December 22, 1997
The Task Force on Intercollegiate Athletics has completed its assignment and delivered its final report. The Task Force process was demanding, inclusive, open, and diligent in examining all of the salient issues related to athletics at Cal State Northridge. I thank the Task Force members, and particularly the group's chair, Dr. Keith Richman, for their generous and devoted service.
The report is very thorough and detailed. I will want to consult members of our university community and our advisory groups about the many recommendations and their implications for the university. The report will be reproduced in a newsprint edition and distributed widely during the week of January 5, 1998. However, because of the holidays and the semester break, we will not be able to begin our discussions until January. We will consult administrators and advisory groups then and conclude in February when faculty and students have returned to the campus.
That timetable will be sufficient for us to submit a response to the Task Force Report to the Chancellor and the Legislature by March 1, but it does not serve the need of our student athletes and coaches to know now which sports the university will play next year. Moreover, it is important that plans and budget requirements for athletics be considered when decisions are made about other university needs-within the normal university planning and budgeting cycle in the spring term.
To fit each of these requirements, I have divided the decision process into three stages: the first will be my decision about the general direction of our athletic programs, which I will announce today; the second will consist of consultations during January and February and will delineate specific direction, goals and expectations in response to the recommendations in the Task Force Report; the third stage will involve detailed examination of the Athletic Department's plans and budgets and decisions by the established governing bodies of the university, concluding in the spring.
Twice before I have expressed my support for a broad-based intercollegiate athletic program at Cal State Northridge. My February 1995 From the President's Desk included this statement about the role of athletics on our campus:
I would like ours to be a university in which highly motivated women and men can reach for excellence in athletic competition as well as in scholarship. And I share little with those who describe the campus in deprecating terms as "only a commuter school" or a campus that "can't expect to have the same kinds of activities as UCLA or USC." Our students are as deserving as students at other universities to participate in clubs and organizations, to receive a first class education, and to enjoy cultural, educational and athletic activities. Our University should aspire to provide our students with the opportunity to excel and, within our means, offer an array of activities and programs that will enrich our educational environment and our community.
Again, in January 1996, I reported my approval of the Big Sky Conference Task Force Report that recommended that our athletics offerings "continue to be broad based, achieve compliance with the CSU-Cal NOW gender equity program, and focus on key sports within the Big Sky Conference." The Big Sky Conference Task Force Report noted that the financial challenge to the Athletic Department could be met "by supporting the athletic program at previously committed funding levels and reducing the budgets for some sports."
Despite increasingly severe constraints on the university's general fund resources, the university community also supported the recommendations and decisions that we retain a broad based program. But an $800,000 deficit in the 1996-97 athletics budget proved that analysis to have been inaccurate. I fully understand that the history of Task Force Reports and budget deficits within the Athletic Department has eroded the confidence and good will that attended previous decisions about the future of our athletic programs. As the Task Force process was unfolding, I, too, could not avoid the foreboding sense that this might be "deja vu all over again."
The media focus on my decisions about athletics this past summer was profoundly difficult for me personally, as I know it was for Vice President Ron Kopita, Athletics Director Paul Bubb and the entire university community. I wish never to make another decision that would subject us to such assault. However, I am equally clear and firm in my own mind that intercollegiate athletics is only one of many departments that contribute to the richness of our academic environment. As such, athletic programs must meet the same standards that are applied to other departments and programs-for accountability, fiscal responsibility, student achievement, and responsibility to adapt to the fiscal circumstances that impact the entire university. The Task Force Report supports that point of view.
Having said that, my continuing conviction remains as it was in 1995 and 1996. I believe that Cal State Northridge can, and should, provide our students-women and men-with the opportunity to excel in all areas of collegiate life, including a broad-based athletic program. I am therefore informing our Athletic Department that all of our current sports programs will be continued in the 1998-99 year. This will enable our student athletes and coaches, for whom the uncertainty of these past several months has been very difficult, to begin making plans for next year.
In making this decision, I want to note the factors that distinguish this circumstance from our previous efforts to achieve this goal:
- the work, thoroughness and detailed financial analysis by the Task Force on Intercollegiate Athletics;
- the consultation process regarding the Task Force Report and subsequent planning, including the most rigorous scrutiny of the financial projections by university governing bodies;
- increased enrollment, improved enrollment management processes and the prospect of future funding based on enrollment;
- successful implementation of outsourcing plans within the University Corporation to provide additional resources for university needs;
- increased revenue generating opportunities through the development of the North Campus;
- new fundraising leadership within the Athletic Department and the university's University Relations Division;
- significant support for a broad-based athletics program expressed by all constituencies in the surveys conducted by the Task Force.
The university's strategic plan includes alliances with the community as one of our priorities. Ironically, through the adversity of the summer, we have achieved the passionate involvement of a group of individuals who, for the most part, had not previously identified themselves as constituents of the university. Throughout these past several months, we have received a sustained stream of letters and e-mails from members of the community who value the university's sports programs as important to them. They have attended the meetings of the Task Force and its public hearing to express their support for continuing the university's current athletic program.
Private funds will be essential for the athletic program to move from survival to excellence. Alumni, members of the community and friends who have said that they want to help us maintain a broad based athletic program will be asked to do so. I am pleased to make a personal pledge of $5000 this year to intercollegiate athletics and will ask the Director of Development for the Athletic Department and the Associate Vice President of University Development to initiate a solicitation program as soon as possible in the new year. We will welcome community members as partners in our planning, as fans and as donors to our athletic programs.
Cal State Northridge has proven repeatedly that we can think our way through the challenges that come to us. I ask my faculty and staff colleagues to support this general direction by studying the Task Force Report to help define the specific details that should govern this effort to achieve our long term goals. (Responses can still be e-mailed to .) I look forward to receiving your constructive scrutiny and wise counsel.
Blenda J. Wilson