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All Hands On Deck

by Tyler Roaix

Central Connecticut athletics have enjoyed its fair share of success in the 2017-18 fiscal year. But, there were also plenty of speed bumps along the way. It may come as a shock that the department has had to navigate through so many obstacles without a true leader at the helm.

Former Athletic Director Paul Schlickmann left Central after seven years to take on the same role at Fairfield University.

Since then, Dr. Christopher Galligan, CCSU Vice President for Institutional Advancement, has taken on the many of the responsibilities of running the day-to-day operations of the Athletics Department. Galligan admitted that, while it was public knowledge Schlickmann was involved in other AD searches, the changes forced the department to change the way they do things and adapt on the fly.

But Galligan said he has had to rely on associate athletic directors Michael Ansarra, Amy Strickland, Stephen Villanti, Thomas Pincince and Molly McCarthy, as well as business manager Kim Csinsi, to take on some of the responsibilities of running the department.

Galligan said that while he and President Dr. Zulma Toro originally had discussions of naming an interim athletic director, they decided to rely on the staff they already had. In doing so, it has put the pressure on each of the associates to manage the teams they are responsible for.

One quality Galligan stressed about the current staff is their experience. Of the associate athletic directors, Amy Strickland’s 10 years in compliance is the shortest anyone has been at their job. But Strickland, Associate for Compliance and Student Services, is a CCSU alumna and former Blue Devil athlete, so she knows the university and athletic department well.

“If you were to average their experience, it’s significant in all areas,” Galligan said. “Facilities, compliance, fundraising, sports information, operations, budgetary. There’s enough experience to work with me and the coaches.”

On top of the experience, another quality the group stressed was their communication with one another, but also with the athletics community, especially in the aftermath of Schlickmann leaving.

“Going into September and October and November, it’s such a busy time for all of us. And I think it just helped us get through those first couple of weeks just to make sure we all knew what everybody was doing,” Strickland said.

Pincince, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications and Media Services, said that with a vacancy at the top, the group now relies on each other more in the decision-making process. They do their best to make decisions, especially smaller day-to-day issues, in-house as a group. But with bigger issues, they will approach Galligan and potentially make recommendations on what they think should be done. This is especially true in Pincince’s case, as he has taken on added responsibilities since former Associate Vice President in Marketing and Communications Mark McLaughlin retired and left CCSU.

Pincince described the support the department has for one another as a family-type atmosphere.

“It’s not just a word. It’s not just us putting it up on a banner outside. It’s people that will do anything for one another, help one another and help each other in order to try to be successful,” Pincince said.

While not having an AD has added weight on their shoulders, their ability to work together has relieved some of the pressure.

“If someone comes to me or we go to anyone else and say ‘hey, I need you to help me cover this’ there’s two or three other people sitting there waiting to jump in and do it, so it’s this ‘all hands on deck’ mentality where we are all here,” Pincince said.

But as capable as the staff may be, they’ve definitely been tested this year. Between multiple football players and multiple basketball coaches suspended in the fall, to the Athletics Sustainability Task Force casting a cloud over the department all year long, they’ve definitely had their hands full up at Kaiser Hall.

Villanti, who deals with external services like fundraising and corporate sponsorships, thinks that all students, including student-athletes, need to try to represent CCSU the best they can. But he also knows that people make mistakes, and they need to learn from those mistakes so they don’t make them again.

“I think that the important thing is that when they are young, and they make mistakes, that they learn from them. There are policies in place that they learn from,” Villanti said. “Even though we are administrators, we are also teachers. We are mentors. This is a place that people come to grow and mature. We want people to be proud to be a Blue Devil and also to respect the opportunity they have here.”

The task force investigation ultimately led to Dr. Toro’s announcement of several changes to the department. Both the men’s and women’s golf teams will be cut and scholarships will be reduced, along with several long-term solutions like an efficiency review and a five-year strategic plan.

Galligan, who served as the chair of the task force, thinks Dr. Toro’s decisions will ultimately lead to a healthy and sustainable athletic department.

“I think that fiscally what we’re trying to do, with less support from the state of Connecticut, is look at the way we operate [as a university]. And certainly, that impacts athletics,” Galligan said. “I think if we take all of the recommendations and implement them, we are going to be better off down the road.”

The university has officially begun the search for a new AD. Dr. Toro made the announcement last week that Dr. Robert Wolff, professor of history, would be heading up the search committee charged with finding a candidate.

If the current staff has shown anything, it’s that whoever the new AD is, they’ll have an experienced staff that will make the transition that much easier. The new AD is hoped to be in place by July 1.

Regardless of who is running the show next year, and the various changes still being implemented, it’s obvious that those in Kaiser Hall believe that the future of CCSU athletics is a bright one.

“We’re just going to get it done, make the best of it, move forward and be positive,” Villanti said. “Every one of us has passion in what we’re doing. There’s not one of us who doesn’t love this place and doesn’t love the athletic department.”