Sports, University News

Committee nears budget proposals for athletics

Varsity programs could be axed

By
Sports Editor
Tuesday, April 12, 2011

With the charge of cutting the already-limited athletics department budget, a committee will inform President Ruth Simmons next month of its recommendations to raise the department’s revenue and cut expenses, which could include eliminating teams.

“There’s probably a list of 20 sports that have been discussed as possibilities of being dropped,” Director of Athletics Michael Goldberger said. “Some would fall into the category of big sports that you would see as untouchable, and others would have fallen into the category of, ‘They don’t cost anything. Why would we keep it or get rid of it?'” Goldberger said it is possible no teams will be cut.

Though Brown offers the most varsity programs in the Ivy League, it also generates the least revenue from sports of any Ivy, according to 2010 fiscal year statistics submitted to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education.

 

The buildup to game time

The 10-person committee — composed of administrators, two coaches, two student athletes and a faculty member — builds on the findings of the Organizational Review Committee, a group of 12 subcommittees convened by the University in 2009 to develop recommendations for making up budget shortfalls.

In February 2010, the athletics subcommittee recommended a re-evaluation of the “number and mix” of varsity sports offered at Brown.

“If we’re going to offer a varsity sport, we should do that correctly, with all the protections that students should have for competing in a sport,” Simmons said, according to a February 2010 Herald article. “That’s the wake-up call for us, to face up to the fact that we simply don’t have the resources to mount the number of team sports that we offer.”

The University offers 21 sports, which mostly compete in the Ivy League. The University had $15,171,473 in athletic costs in fiscal year 2010, the smallest amount in the Ivy League, according to the Office of Postsecondary Education.

The University’s calculated athletics budget, which does not include expenses and revenues related to the Brown University Sports Foundation and Nelligan Sports Marketing, totaled $13.3 million in the last fiscal year. For the upcoming fiscal year 2012, the athletics budget is $13 million, approximately 1.6 percent of the University’s total budget of $834.3 million. The athletics budget also totaled about 1.6 percent of the overall budget in the current fiscal year.

The committee is nearing its final recommendations, Goldberger said. “We know the costs,” he said. “I think we have a lot of this information. Now it’s just saying, ‘All right, what comes together that makes sense for Brown?'”

 

X’s and O’s of the committee’s decision

There are no easy answers to questions about which programs should be cut and which can remain untouched within the school’s budgetary limits.

“The question of what’s the right level of resources — there’s no formula for that,” said Dick Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president, who chairs the committee. He said the committee and the administration must consider where the University should lie in terms of the rest of the Ivy League.

Spies said the committee must be aware of what it can do with the available resources.

“We don’t have the ability — in financial aid and faculty staffing and salaries — to overwhelm anything with resources,” he said. “So we have to be selective in what we do, and we have to find the right balance in the programs we can offer.”

The committee has made strides toward reaching decisions, but there is still a lot “open for discussion,” said Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services and a member of the committee.

“We haven’t even agreed upon the criteria to use for the evaluation,” Klawunn said. “But we’ve mentioned some things that we think are really valuable. Like what is the student-athlete experience, and what is the status of that sport in the Ivy League and the NCAA? What’s important for Brown in terms of the history of the sport at Brown and its success at Brown?”

Goldberger said maintaining gender equity will be another key factor in the decision making.

In 1995, the University was found to have violated Title IX, a 1972 law prohibiting gender discrimination in federally financed programs. Four years earlier, the athletics department, in response to school-wide budget difficulties, cut University funding to four varsity programs — men’s golf, men’s water polo, women’s gymnastics and women’s volleyball. Amy Cohen ’92 and other members of the gymnastics and volleyball teams filed a Title IX suit against the University, and the two programs were reinstated after the 1995 ruling and a subsequent failed appeal from the University in 1996.

Currently, the University offers 18 women’s varsity teams, the most in the Ivy League, and 15 men’s varsity teams, third-highest in the conference behind Harvard and Princeton. Approximately 48 percent of Brown’s varsity athletes are female, the highest in the Ivy League.

 

The budget’s impact on the field

Members of the committee said the University’s budget limits tangibly affect the athletics department.

For example, the University cannot afford to have as well-staffed a department as other Ivies’ athletics departments. “That means people are scrambling to do things. It means we can’t do things as well, because we don’t have the hours in the day to do them,” Spies said.

“It affects the quality of the program when you can’t provide adequate support for it,” he added.

Varsity athletes said they can feel the effects of a pinched budget.

“We have a really great head coach, but I think sometimes he might wish that he had a bigger budget for an assistant coach,” said skiing captain Krista Consiglio ’11.

“The amount of injuries we have — sometimes it would be nice if we could have a trainer that travels with us,” Consiglio added.

Many other schools have two or three assistant coaches, said Alex DePaoli ’11, co-captain of the fencing team. “In my freshman and sophomore years, we had an assistant coach. Last year, we had a part-time assistant, and this year for the first semester, we had a part-time coach.”

Klawunn said the budget also causes overcrowding at athletic facilities, especially when the winter teams and the spring teams overlap.

