State of the program
Evan Thompson, Sports Editor - February 20, 2013
A sports program can be measured on three things: what it has, what it does not have and what it needs. At least that’s how Ice Miller, LLP defines it.
The Central Washington University Athletics Department will need to find a replacement for Athletics Director Jack Bishop, who announced his retirement on Aug. 30 after 13 years of service.
And while a nationwide search for the next athletic director is still ongoing, Central now has a definitive outsiders’ opinion of Central’s sports and athletics programs.
Ice Miller, LLP, a large firm based out of Indianapolis, Ind., conducted a review of Central’s athletics and sports program over the course of three days and two nights, from Nov. 26-28, and submitted a report on Dec. 24.
The 69-page review assessed the entire range of Central’s sports programs, from intercollegiate to club sports. It also evaluated finances, budgets, management and organizational structures, liabilities and risks, inclusivity and diversity, compliance with the NCAA and Great Northwest Athletic Conference, and how Central stands in comparison to its Division II peers.
“Typically you do something like this when you’re changing leadership,” CWU President James Gaudino said. “So this was a chance for an outsider to come in and take a look, and then we can basically hand this report to the new athletic director when that person gets here.”
In addition to its review of the sports and athletics program, Ice Miller identified short-term steps to solve issues that were brought up in the review.
Besides finding a new AD, Ice Miller concluded the Wildcats’ facilities and the amount of resources put toward growing and sustaining surrounding programs as their main concerns.
Gaudino, along with a handful of coaches, athletes, staff and faculty, met and worked with the two consultants from Ice Miller. Gaudino said he was impressed with not only how they conducted their business but also their knowledge and experience with D-II teams.
“You always worry when you’re in my chair that there’s such a perceptual bias toward D-I, which is huge dollars,” Gaudino said. “You know ‘Just spend a few million over here or just hire seven people over here.’ They didn’t do that; they had good experience at the D-II level.”
Ice Miller consulted with the university to come up with a list of peer institutions that could provide meaningful comparisons. Nineteen benchmark schools were selected, including institutions in the GNAC, but also those from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, along with five additional Division II athletic programs.
The benchmarking focused on how Central’s athletics staff impacts the competiveness of the student-athletes and their welfare in comparison to other schools, along with the availability of facilities to the athletes.
“We do fairly well, for example, in at least what Ice Miller defined as the ‘student experience,’” Gaudino said. “Our coach-to-athlete ratios are slightly better than average.
Our overall expenditure is slightly less than average, so we need to find a way of bucking that up a little bit.”
In the fall of 2010, Gaudino allocated an additional $230,000 of base funding to athletics, helping put it on more solid financial footing after years of deficits.
According to the report, the student-athlete population was considered as being diverse on campus. However, the athletics department administration and coaching staff is less so.
Out of the nine intercollegiate sports on campus, softball head coach Mallory Holtman is the only female head coach.
The Wildcats women’s basketball team and cross country teams are the only sports where the coach-to-athlete ratio is slightly less than average, but the rest are better than average.
Central is below the benchmark average in the ratio of full-time athletic training staff-to-student-athletes, but jumps above average when including graduate assistants.
The Wildcats’ football team, for instance, only has two full-time trainers, which Ice Miller considered to be low and recommended the addition of at least one more.
In terms of facilities, the Wildcats are slightly disadvantaged. Both Tomlinson Stadium and Nicholson Pavilion are slightly below average with seating capacity, but that doesn’t mean the fans aren’t coming to the games.
“In the GNAC, we have better attendance than most schools do,” Gaudino said. “I think we have the best road attendance [too], and because we’ve been dominant in a lot of sports, I think everybody likes to beat Central.”
Ice Miller was impressed with the competitiveness of the Wildcat teams, the staff, and the student-athletes along with recruits who they said “appear to be excellent ambassadors of the University.”
The Pacific Northwest Curse
Out of the 312 Division II schools in the NCAA, only 26 are located on the West Coast, and only seven are in the Pacific Northwest.
