Breaking down the roadblocks to success


Basketball coach Rob Smart said Queen’s needs to change its attitude toward athletics.
Basketball coach Rob Smart said Queen’s needs to change its attitude toward athletics.
Carleton player Osvaldo Jeanty is the fourth player in Canadian history to graduate with five championship rings.
Carleton player Osvaldo Jeanty is the fourth player in Canadian history to graduate with five championship rings.
Supplied photo by James Park

Leslie Dal Cin is four months into her position as Queen’s new chair of Athletics and Recreation.

She’s already noticed a disconnect between Queen’s academic goals and its athletic priorities.

“It seems to me that it’s an interesting message the University sends: We want to excel academically, but we’re OK with mediocrity in athletics.”

Although she’s proud of the scope of Queen’s athletics department, Dal Cin said everyone at the University needs to recognize the inherent limitations in offering such a wide range of athletic opportunities.

“You’re not as focused because you don’t have the resources to be that focused. … I just think we need to understand that there are implications from being such a broad-based program.”

She said changes will need to be made if Queen’s wants to compete with the rest of the country.

“One option would be to go with a smaller number of teams.” Queen’s supports 44 varsity teams, divided into interuniversity teams, interuniversity clubs and competitive clubs.

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Queen’s athletics currently operates on a non-project-based accounting system, which means that teams are not assigned a fixed budget each year. Each section of the department of athletics, including varsity sports, competitive clubs and intramurals, is given a budget and is expected to divide it up as the money is needed.

The amount of money spent on the men’s varsity program last year was $272,080, and the budget for the women’s program was $203,105.

Last year, the total amount spent on athletics and recreation was approximately $5 million. $1.6 million of that is generated through events and the renting out of the Queen’s facilities. $1.4 million comes from the University and is used to cover some of the costs of facility maintenance. The rest comes from the University Council on Athletics Budget Committee. Queen’s submits a yearly budget for approval each year.

Dal Cin said she can see the benefit of this system. “I think it’s because, rather than allocate specific dollars to sports, it’s put into a pot and it allows the pot to be more nimble.”

For example, if a team has budgeted for the playoffs and doesn’t make it, it would be difficult to take that money out of one budget line and put it into another. She said the ability to hire staff whose sole responsibility is one team is also a significant roadblock. “The challenge is, and I think the biggest point is, we don’t have any full-time, 100 per cent designated coaches, and that’s an issue.”

But if Queen’s wants to run a competitive program, Dal Cin said, more than just access to physical resources needs to change.

“The whole wellness side of the athlete has to come in, and the idea that sport matters.” She said the contribution athletics makes to the University community needs to be taken seriously.

“The visibility sports brings to the University can be a valuable commodity.”

Harold Parsons, head coach of the women’s hockey team, said there are limits to how far the team can go with the resources it gets from the university. But he said the team has found alternative solutions, at least for the short term. “We’ve been a competitive team for the past six years sort of using our own resources.” The team runs a booster club, which helps cover the cost of food, but Parsons said it still isn’t enough. All members of the team receive a $15-perday per diemm on road trips, meant to cover the cost of food, but he said the coaches often pay out-of-pocket to make up the difference. Parsons said his biggest concern for the long-term success of the team is the lack of full-time coaches. “From my perspective, it’s a difficult position whether you’re a part-time coach or a volunteer position.”

He said it’s difficult to compete with teams that have more consistent leadership. He added that the job of full-time coach is one he is open to filling himself. “If I was offered a position fulltime, I’d certainly have to do some checking out,” he said. “My future goal is certainly in that role.”

Mercyhurst College’s women’s hockey team, the number one women’s hockey program in the U.S., employs three full-time coaches. Mercyhurst’s athletics program as a whole employs 70 coaches, two-thirds of whom are full-time. The school considers graduate assistants to be part-time staff. They’re paid the full cost of tuition plus a lump sum of $6,000 for the first year with the team and $6,500 for the second.

The men’s and women’s hockey teams are the only teams at Mercyhurst that compete at the Division I level of the National College Athletics Association (NCAA). Athletics Director Pete Russo said the decision to move the women’s team up from Division II 10 years ago was made after considering the potential impact of various teams on the visibility of the college.

“We felt that hockey would put us on the map, and that turned out to be a good decision.” Russo said the coaching staff deserves most of the credit for building a top-ranked team in a relatively short amount of time.

Head coach Michael Sisti said a certain amount of luck was involved.

“Quality kids took a chance on us, and we followed through in providing a good education and making them great hockey players.” He said he thinks the team’s success, especially in recent years, has made it much easier to get money from the administration when they need it.

“I don’t kid myself,” he said. “If we were 2-30, I don’t think we’d get the ‘yeses’ that we do.” The team’s budget last year was $315,000, a number Russo said was low for the league. “That’s another credit to our staff and our team that we can be successful without three times the budget.”

He said team budgets vary based on the cost of each sport and the travel associated with the team. Last year, the total amount allotted for staff salaries, including fringe benefits, was $2 million. Russo said gate revenues are not included in the department’s budget because they can be unpredictable.

“If we start projects based on what out basketball or football teams are going to bring in and they don’t, then you have budget trouble.”

