by Tyler Roaix
After nearly seven months of deliberation and an extensive investigation by the Task Force for the Sustainability of Central Connecticut State University Athletics, a decision has been made as to what the future of sports at CCSU will look like. An elimination of two teams and a heavy reduction in scholarships highlight several changes to take place in the near future.
President Dr. Zulma Toro announced on Jan. 23 that, after considering the task force’s investigation and recommendations, several changes have to be made in order to make the Athletics Department a more economically-sound element of the university.
Toro first charged the task force to create a plan that would make athletics more sustainable last May, while strongly considering four key factors: increasing enrollment, becoming a “steward” of CCSU, diversifying sources of revenue and maintaining or increasing academic excellence.
The most drastic change comes in the number of athletic programs Central will be moving forward with. Currently, the university supports 18 NCAA Division I athletic programs. However, on the conclusion of the Spring 2018 semester, the men’s and women’s golf teams will be cut from the department, dropping the number of athletic programs to 16.
When asked why the golf teams were ultimately the ones on the chopping block, Toro was adamant about her need to think about the university as a whole. According to a report released by the task force last Wednesday, the university suffered a net loss of $354,235 combined from those two teams.
“If you consider the cost per student of all teams, golf is the highest,” Toro explained. “The other thing, it’s a team that does not have spectators. It’s a team that doesn’t really help us build community; it doesn’t help us with enrollment. [The women’s team] has six students. It’s a sport that doesn’t help us in the grand scheme of things in fundraising.”
Toro’s decision may have been based largely off of the findings of the task force, but she shared how she also consulted the local community and the system office as well.
Upon hearing Toro’s announcement, many faculty members have expressed concern, not only about the changes themselves, but also in the process in which these decisions were made. Guy Crundwell, a chemistry professor at CCSU, shared how he was surprised the faculty senate was not consulted before such a drastic decision was made.
“When CCSU moved to D1 and on other occasions where decisions about D1 athletics took place, presidents consulted a wide body of people, but ultimately passed the changes through the senate for feedback,” Crundwell shared. “Not this time. I think that’s a mistake.”
It is important to note that the senate does not possess actual decision-making responsibilities. However, it has typically been asked to give feedback and guidance. The University Athletics Board, or UAB, typically reports to the faculty senate to “provide a structure for the dissemination of information about the athletics program,” according to the UAB bylaws.
Another major complaint from faculty is the simple fact that the task force’s report to Toro was not made public until one day after the announcement was made, eliminating any chance of a conversation over the pending changes. David Spector, a biology professor, shared his frustrations with what he feels is a lack of transparency.
“It is insulting to the university community to announce a policy decision without providing evidence that has supposedly been gathered, presenting the logic supposedly behind the decision, or engaging the campus community in a value-based discussion,” Spector claimed the day of the announcement. “If there is a report, I have to wonder why it has yet to be released, what is being hidden? If there is substantive reasoning behind the decisions, I have to wonder why that reasoning was not subject to the give and take of open debate.”
Toro was very adamant in defending the decisions and the process in which those decisions were made. She said that they were not hiding anything from anybody, but her first priority was to inform the teams before anyone else.
“It’s easy to criticize from the outside without a lot of information, but Dr. [Christopher] Galligan and the rest of the task force spent countless hours researching and investigating this matter. They know this stuff better than anyone,” Toro stated.
Along with the reduction of teams, the number of scholarships will also be heavily reduced from 145.5 to 110. Toro shared that the change only applies to incoming students, as those who are currently enrolled will still receive the same scholarships.
As of September, the Athletics Department was scheduled to spend $15,239,464 in 2017, and only earn $1,706,123. That means the school is responsible for paying the $13,533,342 net expenses. Somehow, per Toro, the Athletics Department saw an eight percent increase in budget. At a school that saw a $4.5 million cut this year, trends like this are simply not sustainable.
According to Toro, once all of these changes are officially in place, it should cut the budget of the Athletic Department by roughly $2 million. The bottom line is that, in Toro’s mind, a decision like this has to be made for the good of the university as a whole, not just one department.
“I took my time to look at the recommendations. I took my time to talk to people before making these decisions. We are an institution of higher education. We are an academic institution,” Toro said. “There are priorities that we, as an institution, have to have academic excellence [which], to me, is a top priority. When you have limited resources like we have, I think it’s my responsibility to make wise investments [and] to allocate the limited resources to where it will have the most impact in student success.”
All athletes receiving scholarships, full or part-time, will be required to live on campus. This change serves two purposes. Having those students live on campus should bring in a sizable revenue boost for the university. Also, Toro hopes that having student athletes on campus will bring an improvement to campus life.
The university will also be setting up several long-term programs, including a five-year strategic plan, an efficiency review and a multidisciplinary advisory committee to “enhance the transparency of the athletics program.”
One major change that Toro ultimately decided against implementing was the move to Division II. It was turned down because the cost of that change was not much different than what is already in place. Also, the fee CCSU would have had to pay to leave the Northeastern Conference was a blow the university would not be able to withstand.
“A lot of people in the community were concerned about a move to Division II,” Toro shared. “People thought that that is a unique characteristic of Central and changing that would send the wrong message, not only to students already here, but also to students who are considering coming to Central.”
One factor to consider is the fact that Central has had to go through this entire process without an athletic director. The former director, Paul Schlickmann, left CCSU in August to take the same position at Fairfield University.
The search for a new athletic director will start “very soon,” according to Toro. The goal is to have a new one in place by July 1. However, Toro still plans to move forward with initiatives like the efficiency review and the advisory committee to get the department back on track.
Galligan, Vice President for Institutional Advancement, has served as the chairperson of the task force throughout this process. He admits that the coming changes will force a philosophical change in the way the department runs. He feels that an added responsibility to the athletics department to be self-sufficient will force them “to be much more aggressive,” especially in terms of fundraising and revenue generation. However, the focus is still on helping the golf students.
“The primary focus is on the student athletes that were affected and what we can do for the young men and women who want to stay,” Galligan said. “If they choose to transfer, what can we do to help transfer them?”
All in all, it is obvious that the administration, led by Toro, is committed to doing whatever is necessary to sustain CCSU athletics long-term.
“These are my decisions and I stand by them,” Toro said. “The ball stops in my office and I know that. When you make these decisions, sometimes you don’t make anyone happy. I understand that and I own that as well.”