Sunday, April 26, 2015

Rising Tribe

With the noteworthy and visible exception of its men's basketball program, The College of William & Mary has a rich and successful athletic history. In the 30 years since the inception of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) in 1985, W&M athletes have captured 116 conference titles, far more than any other league member (second-place JMU has won 77). W&M's student-athletes excel off the field, as well. Tribe athletes ranked 14th out of 346 Division I programs in overall graduation rate in 2013-14.

As the landscape of intercollegiate sports has changed, though W&M's ambitious athletic program (the Tribe fields more varsity sports than any other CAA school, and more than most schools of a comparable size) finds itself increasingly under-resourced in comparison to its peers. The results are beginning to show. From 2000 to 2005, W&M averaged five CAA titles per year, a pace that slowed to fewer than three per year from 2006 to 2010.

In response, W&M President Taylor Reveley commissioned a study on the future of athletics at the nation's second-oldest university. The resulting report offers an ambitious and far-reaching vision for W&M's athletic achievement.

At the root of the recommendations, an audacious goal: A championship experience for every William & Mary student-athlete and every fan.

More specifically, the authors of the report propose that, "Every Tribe athlete should graduate – and we rightly expect that every Tribe athlete will graduate from William & Mary – having won a conference championship or participated in NCAA championship competition during his or her four-year collegiate career."

As a W&M graduate and a sports fan, I applaud the ambition. Success on the field is often a visible and tangible representation of an institution's commitment to excellence, and begets success in fundraising, attracting students, and raising a school's profile.

And as a financial supporter of W&M athletics, I recognize the truth in the admonition a FOGTB offered when he told me about the report: hide your wallet.

The report calls for an incremental $8.1m in annual athletic fundraising (with the ultimate goal of fully endowing all athletic scholarships at William & Mary at a total cost of $192m) and as much as $125 million in "transformative" investments in facilities.

Among these investments in facilities are $20-25m for a multi-sport practice facility for volleyball and basketball programs (to include office space for sports medicine, compliance, and academic support personnel), $22 - $75m to either refurbish or replace William & Mary Hall, and $15-20m for a new swimming facility.

One of these things is not like the other.

In addition to the investments in scholarships and facilities, the report discusses a vital and necessary component of any W&M athletic vision, though not fully enough for my taste. The authors recommend resources be allocated to improve the fan experience for W&M boosters, specifically mentioning improved game day experience, development of streaming video capabilities, improved merchandising, and a catch-all category oddly described as 'be ready' to harness the wave of support (see page 21 of the report).

It's in this latter and somewhat overlooked aspect of W&M athletics that I think the report falls flat. I support the objective - I want my school to be great at sports. I'm willing to back that support financially (to a degree - I've got to send two kids to college in the next 7 years). But the biggest thing I'd change about W&M athletics is the apathy of the student body in general.

This past basketball season offered a glimpse of what's possible. With Tony Shaver's program reaching historic highs (the first back to back 20 win seasons in school history, and consecutive trips to the CAA championship game) and the charismatic and electric Marcus Thornton closing out his career, the last few home hoops games of the 2014-15 season saw large and boisterous crowds. The 'Gold Rush' promotion packed Kaplan Arena, and FOGTB Dave Fairbank told me that the atmosphere was as good as he'd ever seen it in Williamsburg.

Better balance needed: We can do this, and support W&M sports
Building on that, replicating that energy, expanding student participation as vocal fans of all W&M sports should be among the very highest priorities for the future of the school's athletic program. Funds should be specifically allocated to student/fan engagement. Put more simply, W&M should endeavor to offer students the same intercollegiate rooting experience as our larger rivals.

Sports is awesome. The collective experience in supporting a team (or teams) offers a uniquely tribal connection, a transformative one in the best of moments (witness, for example, the W&M community after Daniel Dixon sunk Hofstra this March). That's what we should invest in, right alongside scholarships and facilities. Engage the entirety of the student body, invest in them, and the returns will follow on and off the field.

(For a pair of good takes on the recommendations, see Fairbank's article in the Daily Press and John O'Connor's in the Richmond Times-Dispatch).

29 comments:

zman said...

Nice effort rob. I think it will take a creative and potentially heroic marketing campaign to get W&M students out of Swem and into the Hall. The griffin can't do it alone.

Speaking of pantsless people, zson sharted in his sleep and woke up with a ferocious rash on his balls. He explained to Zwoman that I explained to him that it is his balls, not his penis, giving him pains. So he will be yelling about his achy balls all day.

Danimal said...

The good news is I get to watch TV while lying in bed for most of the day. The bad news is it is in a hospital bed while awaiting surgery on my clavicle, incurred today in a race in St. Pete. But I'm still healthy and with my head and brain intact, or at least as much as they were prior to today. Triathlon retirement (out of town stuff that is) commences a month early.

Clarence said...

Danimal, hang in there, buddy. Sorry to hear about your travails. Relax and enjoy the meds.

Danimal said...

Better news....morphine. Right on time Clarence.

zman said...

Oofah. Feel better. I hope it isn't your dominant side.

Mark said...

That's rough. Good luck. Morphine is a bright spot though.

rob said...

just met spike mendelsohn, mike isabella, and jen carroll. food is good.

TR said...

Heal up quick, Danimal! I had clavicle surgery in October.
Took me over four months to get back to a semblance of normality.

rob said...

sadly, it seems increasingly evident that my kids have picked up my tendency to coast on natural ability rather than be willing to actually work at things. this should serve them well in life.

Mark said...

Chris Paul is putting on a fucking clinic.

zman said...

This is why I can't move away from the Tri-state area. Boston and DC are great but they're missing a bunch of key culinary cornerstones.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/15/dining/dont-mess-with-my-breakfast-sandwich.html?smid=nytcore-ipad-share&smprod=nytcore-ipad

TR said...

Curt Schilling looks like a mess. His eye bags have eye bags.

mayhugh said...

Nice of the Raptors not to show up for Game 4. I can't believe the Wiz look to be getting the sweep.

rob said...

my 11 year-old daughter watched draft day with me a few months ago. since then, she's been really interested in the nfl draft. she's legitimately excited for the first round this week - she's lobbying me to let her stay up and watch.

mayhugh said...

Will she be disappointed if Kevin Costner isn't prominently featured?

TR said...

The GoT -> Mad Men -> 5 AM wake-up run is a terrible way to start the week.

zman said...

Matt Waldman at Football Outsiders did a "time capsule" draft, the premise being what what Waldman thinks the first round should look like based on his perspective of the game, not team preferences, market value, etc. so that when you look back on it three years from now, this is the way the draft "should" have shaken out. Remarkably, he has W&M's Tre McBride going #32 to the Patriots.

http://www.footballoutsiders.com/futures/2015/futures-1st-round-time-capsule-mock

Squeaky said...

Danimal, know I'm late but heal well. Hospitals suck.

T.J. said...

soooooo, shit is going down right now in Baltimore...

Mark said...

Very true. And it has been bubbling up all weekend.

TR said...

Isles-Caps may impinge on my sleeping tonight.

Clarence said...

Watching Dick Cavett's Vietnam on PBS. Pretty amazing. The 1-to-1 parallels with Iraq are staggering.

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Danimal said...

Thanks Abal.
You as well Squeaky.

Hi Gheorghies.

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Squeaky said...

I'm disappointed in Abal. No, 'Hi Gheorghies'.

zman said...

Is "blogspot abal" the blogging equivalent of "Johnny Football"?

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