Principal Karen Hitchcock released her long-awaited response to the Athletics Review yesterday. In her response to the June report, originally due Dec. 31, she accepted the review’s recommendations with a few reservations and supported the proposed restructuring of Queen’s interuniversity sports to provide them with “the level of resources required to achieve excellence.”
Hitchcock delayed the restructuring’s time frame, however, which the review had recommended take place “as soon as possible.”
Hitchcock wrote in her response that all existing interuniversity teams, interuniversity clubs and competitive clubs would retain their current status until April 2009 unless Athletics and Recreation Director Leslie Dal Cin decides otherwise.
“Athletics and Recreation should maintain during this transition period a resource commitment to all currently existing interuniversity teams sufficient to enable them to meet their league participation commitments, unless, in the estimation of the Director of Athletics and Recreation, it is no longer feasible to maintain such status due to factors such as absence of appropriate coaching, a decline in student interest, or risk management concerns,” Hitchcock wrote.
Dal Cin said the slow pace Hitchcock recommends doesn’t concern her, especially given that the OUA is reviewing its own sporting model.
“We need to understand that Queen’s does not deal well with seismic change,” she said. “We need to be very respectful of our coaches and athletes and how they view their programs, and work with them over the next years to see what can and can’t be done. … Given the volatile nature of where we are in the sport model review that’s happening at the OUA … it mandates that we move not quickly, but thoughtfully and keeping all of that information in front of us.”
Dal Cin said other sports organizations’ actions also make maintaining a team unfeasible.
“We really need to again look at what’s on the horizon,” she said. “We also need to be mindful of what’s happening at the OUA and CIS levels, and how those might affect our decisions. … If the OUA were to change its sport model in some sports in 2008, we would have to respond to that.”
Dal Cin said it would be possible to divert funds to certain teams before 2009, though, as long as the reallocation wasn’t major enough to warrant a change in the team’s status.
“It also gives us the opportunity to start reallocating resources immediately,” she said.
A revised set of criteria would be applied in deciding how to restructure interuniversity teams in the future. Dal Cin, in consultation with the athletics and recreation department, would decide to reallocate funding based on how teams scored on the revised set of criteria over the next five years.
Dal Cin said she’s pleased to see a clear vision for the University’s athletics and recreation programs articulated in Hitchcock’s response.
“The great part of this is we now have a direction and guidelines by which to move forward,” she said. “I have not had time to read it in depth, and need to spend much more time doing that to pull out the nuances of the directive, but on first blush, there seems to be some clear directives that the Principal has mandated us to do and a vision that she has provided, which I think is fantastic.”
The report raises the issue of raising the annual student fee for athletics, but says such an increase would require much consideration before being implemented.
Dal Cin said the department hasn’t considered a referendum to raise the student athletics fee any time soon, despite Hitchcock leaving the door open for discussion in that proposal of the review.
“We haven’t even talked about it,” she said. “There’s lots of work to do in terms of improving our programs and looking to offer a better product. Hopefully, that will drive participation and interest.” Hitchcock’s written response makes it clear that the status quo, in terms of interuniversity sport, will not be maintained.
“It is not possible to support all existing interuniversity teams and clubs at their current level,” she wrote.
Hitchcock told the Journal recommending 2008-09 as a “transition period” for interuniversity teams gives an opportunity for the review’s criteria to be revised.
“The town hall and the submissions we received had some very good suggestions about ways to enhance the criteria. In the context of those suggestions, there’s the ability to get more data with more time as well as looking at other information sources … all of that will come into play,” she said.
Hitchcock said at the end of the 2009 season, when the teams’ statuses will be reconsidered, she will have no say in what teams potentially lose varsity status.
“It’s part of the role of the Athletics and Recreation Department. I personally would not be involved in that.”
The report stresses the model of excellence that Hitchcock wishes to be achieved, which “needs to be understood neither as an expression of a ‘win at all costs’ philosophy, nor as an attempt to ‘buy’ athletic success by a massive infusion of resources into a smaller number of teams.” It suggests that athletes, in order to achieve excellence, “receive a level of support comparable to that provided by other institutions competing in the same context.”
Hitchcock said achieving a balance of interuniversity success and participation opportunities will be attainable through many avenues.
“It will be difficult, but I think some of the recommended approaches with regard to generating new revenues –I’m talking about sponsorships, alumni giving, paraphernalia sales and those types of things … the degree to which you can do that it gets much easier.”
The recommendation to allow student-athletes to pre-register early for courses was one of the review’s least popular. Hitchcock dismissed the idea as unviable.
“While you might be able to pre-register for a course, that didn’t necessarily reflect the section you might be placed in. It seemed better to talk about … one-on-one interaction with the student-athlete … work with an academic advisor to try to solve as many problems as possible.”
On the review’s recommendation of an increased student fee for athletics, Hitchcock echoed Dal Cin’s sentiments that it needs further analysis.
“Any discussions of student fees is a discussion and by way of a referendum. … It’s something that would take a lot of conversation initially, a lot of dialogue.”
The Nov. 16 town hall, Hitchcock’s last time taking feedback on the review in public, was a huge influence on her recommendations, she said.
“The town hall was extremely helpful in hearing the views of people with varying views across the university comm. The input was extremely helpful and very much influenced my response.”
Hitchcock added that Deakin and Crawford’s ranking of 34 Queen’s teams, which has been criticized since June, was an attempt to objectively analyze something with many intangible factors.
“I think what they were doing was basically looking at a way to make objective an analysis of the compliment of sports that Queen’s or any university can support – I think it was a very good goal and a lot of very sensible criteria emerged.
“All I’m asking is now that we’ve had a benefit of additional input from involved and interested people, let’s look at those.”
Hitchcock said her decision on the review, though it comes more than a month after her self-imposed Dec. 31 deadline and almost eight months after the review’s release, isn’t too late.
“It’s really not that delayed,” she said. “We wanted to be absolutely positive about it. I personally wanted to consult with as many people who had an interest in the matter as possible.”
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