UNCW athletic program potentially in danger


Chancellor Gary Miller has appointed the Intercollegiate Athletics Review Committee to evaluate the sustainability of UNC Wilmington’s 19 sports programs.

UNCW’s athletic department currently has the lowest budget in the Colonial Athletic Association at $10.3 million. The next lowest budget in the CAA is over $16 million (excluding football).

The committee has already started its work in gathering information and will present its recommendations to Chancellor Miller and Athletic Director Jimmy Bass by May 15, 2013. The committee is chaired by Terry Curran, the associate provost for enrollment management, and is made up of 21 other UNCW faculty, coaches, Seahawk club members and students.

In terms of revenue for the department, the Seahawk Club’s sole purpose is to raise money for the UNCW athletic department. The contributions are down in comparison to recent years.

“We really have one revenue generating sport [basketball] and it has been struggling for the last three or four years,” Bass said. “Tickets are down. Seahawk club contributions are down, and we’ve been working on it every day.”

Bass outlined his five goals for the IARC-creating a sustainable athletic model, staying in compliance with Title IX, maintaining a high graduation rate among student athletes, fostering nationally competitive teams, and, lastly, having the ability to recruit and maintain a qualified diverse coaching and administrative support staff.

The IARC has already met with Student Athletic Advisory Committee representatives from UNCW’s 19 sports programs in order to gauge what sports need to be more competitive. Two representatives from each sport were sent to the meeting.

A student athlete who wishes to remain anonymous described the meeting experience. While the committee insisted that questions posed were all hypothetical, students were asked what they believed would happen if a program were cut.

“People were shocked at first at the question,” said the source. “Everyone responded that student athletes have chosen to come here for four years and that you can’t just throw them out on the street.”

Towson University has the second lowest athletic department budget in the CAA. On March 15, Towson President Maravene Loeschke officially announced she would eliminate the baseball and men’s soccer programs. The men’s soccer program has been eliminated effective immediately, while the baseball team will finish out its current season.

According to the Baltimore Business Journal, the cuts will eventually save the school $900,000 a year, once the scholarships for current baseball and men’s soccer players run out, Loeschke said.

In response, the baseball program-currently 8-7, 1-2 in the CAA-has chosen to wear strips of black tape over the “Towson” logo on the front of its jerseys, a symbolic gesture meant to display its displeasure over the school’s decision, according to USA Today.

“We don’t support Towson,” catcher Zach Fisher told Baltimore’s ABC affiliate, “so we don’t wear something that says Towson.”

The IARC also held a meeting with all of UNCW’s coaches last week to gather their input.

According to Bass, the committee has identified a need for better strength training, more adequate travel capabilities, academic support for student athletes and increased quality of facilities as areas of focus.

Updating travel capabilities would allow student athletes to miss fewer classes. Often, teams have to endure a very long bus ride when they could have otherwise flown. 

Students also need more access to tutors both during the school year as well as over the summer, said Bass. UNCW has approximately 380 student athletes, and only five academic support officers. This means that one advisor is responsible for more than 70 student athletes at a time.

The strength-training program also has room for improvement. UNCW has two full time strength and conditioning coaches for the entire population of student athletes. There is one 6×6 bath available for icing.

Bass stressed an increase of computer resources and software is needed for student-athletes to have study hall and to meet with tutors and advisors.

“Right now we don’t have adequate facilities for our students,” Bass said. “Not only student athletes, but our student community as a whole. Our space is pinched.”

Updating UNCW’s athletic facilities is a definite priority that has been identified by the committee. The outdoor track is one facility in need of an upgrade. This would not only benefit track athletes, but any UNCW student who wishes to run outside and utilize the track.

“We need to make sure our university family has an adequate facility for health and well being for the entire campus,” Bass said.

UNCW cheerleaders practice in the racquetball room. Further lack of facilities has forced the UNCW cheer team to cut down on their practice time by 90 minutes per practice.

Furthermore, spirit teams are not given vouchers for books like other athletes and they do not get any priority scheduling.

“One of the resource updates that we need is for not only student athletes but support groups such as the spirit teams,” Bass said. “Hopefully the new recreation center will provide more space and we hope to have access to that.”

Despite the troubling situation in the Athletic Department, UNCW has taken steps in order to help the program succeed.

UNCW will receive a much-needed financial boost in the upcoming year as the UNC Board of Governors approved an athletic fee increase. This increase will funnel an additional $1.2 million into the UNCW athletic budget. UNCW has also recently hired a major gifts officer, Adam Keen, who will work to solicit gifts of 25,000 or more.

UNCW Chancellor Miller requested additional funding from his Board of Trustees at its December meeting, telling the board that the athletic department had been neglected for the last decade.

However, given the UNCW athletic department’s current budget and an increased lack of profit return, something has to give.

“The men’s basketball [sic] has to win,” Bass said.

Apart from the need for ticket sales to go up, Bass emphasized the importance of student support.

“Donors and members of the Seahawk club notice when students show up,” Bass said.  “Our relationship with our students is very important to us. We will always be responsive to our students to make it as convenient to come to athletic events as possible. They are our customers and we want to keep them happy.”

Once the committee reports its findings as well as its recommendations, the choice of what specific action will be taken will ultimately be that of Chancellor Miller.