Because the majority of Division II schools are in the Southeast, Central sports and athletics teams are forced to travel across the country if they want a shot at cracking the national and regional rankings.
With the high amount of travel comes a high budget, and Central spends a higher percentage of its total budget on team travel than any other school in the GNAC, even though half the conference is already spending more than most other D-II schools.
“There’s lots of D-II conferences that we refer to as ‘bus conferences,’” Gaudino said. “The athletes never see an airplane because the other schools are right over there.”
Even teams in the GNAC that travel by plane don’t have to deal with Snoqualmie Pass.
“If you’re Simon Fraser, you’ve got an airport in Vancouver,” Gaudino said. “For us, we have to bus to the airport and then fly to where we go, so we actually have a little bit extra cost on top of that.”
In the GNAC, Central teams could potentially travel from Alaska to Montana to California in a given two-week period. Based on the 2011 reporting cycle, Ice Miller reported that Central spent $3.89 million on athletics-related expenditures and out of the expenditures, $570,693 or 14.7 percent was spent on team travel, while most schools spend roughly 10 percent.
The men’s rugby team, a club sport, is a prime example of how location can affect not only money, but also competition. The Wildcats were indirectly forced out of the Pacific Conference this season and subsequently switched to competing as an independent team after complaints from the California teams, who found it difficult to travel all the way to Ellensburg.
The team still competes in a variety of tournaments in a given year, which range from Las Vegas to Pennsylvania.
“You’ve got a rugby team – if you look at overall athletics – that’s nationally prominent and has to find their way to Pennsylvania or Texas or wherever it is,” Gaudino said, “and that’s a different pot of money but you have to get them there.”
The rugby team is a club sport and has been getting much of its funding for travel to tournaments and the national championships from the Services & Activities fee fund.
Most Wildcat athletes, coaches, and students could attest that Nicholson Pavilion has become crowded.
“The Pavilion” is used widely by the campus, from P.E. classes to ROTC workouts and drills.
And as its use increases, Nicholson is slowly steering away from its main purpose, which is to harbor Wildcat athletics sporting events and provide adequate practice facilities.
“Some of our sports probably don’t have adequate practice facilities, period,” Gaudino said. “And I use that beyond NCAA sports. We probably need some indoor practice facility for the
kind of sports that we’re engaging here, from rugby to basketball to football to baseball.”
The current “fieldhouse” is located on the east side of Nicholson Pavilion, but is limited in its use.
“We need bigger,” Gaudino said. “There’s the relatively-speaking low roof - there’s some things you can’t do in there. We need to sit down and we need to look at a facilities master plan and figure out that if we need a fieldhouse, where would we locate it.”
The potential benefits of a new fieldhouse are hard to ignore, according to Gaudino.
“Baseball and softball would benefit” from a field house, Gaudino said, “because the kids there don’t get the reps early enough because of our weather conditions here.”
Ice Miller proposed the construction of a multi-event arena that would replace Nicholson and would cost anywhere from $40 million to $60 million.
The potential facility would be primarily used by the athletics department, but could also be used by other groups during non-peak hours. It would ideally contain two hardwood playing courts (one main floor, one practice), an indoor synthetic turf area for outdoor sports, coach and administrator offices, locker rooms for varsity sports, and enhanced training and weight rooms.
Even if Central decided to just construct a fieldhouse and not the multi-event arena, Gaudino said he believes the project could be relatively inexpensive and could be completed within the next 10 years.
“Nothing is cheap, but relatively-speaking, a fieldhouse is an inexpensive building to build because it’s a big open area,” Gaudino said.
The multi-event arena could potentially have the capacity to host spectator events such as concerts, state high school championships, or the Ellensburg-favorite professional rodeo competitions, which could also boost revenue.
Tomlinson Stadium is due for upgrades and the university has already sent a master plan laying out three-phases of renovation.
These would include: the installation of lights, the installation of synthetic turf and relocation of the track to another area on campus, and the renovation of the stadium’s seating, press box, parking, concessions and restrooms.