by Tyler Roaix
It has been quite a year for Central Connecticut State University athletics so far this semester. The volleyball team was just one set away from a conference championship. The men’s and women’s cross country team finished first and second, respectively. But highlighting the fall semester was the football team, who had arguably the best season in school history making it to the NCAA playoffs for the first time ever.
But despite championships and accolades, the future of athletics at Central Connecticut State University remains foggy. The struggling economic climate in the state of Connecticut has forced CCSU, a state institution, to review budgets across the board, athletics included. This has led to the creation of the Task Force for the Sustainability of the CCSU Athletics Program.
The task force is made up of administration, coaching staff and student-representatives across the university. They have a tough responsibility of making a recommendation to CCSU President Dr. Zulma Toro of what can be done to make the athletics program more economically sound. As it stands, the school is responsible for paying the $13,533,342 budget for athletics.
“The task force has a big job to do, but I think it should be looked at as a positive job. It’s about the sustainability of athletics and how we can move forward,” said volleyball coach Linda Sagnelli. “So I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom with it. I ultimately think it was a smart thing that was done, putting the task force together to make sure the university is fiscally responsible moving forward with the athletic department.”
There have been several options discussed by the task force, ranging anywhere from staying the current course to cutting some programs entirely. But Christopher Galligan, Vice President for Institutional Advancement and a leader within the task force, admitted that cutting programs is a drastic measure and his goal would be to find some sort of middle ground.
Another of the extreme measures being discussed is the potential for Central to drop down from a Division-I level school to Division-II.
Central is currently the only CSU school to compete at the Division-I level. Southern Connecticut competes at the Division-II level, while Western and Eastern are both Division-III schools.
The task force has given students and student-athletes the chance to speak out with multiple open-forum meetings this semester. Several student-athletes have admitted that they came to CCSU because it is a Division-I program. So if Central ultimately decides to drop down to Division-II, it leaves the school susceptible to current athletes transferring out of Central, and also potential recruits deciding not to come here at all.
“I think the students are doing a great job of speaking up. The athletes are doing a great job of speaking up about why they came here,” head basketball coach Donyell Marshall said. “At the end of the day, it’s about the student-athletes. They’re the ones who have to be happy. They’re the ones who wanted to come here.”
One person who has been a key voice for the student-athletes has been senior volleyball player Maddie Smith. Smith serves as the Vice President on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, or SAAC. Smith shared how she has been active in writing letters to the task force, making the case for all of CCSU athletics, not just volleyball.
“The hope is to show the value of athletics at Central, obviously for volleyball in particular, but also for everything. I know that, because I’m a senior, this doesn’t really affect me. But I have a lot of friends on the team and I’d hate to see it have a drastic effect on them going forward,” Smith said.
Galligan admitted at an October open-forum that on-field success is only a small piece in the decisions to be made ahead. Obviously, measures need to be taken to put less pressure on the school, but it is hard to imagine anything drastic happening to an athletics program that has been experiencing one of its most successful semesters ever.
“Winning puts pressure on something like that,” Marshall continued. “Football team comes back and wins. Volleyball wins. Track (cross country) is winning. Hopefully we can win and the women’s team wins. Everybody wants a winner, right?”
Of course, when things like cutting programs start being mentioned, it brings to question what makes one team more valuable than the other.
“We get it done academically, in the community. We’ve done a lot of good things historically. We run a very good program,” Sagnelli said of her volleyball team. “We bring a lot of the top students in, not just to the athletic department, but to the university. I hope that that speaks for itself moving forward and that we are fairly valued. I’m just really proud of the program that we run here.”
The task force is just days away from making its recommendation to Toro. Despite having one of its best semesters in school history, CCSU athletics is facing tough times ahead with drastic changes coming.