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|
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).