Athletics Task Force Report Recommends Restructuring Of Sports Program, Finances, Academic Support
April 6, 2001
|“Within its means and aims, the University of Virginia community will provide the Department of Athletics with the financial resources and the alumni, faculty, and staff support necessary to administer exemplary intercollegiate and intramural programs serving student-athletes, the general student body, the faculty, and the staff in an environment based on mutual respect for the goals of academics and athletics.”
– Vision statement of the Virginia 2020 Strategic Planning Task Force for the Department of Athletics
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Faced with prospects of an athletics program deficit that could reach $47 million by 2010, a University of Virginia task force recommends creating formal “tiers” for the University’s 24 varsity sports to bolster the University’s strongest programs and reduce support for some lower-profile sports. The task force’s report, presented today to U.Va.’s Board of Visitors, also calls for gradually increasing student fees to match those of Virginia’s other public institutions and challenges the Virginia Student Aid Foundation to create a $100 million endowment to support the athletics department’s operating budget.
To address both financial concerns and federal Title IX requirements, the task force recommends creating a women’s golf team and discontinuing men’s indoor track and field. The commission’s report also recommends a number of measures to revamp academic support for U.Va. student-athletes.
No current athletes will lose their scholarships as a result of the changes.
University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III created the Strategic Planning Task Force for the Department of Athletics as part of the University’s Virginia 2020 long-term planning effort. Chaired by Carolyn Callahan, a professor in the Curry School of Education and U.Va.’s faculty athletics representative to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the 17-member commission includes faculty, staff, student, alumni and Athletics Department representatives. M. Terry Holland, U.Va. director of athletics, is an ex officio member of the commission.
Casteen directed the panel to develop aspirations for the Department of Athletics, addressing four main areas: programs and facilities, academic and student life, compliance with federal and NCAA regulations, and finances and fund-raising. The task force was to establish clear 20-year goals for athletics, identify financial requirements to support those goals, and recommend an appropriate management structure.
Callahan stressed that the recommendations do not signal that the University’s athletics program is in distress. “We’re not in trouble,” she said. “The costs of college athletics are increasing dramatically. Revenues are not increasing as dramatically. It was time to plan ahead.”
According to an NCAA report, only 46 percent of Division I-A schools nationwide reported budgetary surpluses in 1999, and 54 percent reported a deficit. The ranks of those in the red included the University of North Carolina and the University of Michigan, among the most successful athletics programs in the country.
As the Board of Visitors heard in an October preliminary report, the task force found a “small but persistent” operating deficit in athletics, estimated at $200,000 for the current fiscal year. However, the department projects that the annual deficit could reach $10.4 million within 10 years, with a cumulative shortfall of $47 million – unless changes are made.
Expenses – forecast to rise between 8 and 10 percent annually – are driving the imbalance, Callahan said. Travel costs are rising, along with the number of competitions and championships. The salaries needed to lure and retain top coaching talent continue to increase. Meanwhile, the University’s revenue from television contracts and apparel contracts is expected to plateau or even decline, according to the report. Virginia law prohibits public colleges and universities from using tuition dollars or state funds to support intercollegiate athletics. All money for these programs must be raised from student fees, ticket sales, media revenues, product sales, licensing agreements, user fees and private donations.
The predicament is increasingly common throughout the country, where many schools recently have been forced to eliminate teams or take other cost-cutting measures, including
Kansas, Nebraska, and closer to home, James Madison University. Antitrust considerations prevent the NCAA from addressing what its president, Cedric Dempsey, terms an “arms race in salaries, facilities and other aspects of athletics departments.”
While the financial figures are alarming, they provided the impetus for a hard look at all aspects of U.Va.’s athletics program, including the academic experience of the student-athlete, task force chair Callahan said. “It is not at all clear that the University community acts in concert to ensure that student-athletes develop their full academic potential,” the report says.
The University remains committed to excellence in its intercollegiate athletics programs, Callahan said. The stated goal remains: finish among the top 10 schools in the annual Sears Directors’ Cup nationwide rankings of Division I-A athletics programs, which annually measure the combined performances of men’s and women’s sports. U.Va. has placed in the top 25 in each of the Sears Cup program’s seven years, including a No. 8 ranking in the 1998-1999 academic year.
The elimination of men’s winter indoor track and field would have no effect on the number of student-athletes and coaches at the University, because all participants also compete for the cross-country or outdoor track teams, which have their seasons in the fall and spring, respectively. However, each season counts separately in determining compliance with federal Title IX requirements, which mandate that the proportion of male and female sports participants, and the funding that each gender’s teams receive, conform closely to that of the undergraduate student body at large. “While Title IX was certainly a consideration, the decision was balanced with financial issues,” Callahan said.
The University has received a substantial, anonymous gift to fund grants-in-aid for women’s golf, the report notes, and the sport has low operating costs. The team would play its home schedule at the University’s golf course, Birdwood.
If the changes are approved, women would make up 51 percent of U.Va.’s student-athletes, up from 47 percent previously. Approximately 54 percent of the University’s undergraduate student body is female.
“The current budget cannot support a top-10 program and individual sports are losing their ability to compete,” the report concludes. “… The Department of Athletics maintains a delicate balance between supporting the revenue-generating sports and maintaining the Olympic sports.”
Already, the athletics department has instituted several cost-saving measures, including reduced travel, extending use of uniforms and equipment, and deferring major expenses and maintenance.
But “the deferments of certain personnel, scholarship, operational, and capital expenses have already created a deficit that must be remedied to maintain our current competitive status,” the report states. A survey of Athletics Department coaches, administrators and financial staff identified $2.2 million in operating expenses and $25 million in capital needs as “minimal additional expenses currently considered essential for maintaining a top-10 program.”
