Athletics: To Infinity and Beyond...?
By Michael L. Sachs, Professor of Kinesiology
The recent cuts in Athletics came as a surprise to many, and a few thoughts reflecting on the process and the events seem warranted. I have quoted a noted philosopher, Buzz Lightyear (from Toy Story), in my title, to suggest a dichotomy—the potential effects of the cuts allow Athletics to explore new worlds, to boldly go where no department has gone before (oops, sorry, mixing up my shows). But for the approximately 158 athletes whose sports have been cut, there is no tomorrow, their dreams of playing for Temple are gone, there is no journey towards infinity...
Even the NSA must be impressed by how stealthily the Administration pursued this course of action. One particularly sad part of this process was that apparently there was no (or almost no) faculty involvement—I believe faculty could have contributed significantly to the decision making process. There has been no real explanation for why this was the case. I sincerely hope this wasn’t because faculty couldn’t be trusted to keep a secret. There are many faculty who have long involvement with athletics from past Presidents’ Advisory Committees, etc. We have the knowledge to be helpful; our service on such sensitive committees as presidential searches show we know how to keep matters confidential. So why weren’t we consulted? I asked this question at our recent Faculty Senate meeting. The answer was especially disturbing—those in charge never even considered including faculty. Additionally, a comment was made by an Athletics administrator that seemed to suggest that this was ‘their department,’(not part of a larger University) and why would faculty even be considered when Athletics was trying to deal with what they perceived as ‘their problem.’ This is particularly troubling: The Athletics Department isn’t ‘their department’—we are all part of a larger entity, Temple University, and are all working towards making this an even more amazing place to work. We (faculty) want success for all areas within the University. It isn’t ‘our department’ vs, them’ but all of us seeking to provide the most valuable experiences for the students we teach, whether in the classroom or on the athletic field.
It is clear from my initial comments that I have concerns about the decisions made, both the process and the substance. There are some decisions which have received criticism (such as the timing of the announcements) about which I do not have a concern. There was probably no ‘good’ time to do this, and making the announcements before student-athletes (SAs) went home was critical to allow those athletes who were going to be cut to decide about transferring or continuing at Temple. Some have already transferred/decided to transfer; others are still considering their options. I also applaud Temple for making the commitment to SAs who continue at Temple to honor their scholarships and continue to provide advising at the Resnick Center. This is the right thing to do! It was also right for the President and others (including Board of Trustee members) to meet with the SAs on January 28th after a misstep in not letting athletes talk at a Board of Trustees meeting shortly after the decision was announced.
Even with these laudable actions, there remain some questions. Among these are whether the same ‘courtesy’ will be given to graduate externs in athletics. One of our first year master’s students is a graduate extern in one of the affected sports—will he be allowed to keep his externship in his second academic year and complete his program? Will Athletic Training students getting clinical hours assisting in the Athletic Training room lose these opportunities because approximately 158 SAs have been cut?
Additionally, comments made after the Tuesday, January 28th meeting, suggest that the President and the Board of Trustees learned some new information at the meeting about which they were not aware. Sorry, but this is REALLY unacceptable. I would have thought that a decision this momentous, affecting 158 SAs and several sports that are part of the fabric of Temple University, would have REQUIRED that every bit of relevant information be obtained and carefully considered. This is what happens when decisions are made in a bubble and all relevant input (in this case from coaches and SA and faculty) is not obtained. Comments indicated a potentially revised decision would be forthcoming in mid-February—we all await this decision with great anticipation. In my opinion, I would recommend the Administration scrap the current plans and start over, making certain that all stakeholders are represented in this process and the Administration has every relevant bit of information needed before making a decision.
In addition to my reservations about the process are those about the deci-sion itself. There were a number of reasons given for making these cuts—Title IX, spreading the ‘wealth’ amongst a smaller number of teams to make those teams more competitive, and addressing competitiveness issues in terms of facilities (Ambler, boathouse). Additionally, it was stated that these cuts had nothing to do with football and basketball. I will address each in turn.
