University News

Fencing raises $750,000 in bid to save squad

Money does not clinch survival, admins say

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The fencing team has secured over $750,000 to save its varsity program from elimination and is eyeing another $200,000 in promised pledges, according to Arnold-Peter Weiss P’15, a professor of orthopedic surgery and associate dean of admissions of the Alpert Medical School. Of the nearly 100 donors, Weiss and another individual contributed $250,000 each.

Pledges have come from team members, parents and donors, with an average of two to three donations arriving each day, said Head Coach Atilio Tass. All the pledges are contingent upon Brown maintaining the fencing program, he said.

The Athletic Review Committee reported in April that the University cannot support all of its athletic programs due to funding shortfalls. The committee recommended the men’s and women’s fencing teams be cut due to the need for “a large investment in facilities, infrastructure and coaching to bring the fencing program to the necessary level,” as well as the “small number of fencing programs nationally.” The fate of the  team will be decided along with that of the men’s wrestling and women’s skiing teams at the October Corporation meeting.

The fencing team raises about 30 percent of its own budget every year, Weiss said. Of its $100,000 budget last year, the team managed to raise $50,000.

Despite the massive fundraising effort, committee chair Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president, noted other aspects of maintaining a varsity program that are not necessarily covered by donations.

When people think of fundraising, they think only about “the cost of the salaries and other expenses related to coaching staff and travel and so on,” Spies said. There are also other costs, including those associated with the teams’ facilities and administrative staff.

The committee recommended the teams not be reinstated through independent fundraising, citing the “strain on every resource in Athletics” in a statement on its website.

“All of the things that are required for an intercollegiate athletic program are stretched very thin, and the more teams you have, the harder it is to support any of them,” Spies said. “Even if somehow magically there were no direct costs to the program itself, there would still be a significant resource requirement to support those teams.”

But Weiss said he disagrees.

“In the end, if you have a program, and it’s underfunded, and you go out, and you raise a bunch of money for the entire athletic department, whether it’s fencing or another team, you’re not going to be underfunded anymore,” he said. “So I find it a bit of a hollow argument.”

Weiss has two sons starting at Brown this fall, one of whom is a fencer who applied early decision. “He gets to Brown, and all of a sudden the program’s cut,” Weiss said. “You can imagine how difficult that was for him to hear about after he already made a decision.”

He said he is hopeful that President Ruth Simmons is listening to other members of the Brown community besides the committee. “There was a pretty big outcry, and I think the president is a thoughtful individual, and she’s taken everybody’s opinions into account.”

Men’s team captain Andrew Pintea ’12 said much of the campus has been supportive of the fencers. “Even if they’re not a fan of sports, they sympathize in the way that they know this is important to us,” Pintea said. “They know this is a huge part of our lives, and they can realize how much it would hurt to have that taken away from us.”

He said he is hopeful about the team’s future. “We are as optimistic as we can be, given the situation,” Pintea said. “We think we’ve done just about all we can to convince Ruth Simmons and the Corporation that we should be allowed to continue. That said, obviously we’re not happy about the situation.”

The fencing teams are not the only ones garnering sympathy from students and alumni — the wrestling and skiing teams are also fighting to survive. Weiss said he has been in close contact with the wrestling and skiing teams, which have also made substantial fundraising progress. The three teams are working together as one unit to save their respective programs. “We’re not trying to just save our sport — it’s a bigger solution,” Weiss said.

Part of the solution can include distributing the fundraised money to other sports, Weiss said. “If the Athletic Department as a whole is underfunded,” he said. “We’re willing to put some of our money into that pot to solve the bigger problem, not just the fencing problem.”

“Brown can be made a better university by not cutting, but by making what we have better,” Weiss added. “I don’t buy the argument, and neither do the other teams, that cutting three sports is going to solve the problem for the rest of the University. All it’s going to do is cut three sports.”

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