The looming threat of deficits forces difficult choices, Callahan said. Rather than eliminate several programs that operate at a deficit, the task force instead chose to give higher priority to those sports that either generate revenue for the department or are strong contributors to the athletics department’s national ranking.
To do that, the report recommends classifying sports in one of the following four tiers, with classifications to be reviewed annually:
Top-tier sports – football and men’s and women’s basketball – are characterized by full funding of grants-in-aid “to compete at the highest intercollegiate level.” The second tier will include programs supported by “full or substantial grants-in-aid and operating budgets to contend for a national championship.” The sports recommended for such status are men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey, rowing, and men’s and women’s swimming. Third-tier sports would provide limited grants-in-aid or need-based aid, minimal staffs and operating budgets. They include women’s golf (if added), softball, women’s tennis, women’s cross-country, women’s indoor and outdoor track and field, and volleyball. Participants in fourth-tier sports would receive only need-based financial aid. Teams would have a limited coaching staff and would undertake regional travel only, although they would continue to compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference. These sports would include baseball, wrestling, men’s golf, men’s tennis, men’s cross-country, men’s indoor track and field (if not dropped) and men’s outdoor track and field.
Callahan stressed that current grants-in-aid would be honored. Cutbacks in staffing will likely occur gradually through attrition, although the athletics director will determine how best to phase them in.
Even with these changes, financial projections show a substantial deficit in 10 years. To close the gap, the task force recommends that the Virginia Student Aid Foundation establish a $100 million endowment to support operating costs, which could include endowing coaches’ salaries – much as some professorships are already endowed.
The report finds that internal and external revenue streams are currently overseen by four different entities with little coordination. It recommends that fund-raising, marketing, promotion and ticket sales be coordinated by a new senior associate athletics director for fund-raising and external operations, who would report to both the athletics director and the University’s vice president for development.
The task force examined the student fees charged at the state’s 15 public colleges and universities. Total student fees (see table) for the 2000-2001 academic year at U.Va. were $1,114, of which $238, or 21.4 percent, was allocated to athletics. Comparable fees at the other schools ranged from a low of $848 at Virginia Tech to a high of $3,224 at Virginia Military Institute. The average student fee was $1,692, almost 50 percent higher than fees at U.Va. Only Virginia Tech allocated a lower absolute dollar amount of its fees to athletics.
In light of these findings, the task force recommended that the Board of Visitors increase student fees by $50 per year until they equal the statewide average, with the increase going to the athletics budget.
“It is important to acknowledge and to emphasize that it has historically been difficult to discover and maintain the proper balance between the aims of higher education and the goals of intercollegiate athletics,” the report states. The University of Virginia is not exempt from that struggle.
At the same time that athletes are participating in an increased number of competitions and championships, the University is seeking increased academic performance from all of its students. The “natural tension” that results can pull student-athletes in two different directions, Callahan said.
“At U.Va., there is no place to hide,” she said. “The students here, in order to maintain academic standing, have to be real students.”
University statistics show that grade-point averages for student-athletes have risen steadily, with an overall increase of 0.13 points between 1990 and 1999, compared to a University-wide rise of 0.11. Additionally, the most recent NCAA statistics show that U.Va. athletes who entered in the 1993-94 school year graduated at a 78 percent rate, well above the Division I-A average of 59 percent. U.Va.’s figures, while impressive, remained well below the University-wide graduation rates.
But the University’s interest goes beyond GPAs and graduation rates, Callahan said. “We don’t want student-athletes to just graduate, but to feel like they have had a chance to be successful students here and successful student-athletes, and that those are not mutually antagonistic goals.”
According to the report, “the gap in academic preparation and subsequent academic success at the University is growing between the lowest 10 percent of the student body and the rest of the students in the University. … The perception of the Office of the Dean of the College is that an increasing number of student-athletes fall into this group of students.” That gap is not due to any lowering of standards, reports Dean of Admission John A. Blackburn, but because the increasing overall credentials of each year’s entering class fosters more competition in the classroom.
While graduation rates and grade-point averages demonstrate that student-athletes have, on the whole, been successful academically, “other data suggest that we have not been as successful as we might be in identifying students who do not have the potential to succeed academically,” the report states.
The competing demands on the time of student-athletes from both the academic and athletic sectors have led to what the report called a “relatively pervasive mutual mistrust between faculty and coaches related to the intersection between the academic mission of the University and the goals of the Department of Athletics.”
The task force recommends greater communication between athletics, academic and admissions personnel, including creating a permanent committee to include faculty, representatives of deans’ offices, coaches, Athletics Department administrators and representatives of support offices.
The report also calls for redesigning the Department of Athletics’ academic advising and support services “to ensure that student-athletes are provided with consistent advice in support of a high-quality education.”
“The current investment in academic support services fails to meet the increased needs of students across all sports and is weak in comparison to the services provided at other institutions,” the report concludes.
The report also recommends that more incoming first-year student-athletes be enrolled in a summer transition program as a condition of their admission to U.Va. to help them adapt to the University’s rigorous academic environment.
The task force did not make a recommendation about whether or not to build a new basketball arena, but expressed concerns about projected costs and possible overruns. “Our investigation of this issue did not lead to a clear and decisive conclusion about the feasibility of building an arena. However, we believe that if a decision to build an arena is made, such a step should be taken with considerable caution,” the report states. The task force also concluded that any new arena be designed for uses beyond the needs of men’s and women’s basketball.
The report also recommends the adoption of a student-athlete code of conduct, which is currently undergoing an administrative review.