The making of the five-year strategic plan for the athletic department

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(Photo by AJ Traub ’20)

AJ Traub

After the unveiling of the athletic department’s strategic plan last week, The Lafayette takes a deeper look at the workings behind the formation of the athletic department’s review and subsequent plan.

The Inter-Collegiate Athletic Counseling (ICAC) was hired to do a review on the state of athletics. The ICAC gathered information from students, alumni, faculty and staff and then reported those themes to the steering committee.

We met with [the ICAC] for two hours at a time every couple months,” Annette Diorio, Vice President for Campus Life and the chair of the steering committee, said. “I think the first year, we met four times, then we met over the summer, then a small group that met in between. It was a lot of meetings.”

The athletic steering committee included coaches, senior athletic department staff, faculty, trustees, and a former student-athlete, now alum.

“[The ICAC] didn’t give us a list of the comments, they gave us themes from the interviews they had,” Diorio said. “We, the athletics review committee, developed the Role of Athletics [statement].” One theme that the committee heard was that student-athletes don’t feel that members of the community appreciate the balance they have to maintain between academics, athletics and all their other activities, and student-athletes don’t want to be seen as “less academically focused.” Diorio added that this problem may stem from the a more general over-involvement of students on campus which leaves them with little free time.

The exact review will not be released due to the amount of confidential information it contains in the benchmarking data, according to Diorio and Freeman. Diorio said that it is not necessary to release the report given to the college by ICAC as the executive summary outlines what the report says. Freeman wrote the “summary of major findings” portion of the executive summary, which was drawn from the text in the report, Diorio said.

“By the time we redact all the data, there’s not much of a report,” Diorio said, adding that the college “did release [the major findings],” as summarized by Freeman. Diorio added that no recommendations from the report were left out of the executive summary.

President Alison Byerly said that she characterizes the review as “information” more than recommendations, with “text to go with the numbers” of benchmark data.

“There really wasn’t a report written by the athletics review committee as such that was a kind of formal set of recommendations. It was a set of discussions of information from the consultant that was then synthesized by [Freeman] into the strategic plan. It’s not like there was a report that was written and is being withheld,” she said. “It was…data that was considered as part of those discussions that then led into the strategic plan.”

The student-athlete on the steering committee was Anna Ptasinski ‘18, who was also the chair of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).

“I was able to talk to a lot of student-athletes representing every team, so it’s a very diverse group of people,” Ptasinski said. “Through my conversations with them and our group meetings, I was able to get an insight into the challenges and benefits each sport had, which I could then bring to the steering committee.”

Ptasinski says she also “met with [former Athletic Director] Bruce McCutcheon separately to provide more information” of the student-athlete experience.

The department has been continually striving to improve the student-athlete experience, even before the release of the official strategic plan, Ptasinski said.

“Something that’s kind of new in the department is sports psychology being more accessible to the students, and there’s been a big push in the department from our strength and conditioning programs to do extra team bonding exercises,” Ptasinski said. 

One of the new committees created in the strategic plan will focus on facilities, getting the most out of facilities and potentially creating more facilities in the future. 

“It would be ideal to be able to create a more private practice space for [teams] more consistently, and that’s not something we can provide,” Freeman said. 

Metzgar Field is an off-campus sporting facility where oftentimes game attendance is lower due to the facility’s distance from the college. However, Freeman said that Leopards Lair, the student fan section, has recently been brought back.

“One of the things they are in discussion with us on is how can we transport more students to Metzgar and how we can get students excited to go to different events,” Freeman said. “So that’s an ongoing conversation, but I feel we have made tremendous progress in getting support for all of our teams, not just the usual ones that people typically attend.”

Another point of the review was women’s sports teams, specifically to “refresh [the] gender equity plan” and “add women’s teams to existing teams and increase resources.”

Freeman said that while she “can’t say which way it will go” in terms of possible new teams coming from existing club teams or not, “being able to identify where there is existing interest is an important step in the process.”

As for resources, it is salaries for coaches and scholarships for athletes that will be a focus in the near future. Some of that may come from the Leopards Champions Fund, a fund dedicated to building a “championship athletics program,” which was created in the fall of 2017 with an initial one million dollar gift.

“Scholarships for our women’s teams would certainly be one of the most immediate goals that we will be promoting and trying to solicit support for, and have already,” Freeman said. “The Leopards Champions Fund was created to jumpstart that effort and we will be promoting that fund in the future to be able to generate additional funds for scholarships for women, and certainly for men as well as we do have some men’s teams that are not at the NCAA max.”

Retention of coaches is a big reason for increasing salaries, as Freeman has said that it is hard for athletes to develop when there is frequent coaching turnover.

“I don’t want to say specifically which teams, but there are certainly teams that are not operating with the NCAA maximum in terms of number of coaches,” Freeman said. “Then we have some teams that have part-time coaches, and so being able to provide additional resources and continuity for our coaching staffs is a priority for us.”

Freeman plans to continually receive feedback about how the department is doing during and after the five-year strategic plan.

“We certainly would like to be able to update the community on how we are progressing on our strategic goals on an annual basis to be able to provide a strategic plan update to people so they know how we’re doing,” Freeman said. 

Freeman says she has gotten positive feedback from some student-athletes after releasing the strategic goal, and she is beginning to meet with coaches and other groups to get more feedback.

“There’s a new spark I’ve noticed with Sherryta [Freeman] coming in and this invigoration of athletics which has inspired all the student-athletes and the entire Lafayette community,” Ptasinski said.

Kathryn Kelly ’19 contributed reporting to this article.