WCU athletics task force report called “solid framework” for improvement

CULLOWHEE — A blue-ribbon task force reviewing Western Carolina University’s intercollegiate athletics program presented its findings Wednesday (Jan. 12) to WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo, who called the report “a solid framework for improvement that will be of tremendous benefit to those who are most important in the enterprise–Western’s student-athletes.”

“Throughout our deliberations, we have viewed the intercollegiate athletics program within the larger context of the comprehensive mission of the institution,” Kenneth F. Wilson of Waynesville, chair of the 17-member task force, said in a letter accompanying the 35-page report. “We believe there now is a fine opportunity for the athletics program to contribute even more fully to the university’s Plan for Excellence. Our strongest desire is that our work will benefit the splendid young men and women who represent Western Carolina University as members of its intercollegiate athletic teams.”

Bardo said the group’s work, in athletic terms, is “a comprehensive scouting report.”

“It is the most complete ‘scouting report’ on ourselves that has ever been assembled. Now, as a new athletic director comes on board later this year, we must develop an equally strong ‘game plan’ and put forth the effort to make it work. In athletic parlance, ‘if you talk the talk, you must walk the walk.'” Bardo said. “As evidenced by the board of trustees’ recent approval of an $8 million-plus plan to improve facilities, health and safety concerns and gender equity, there is no question that this university is committed to fundamental improvement.”

The task force had individual subcommittees that dealt with athletic competitiveness, graduation rates, and gender equity, and it conducted individual reviews of each of Western’s 13 intercollegiate sports. Consequently, many of the findings dealt with sport-specific issues or needs. However, the report contains some general comment and observations on the entire athletics program.

“While many generalizations might be made concerning the athletics program, two seem pertinent to this report,” the introduction says. “First, the history of intercollegiate athletics at the university has been one of financial struggle. Second, while the academic program of the university is rigorously scrutinized periodically to determine quality of program, performance outcomes, and adequacy of resources, there has been no similar systematic and equally rigorous examination of athletics.”

General observations included:

1) The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics program must be integrated into the overall mission of the university.

2) The program must engage in regular planning and evaluation processes that address
— recruitment, academic support, retention and graduation support for athletes;
— gender equity;
— facility maintenance and improvement;
— travel;
— equipment improvements and replacement;
— personnel training and development;
— budget implications and allocations;
— and safety.

3) In budgeting work, the department must
— work toward full funding of scholarships in each sport;
— ensure that scholarship funding is in proportion to participation rates;
— provide acceptable budgets for recruiting and general operations;
— direct use of NCAA academic enhancement money to an academic plan for support of the student-athlete;
— and provide summer support to male and female athletes.

4) Develop a system that supports regular, ongoing communication within the university offices and departments, and that improves communication with the media and in promotional venues. Student-athletes must be given regular opportunities to express concerns.

5) Develop written policies and procedures.

6) Improve personnel practices.

7) Construct or renovate some facilities–football, soccer, track, tennis, golf, baseball, training room, weight room and locker rooms–to ensure they are safe, functional and equitable.

Wilson thanked Bardo for opportunities to provide oral, interim comments on the task force’s work as it progressed from its September 1999 beginning. Wilson said those comments had related primarily to physical facilities and minor operating procedures. “We appreciate your actions to address those concerns,” Wilson said in commending Bardo for taking a proposal for significant facilities improvements to the trustees in December so that the improvements might be addressed at the earliest possible date.

Last November, Larry Travis, Western’s director of athletics since 1992, announced his retirement and a search for his replacement is in the final stages of candidate selection.

Members of the task force who prepared the report are Daniel Allison of Sylva (chair of the athletic competitiveness subcommittee); Tracy Biggs of Palm Bay, Fla.; Gurney Chambers of Cullowhee (chair of the graduation rates subcommittee); Ed Cody of Asheville; Tori Ellison of Cullowhee; Tom Frazier of Cullowhee; Ramsey Herron of Greensboro; Scott Higgins of Sylva; Kathy Lance of Waynesville; Berry Mauney of Lincolnton; Gayle Miller of Balsam; Woody Padgett of Shelby; Sue Persons of Tuckasegee (chair of the gender equity subcommittee); Marty Ramsey of Cullowhee; Jonathon Rowe of Cary; and Charles Wolfe of Sylva. Technical resources for the task force were WCU staff members Dianne Cook, Robert Edwards, Noelle Kehrberg and Doug Reed.

Copies of the report are on reserve at WCU’s Hunter Library.