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Drew Love, athletics director at Carleton University, said the desire to be more competitive with
the rest of the country prompted the department to scale back its number of varsity sports.

“When we looked at our program about seven years ago, we decided we couldn’t sustain a broad spectrum of sports; we had to focus on a number of sports and concentrate our resources.”

After the review, the men’s football team and the women’s volleyball team were cut.

“We felt we could take those resources and provide better opportunities for athletes pursuing other sports.” Carleton currently funds 20 varsity sports. The men’s basketball team has an annual budget of $75,000 and student-athletes are not asked to pay any fee to play on the team. Training camps are covered by alumni contributions.

The five-time defending national champions are the university’s biggest money-making sport, bringing in $100,000 in gate revenues and $50,000 in sponsorships, but Love said a team’s revenue has no bearing on the level of funding they receive. He said budgets are based on the specific costs associated with each sport as well as the league standards.

“One of the things we do here at Carleton, whatever resources we provide to our teams … we would like to be in the top third in whatever league we compete in.” He said basketball head coach Dave Smart is a full-time employee because the majority of schools in the CIS have full-time basketball coaches. Teams are outfitted with the top-of-the-line equipment regardless of the difference in cost from team to team.

“If you put a cross-country athlete in uniform in front of you and a football player or hockey player in front of you, they could both be wearing the best uniform available but one will be charged $300 for the best shoes, etcetera, and the hockey could be charged $1,500. … It’s not equal but equitable.”

Rob Smart, head coach of the Queen’s men’s basketball team and older brother to Dave Smart, said the University’s attitude toward athletics is a much larger barrier to success than a lack a funding.

He echoed Dal Cin’s opinion that Queen’s is too quick to accept a sub-par program.

“I think a lot of the problem with Queen’s athletics from a competitive point of view is the perception that it doesn’t matter how we do.”

He said Queen’s needs to become more invested in the success of the team.

“If we go to Carleton and there are 1,500 people there and we get embarrassed, the University gets embarrassed.” He said he doesn’t have to worry about funding on a week-to-week basis because the department takes care of making sure the team’s league play is covered. Fundraising and support from host universities cover the majority of costs during the exhibition season.

He said the area of the program where money is needed most is athlete development and support.

“What [Carleton’s players] really get more than us is the support of the university, in terms of gym time, summer jobs.”

He said their university had made the decision to focus its energy and resources on the sport. “They’re major sports because other people treat them like major sports.” He said Queen’s needs to make basketball a higher priority. “I’d like to be successful. I don’t really, sort of, do this because I just like showing up in the gym. They keep score, and we try to win.”

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The department of athletics at Harvard University carries the largest number of Division I sports in the United States with 41, and director of communications for athletics, Chuck Sullivan, said there are no plans to scale back anytime soon. “If anything I think we would add before we would contract.”

The total budget for athletics last year was $15,897,763. Liz O’Leary, head coach of the women’s rowing team, said she encounters very few limiting factors within the university.

“The thing that restricts what we do is not so much what the university lets us do, but what the NCAA or the Ivy League lets us do.”

The Ivy League, consisting of eight east-coast schools, allows teams to compete at no more than 10 events per year. The university employs 32 coaches, all but five of whom are full-time. The average salary for the head coaches of men’s programs is $65,911, and the average salary for women’s head coaches is $51,683. Sullivan said the discrepancy has to do with the marketability of each sport.

Queen’s football coach Pat Sheahan said his team operates on approximately $100,000 per year. The money goes to equip players, pay assistant coaches and cover recruiting, training camp and travel expenses. The team equipment is on par with the rest of the country, he said, but Queen’s is most in need of money in the areas of coaching and recruiting.

“To send somebody on a scouting trip or a reconnaissance trip to the West Coast, sending them out there can be expensive.” Both Sheahan and assistant coach Pat Tracey are full-time employees of the University, but their responsibilities are split between the team and their job within the department.

Sheahan is in charge of alumni relations, and Tracey is the recruitment coordinator.

“Thank God that we’ve got some very dedicated people who love coaching at Queen’s and who don’t really look at the honorarium,” Sheahan said.

He said the distribution of resources throughout the department is an issue that needs to be addressed.
“The whole idea of having a program with 50 teams but none of them are nationally competitive versus zeroing in on a few high profile sports and focusing on making them highly competitive is what the discussion at Queen’s is centred around.”

He said an increase in funds, particularly in player support, would allow his players to improve their performance on and off the field. He said the team requires a 25-hour-per-week commitment during the season and 10-15 hours per week for the rest of the year. He said the commitment makes it difficult for student-athletes to work part-time jobs. “You can bet that if they are going to have a part-time job and play football, their academics will suffer.”

He said he feels the scope of Queen’s athletics has obscured the real purpose of collegiate sport.

“Varsity athletics is not just an opportunity to play. … It’s an opportunity to compete. In the broad-based approach I think that kind of got buried a bit.” The general consensus in the department is that the status quo is no longer good enough, he said, but it remains to be seen what will change.

“I believe we’re going to have to make some tough decisions.”

Next week, Part 2 of Raising the Bar will look at university recruitment policies.

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