to do), they will not have a skier compete at NCAAs. It’s just the sad truth.

        I really agree with most of what you said, but one thing sort of rubbed me the wrong way. I know this is a hot topic, but I’m not the one who brought this to the table. The domestic vs foreign athlete argument has really been on my mind lately. It’s certainly frustrating for American skiers to have to fight for spots against European skiers, but I’ve realized that that’s all it is; it’s frustrating.

        It’s tough to see the Europeans sweep the top 7 in the women’s GS, but why is it necessarily admirable (maybe you didn’t imply this, and I’m sorry if I misinferred) to field a ‘team composed entirely of domestic student athletes’? Do you not think that having skiers like Kristine Haugen or Kristina Riis-Johannessen elevates collegiate skiing? I sure think so. Having very strong competition helps the development of American skiers, and adds excitement (both of which are good for college skiing).

        College skiing is moving in an exciting direction, and seeing Brown go would hurt this progression.

        • Murph

          Andy,

          It sounds like you have a pretty good handle on things,
          thanks for calling out that other clown.
          You are correct in regards to the qualifying process for NCAA Champs as
          it applies to EISA member athletes, however for Macconnell division athletes
          the process is different as their schools are not affiliated with EISA. NCAA regionals ARE a qualifier for the Macconnell division
          athletes who attend and not just another EISA race. There are several reasons
          for this, but the primary reason is that for an institution to have NCAA affiliation
          there needs to be a fair path to post season competition. Since Mac division
          member schools do not have guaranteed entry to EISA races, they cannot score
          NCAA qualifying points at any EISA race with the exception of NCAA regionals. The
          Brown Women, or any other college team for that matter can attend EISA races as
          a ‘guest’ if invited by the host institution; which they have done in the past and the can also earn start list
          points. Given that Mac athletes’ cannot earn
          qualification to NCAA nationals because of their division affiliation at other EISA races their
          results at NCAA regionals are scored twice for each race with NCAA qualifying
          points. So Natalie Pearl’s 14th in the SL earned her double the
          points for SL qualifying, if do the math and she was very close to qualifying.
          Over the years, there have been several athletes from Mac schools who have
          earned a spot at the NCAA nationals from NCAA regionals, though it has not happened
          recently. Additionally, for a Macconnell Division athlete to attend NCAA
          regionals they have to qualify as an individual. Only the top 15 Mac athletes can
          enter NCAA regionals based on combined SL and GS points earned from their
          regular season races.

          I could not agree more with your point about foreign skiers!
          I was trying to point out that Brown’s accomplishments are legitimate based on
          the fact that they do not have any imported talent, and they are based out of
          immediate ski country. The comments from
          ‘notgreenguy’ (who is an ignorant, anonymous DB!) really rubbed me the wrong way. In 2012, when the Brown women earned their
          national title, they beat two teams who did not have a single domestic skier;
          the Sierra Nevada team actually had two women on the start list with world cup
          experience. The fact that Brown was able to beat two such teams with talented
          skiers from around the world to earn a national title was what made the title
          so noteworthy and in turn what makes the comments from the two anonymous jerks
          so despicable.

          Collegiate skiing is a confusing place. It is really too bad
          that Brown’s administrators have not taken the time to do their homework and understand
          the quality team that they have on their hands.

          Respectfully,

          Murph

  • FortheLoveoftheSki

    Shame on all of you. It’s beyond unsettling to see other teams bashing on Brown. Having more high level collegiate ski racing programs in this country can only lead to more attention for this awesome sport! National “powers” or not, where the hell is the solidarity within the ski community? THAT’S the powerful stuff…

    • NotGreenGuy

      I’m not bashing Brown, Brown’s ski team, or the skiing community.

      I do believe, however, that it is important to point out that Brown (a varsity team) is competing against club teams (there are a couple other varsity USCSA teams, but that is beside the point).

      There are so many problems with college ski racing right now, but it is misinformed to consider Brown’s USCSA National Championships equal to any other collegiate title.

      • Murph

        Wrong again Notgreenguy.

        Brown does not ‘Compete’ with club programs. The only Programs in the Macconnell division AND in USCSA who are competitive are all NCAA affiliated varsity teams, or non NCAA affiliated varsity programs that offer scholarships (ie. Sierra Nevada College) . Yes, there are a few club programs in the Mac as well, but they are hardly ‘competing’ but rather participating at Mac races. The large majority are varsity teams. Brown has never finished behind a club program at a competition in its existence.

        Nowhere in this article did it claim that the USCSA title these hardworking, dedicated and talented Women earned was equal to an NCAA Title. You implied that.

        Your problem with the article is that your overinflated ego could not deal with a talented team just trying to survive its administrations uninformed decision. Way to spread misinformation and make the problem worse for the Brown Women skiers player.

  • Scott Boss Hogg

    Natalie Pearl personified the ultimate in elite athleticism last week at USCSA National Championships. Although she failed to finish either race, she led after after Run 1 of the Women’s GS, and crashed 3 gates from the finish line in a gutsy attempt to win her first National title. While detractors will argue the legitamacy of USCSA vs. NCAA, $1.5 million required endowments for a 9 member ski team, or whether the accomplishments of LeBlanc and his team really mean anything at all, know that all of it pales in comparison to the REAL contribution Brown skiing makes to its student athletes and those of us passionately connected with collegiate ski racing. It’s not about your money or your prestige. It’s about your kids.