Point number one: Cuts needed to be made to come into Title IX compliance. It is true that we were on the bubble of being out of compliance, and steps needed to be taken to bring us into compliance. But as a strong advocate of Title IX, I will share rule number one: Do NOT cut men’s sports to bring the University into compliance. Rather, one should expand opportunities in women’s sports. This is the red herring that men’s sports uses against women’s sports to blame them for cuts—there is nothing in the rules requiring or suggesting cutting men’s sports, but this is the easy way out. It is truly sad that some men’s sports (gymnastics and track and field) were seen as sports to be cut to reduce the number of male athletes and bring percentages more in line with Temple’s population. The answer is an ‘easy’ one: Provide more opportunities for women!
Point number two: The cuts will allow the teams that remain to be funded at appropriate levels. It is true that even with a budget of approximately $44,000,000, money was tight in almost all sports (not sure about football and basketball). While there is excitement at the prospect of these resources going to these underfunded teams, the $3,000,000 saved should have come either from additional resources allocated by Temple (I know a hard sell these days) or additional revenue raised by Athletics. Director of Athletics Kevin Clark (an intelligent, experienced, resourceful individual) has been in place only for eight months or so. He and his team should have been given more time to raise funds from donors, renegotiate contracts, and so on, to raise the money needed to better fund our teams. Perhaps a more inclusive process (including faculty input) would still have decided to cut a few teams, but that process didn’t take place. Additionally, at least one team (men’s gymnastics) has raised part of its budget each year since they were almost cut many years ago – could some of the affected sports have been given such a chance to raise some/all of the money for their sports?
Point number three: Facilities. It is hard to argue about the stress on athletes commuting between Main Campus and Ambler: baseball and softball were eliminated, and soccer is supposedly being moved to Main Campus (but where? Geasey Field?). At Ambler, the facilities were “average,” to quote an athlete I know who plays out there. I get the impression the athletes had adjusted to this challenge. How closely were they consulted/was this considered? On the other hand, the boathouse situation was a problem. Attempts to resolve this had not been successful and working out of tents, even if the athletes were okay with this, was not desirable. But crew is an iconic sport at Temple, and saying you can just shift to club sport status because some other schools do this is not the right answer. Why couldn’t crew be given a deadline? Raise $10,000,000 for a new boathouse by June 30, 2015 or we will then have to cut the teams because we can’t have Temple with a crew team operating out of tents. There would need to be a location and the money, but this would acknowledge the place of crew in our culture and give them a chance. There will be additional expenses for Campus Recreation if crew is moved to club sport status. Where will these funds come from?
Finally, it was said the cuts had nothing to do with football and basketball. I believe the Administration when it says none of the approximately $3,000,000 saved (all of which will supposedly be reinvested in athletics) will go to football and basketball. And I agree that football and basketball (football especially) are the engines that can drive additional funds from bigger athletic conferences in the future. This is a fact of life in big-time collegiate sports, and Temple should remain big-time in sports. However, some of the cuts could potentially have come from these sports. I don’t know the precise budget, but I have always been curious about home teams sleeping in a local hotel the night before home games. I understand this from a psychological standpoint (my area of expertise), but is this really necessary? How much could have been saved here? I am certain there are other areas wherein savings could be found without harming the ‘essence’ of these programs. This discussion could continue, but it is not clear it took place (or will take place).
In the final analysis, I think the process and the decisions made were flawed and could have been achieved in a more positive way for Temple athletics and the Temple community as a whole. Faculty input would have helped this process and potentially resulted in a more positive outcome for the SA and the Temple community as a whole. What would Buzz Lightyear say? He has dreams of a heroic future, just like the Board of Trustees and the Temple Administration dreams of prestige, national exposure, and untold riches from successful football and basketball teams. But in the ever-changing athletics landscape, it is uncertain whether these dreams will ever be realized. What does seem certain, if the decision to cut 7 sports teams is not modified or reversed, is that Temple’s 158 SAs will not even be allowed to “fall with style,” as Buzz describes his final drop into the backseat of Andy’s car on his way to a new home. In order to do right by their dreams, we should revisit this decision, using a process involving all stakeholders, and make the best decision for all. •
Michael Sachs is a Professor in the Department of Kinesiology. His area of specialization is exercise and sport psychology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org