“One of the things the Corporation is looking at … is, ‘Is it healthy to have teams that have to travel a couple of hours to practice?'” Goldberger said. “Is it healthy to have teams that really don’t have the ability to do certain things?”

DePaoli said his team is limited by the school’s facility constraints.

“We have four strips, and we practice on the first (basketball) court of the (Olney-Margolies Athletic Center). We drop down one curtain, but other than that, we practice to the entertainment of anyone on the ellipticals.”

A new fitness and aquatics center will open next March, giving several teams the ability to host home competitions. The opening of the Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center will create a permanent home for the swimming, diving and water polo teams and a viable venue for home meets and games. Since the Smith Swim Center was closed in 2007 due to major structural issues, the teams have held home events in multiple locations, including Wheaton College, Providence College, the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and Seekonk High School.

The facility shortages can also negatively impact the academic experiences of athletes.

“It’s sort of a two-way street to make sure there’s a balance between what athletics is offering and what opportunities the athletes get academically,” Goldberger said.

Goldberger cited the scheduling conflicts that arise between practice and class schedules for students who mus
t travel to other facilities.”Sometimes, there are definitely classes we don’t get to take, but coaches are pretty understanding of academic needs,” Consiglio said. “It is harder for us than other teams — we can’t take classes Tuesdays and Thursdays before 2:30 because we have to travel two hours just to train.”

 

Boosting team funds

Apart from the decrease in expenses that would result from cuts in the varsity program, committee members also noted the importance of generating additional funds to support University athletics.

Raising money is “going to be a big part of what we do as a committee,” Goldberger said. “I can guarantee you that what we come out and say as a committee is that it’s going to cost more money. There are some that say that all we should do is get more money, and there are others that say all we should do is cut stuff. But somewhere in the middle is what we’re looking for.”

The Corporation accepted several athletics-related gifts at its February meeting. A combined $400,000 was donated to the men’s lacrosse head coaching chair. In addition, the Corporation established head coaching chairs for squash, men’s crew and baseball and assistant coaching chairs in squash and women’s crew.

Money donated to a specific coaching chair is actually allocated in the budget for all coaching expenses. “What we were really able to do, because we had that endowment, is support the (coaches) better in terms of salary, in terms of number of positions,” Spies said.

Goldberger said the department wants to encourage potential donors to support athletics through endowed chairs. But he said the department must ensure the endowments will actually enhance the team, not just provide a tangible way to inspire donors.

 

Gameplan ahead

The committee will weigh its findings and deliver a recommendation to Simmons before the end of the school year, Spies said. “If she agrees, that can be presented to the Corporation,” he added.

But before an implementation plan is taken to the Corporation, Klawunn said the committee’s recommendation will be “open to input from the community.”

“We expect to talk to student-athletes, coaches, (the Undergraduate Council of Students), the athletic advisory council, faculty liaisons,” she said.

Current varsity athletes said they see a difficult track ahead. “I don’t think that if any sport team was cut, it would happen quietly,” Consiglio said. “I think you’d have a number of athletes that would be extremely upset about it.”

Title IX also makes cutting women’s teams complicated, she said. For example, if the women’s ski team, which was created because of Title IX, were cut, the University would need to find a men’s team to cut as compensation.

“I’m pretty sure we’re 100 percent donor-funded, so I don’t think they could cut our team,” said Allegra Aron ’11, a member of the varsity equestrian team.

University athletes agreed that though the initial mention of team eliminations last year led to serious discussions among coaches and players, the topic has not been as prevalent this year.

“I really haven’t heard much about it,” Aron said. “I remember people were really worried that we could get cut last year.”

“I think last year, every athlete was a little bit more concerned about the potential for teams being cut,” Consiglio said. “But when they decided to postpone the decision, it wasn’t talked about much more.”

DePaoli said members of the fencing team had increased efforts in “figuring out ideas where we can stay on the good side of the committee” last season, including increasing participation in Fox Point programs and encouraging their families to donate to the athletic fund.

Students not directly involved with varsity programs expressed mixed opinions about a possible restructuring of the athletic program.

“I guess I wouldn’t be personally affected by any change, but I’d be sad to see programs go,” said Katie Barcay ’12. “I think it would have a negative effect on the school. … I’m not too sure why, but it just doesn’t feel right. It’s an opportunity for people to get involved in different teams, and it would be sad to see fewer opportunities on campus.”

“There would definitely be some sort of cultural shift if the number of athletes went down because some teams are cut,” said Ezra Berger ’11. “Whatever Brown school spirit exists now, it’d be minimized even more if there were less athletes.”

Berger also noted the possible effects on donations to the University. “I work at the advancement office, and you definitely would lose a lot of donors,” he said. “The Sports Foundation is a big selling point.”

While teams and students await the committee’s recommendations, Goldberger and other members must face difficult decisions.

“I think our goal is — what’s the logical group of sports that we should offer?” Goldberger said. “It could be all of them, or it could be a reduction of 10, but I don’t think it’ll be anything extreme that way.”

 

— With additional reporting by Dan Alexander

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