Athletics plan calls for more funding

The University unveiled a five-year strategic plan Friday that calls for increased funding and success for athletics.

The plan touches on all aspects of athletics, including competition, coaching, training, facilities and academic support. The goal is to raise the University’s level of competition, Randy Levine, who chaired the trustees’ special committee that oversaw the review said.

“The idea of this whole thing was to get us to a position where this program needed to change direction and give it the ability, the resources and the foundation to become successful and win. That’s what this is about, winning,” Levine, who is also the president of the New York Yankees, said.

The review found that the University’s athletics budget ranked 13th out of 14 Atlantic 10 programs. Russell Ramsey, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, said there was no one cause for the discrepancy in funds, explaining that “budget pressures are budget pressures.”

Brian Sereno, the executive director of athletics communications, declined to release the amount of additional funds to be added to the athletics budget, but said it would put the department’s operating budget in the top third of the conference. The plan will correct the deficit, and create provisions that ensures the hole doesn’t occur again.

Though it’s hard to define the exact “catalyst” that caused the slide in the athletics department’s budget, Ramsey said. He added that the University is committed to correcting the gap, pointing to the renovations to the Smith Center as the first sign of wide-scale improvement.

In February 2008, the University announced it would renovate the then-32-year old building after a $10 million donation from the Smith-Kogod families. A combination of other anonymous donations, University fundraising and funding through debt completed the eventual $43 million reconstruction effort that was designed to make the Smith Center into a true center for student life, and is now seen as the first major step in the planned revamp of the athletics department.

“I was shocked, honestly, [at] how underfunded we were, how behind we were. It was surprising the situation was where it was. That was the negative. The positive was the support,” Levine said. “I think, like I said, it started with the hiring of Patrick [Nero] and [men’s basketball head coach] Mike Lonergan. He’s building a department, and I think you’re going to start to see some sudden changes.”

To increase the money available, the athletics department is working to raise its level of fundraising. The creation of an athletic development office, under Senior Executive Director of Athletics Development and Associate Athletic Director Scarlett Schmidt, aims to boost donations. The plan estimates the new department will generate $2 million in annual giving by its fifth year in operation.

“It’s a combination of investing University funds, but then also greatly enhancing our fundraising efforts,” University President Steven Knapp said. “Fundraising used to be located in the central development alumni relations office, now actually moving into the Smith Center with a staff of five fundraisers. So that’s going to greatly increase the pace we’re bringing in resources from alumni and others who are interested in athletics.”

Following a national trend of increases in corporate sponsorships for collegiate athletics, the University also signed an agreement with Nike, effective July 1, for the company to provide all 23 of the University’s sports programs with an equipment allowance and preferred pricing on purchases. Sereno declined to release the exact value of the sponsorship.

Many of the additional funds will be applied to bring various areas of spending to a competitive level. The steps include raising coaches’ salaries, increasing the travel per diem for student-athletes, increasing scholarship amounts and the overall operating budget of the athletics program. Along with an increase in spending, the sailing program will transition from a club to varsity sport, making that team the University’s 23rd varsity program.

The benchmarks for the plan’s success are simple, Levine said, given that its effect will be most visible on the playing field.

“One is wins and losses. That’s the most important. The grades, the evolution of student-athletes, because they’re winning on the field, whatever their endeavor is, and their grades are equally important,” Levine said. “The performance, wins and losses and grades, that’s the most important. And from there, we’ll see how the University gets branded as these things should be revenue-producing over a period of time.”

Athletic director Patrick Nero said in the fall that the final document might take until June to prepare, he said Friday the review committee felt confident enough in the strategic plan to present it ahead of schedule.

Taking the next step for athletics programs into consideration, the plan also calls for additional funding for recruiting. Along with increased scholarship dollars, the plans call for an increase in recruiting budget allotments, allowing GW coaches greater resources when interacting with prospective student-athletes.

The plan is designed with the future in mind, created as a working document that will adjust as the athletics department changes and grows. Increased funding for Lerner Health and Wellness Center will improve its ability to handle high usage, Nero said, and there will also be changes in the traffic the Smith Center sees, including opening all the courts up for club, intramural and student use.

“It’s really my responsibility to say, ‘How do we not let our operating budgets get to where they were again? How do we make sure we have a facility plan to meet the next generation of students?’ ” Nero said. “So this caught us up, and now it’s my job to make sure that I never get them behind again.”

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