Campus sports facilities need more than one arena
By Natalie-Mae Joan Schaefer
INDIANA -- Early last fall, top Indiana University of Pennsylvania administrators received a consultant's report on President Tony Atwater's plan to lead the school into the top tier of the nation's intercollegiate athletic programs - Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The Sept. 1 report, paid for by IUP and performed by Garden City, N.Y-based InterCollegiate Athletic Consulting, advised the university to shelve the plan. The reason: IUP can't afford it.
The analysis concluded that IUP:
· has suffered declining support for its intercollegiate athletic program
· has limited operating and capital funds provided by Harrisburg
· has among the lowest percentages of student activity fees devoted to athletics in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference
· provides declining support for intramural athletics and recreation
· requires student athletes to extensively and personally fund their participation in the intercollegiate athletic program
· needs more coordination of athletic fundraising
· under-funds athletic scholarships, operations and coaching
· has inadequate athletic facilities
The report was slow in coming to light because the university did not release it. Moreover, IUP refused a request for the report filed by The Indiana Gazette under provisions of the Pennsylvania Right to Know Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2009. Based on a leaked copy, the newspaper revealed the report in a front-page story in its March 21 edition, more than six months after the report was written.
A month after the story broke, IUP athletics director Francis J. "Frank" Condino acknowledged the "funding limitations" hampering the university's NCAA Division I aspirations.
"It is not that the university has not addressed the needs," Condino said in an April 20 interview. "They are just creating models to accommodate a long-range plan."
But one volunteer assistant coach, who agreed to speak to a reporter on condition of anonymity to protect his position, said IUP has not addressed existing athletic needs to satisfy even its NCAA Division II regulatory requirements. The assistant coach spoke as he looked at peeling paint and dented bleachers at the Memorial Field House basketball courts.
"Varsity athletics suffer, and so do club and intramural sports here," the coach said. "Money is the issue. There is not enough money for equipment, shoes or even travel. For the football team, we had to cancel a road trip because there wasn't enough cash to have the players stay overnight. And this is varsity football we are talking about."
Recruitment is another hurdle for the athletic department, the coach said.
"Without money coming in the form of available scholarships, it becomes impossible to compete for big player recruitment," he said.
Facilities also were lacking, the coach said.
"We need more space," he said, indicating the court around him. "A lot of students find our facilities are far worse than the high schools that they came from."
Condino acknowledged the space shortage.
"Everything is always more beneficial if you have more space," said Condino. "Here, we are a little bit landlocked. And there are a lot of time demands made on our facilities. The average Division II program sponsors an average of 14 varsity sports. We have 19."
IUP's club and intramural sports also struggle with a lack of facilities.
"IUP indoor and outdoor facilities to support recreation, health and fitness are insufficient and inadequate for the IUP student body," the ICAC report concluded.
Mathew Braun, a sophomore physics education major and co-captain of the men's lacrosse club, said he struggles to secure gym and field practice time for the team. The office that manages athletic facilities for the university loses paperwork, builds conflicts into game schedules and double-books facilities, Braun said. This complicates the team's 10-game requirement under the rules of the National Collegiate Lacrosse League.
"Every team we have played so far, the team has had a lacrosse field in addition to their stadium with turf," Braun said. "But we can't have night games because the stadium is always booked. And there are no other fields with lights. We have to try and squeeze a 10-game season into four weekends."
Attempts to get a comment from the office of the IUP facilities director were unsuccessful.
Condino, IUP's athletics director, said long-range plans aim to address campus facilities shortages.
"There is a long term plan for athletic facilities," said Condino. "The KCAC is one of those."
The $54 million Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex is designed to include a 4,000-to-6,000 seat arena, administrative offices for athletics and other facilities, according to the university's Web site. The 6.5 acre Wayne Avenue development site adjacent to the IUP campus is scheduled to be completed in 2011.
But of the 19 varsity sports on IUP campus, the KCAC "cornerstone" project will directly benefit only four - men's and women's basketball, and men and women's volleyball.
If the remaining IUP sports are to gain new facilities, then they may need to seek the support of external boosters. Alumni are one potential source of support. And IUP's two-year-old Crimson Hawks Athletic Association is attempting to tap that source, according to the athletics program Web site.
CHAA funds all 19 varsity athletics programs, it says. CHAA donors are invited to give up $49,000 for athletic scholarships, team requests, travel expenses, equipment and other needs. Donors may designate which sport to fund, and they are promised recognition on the Web site.
Information on the program's financial progress was unavailable. But the ICAC consultant's report clearly stated the goal.
"IUP must make some prudent investments in its current athletic program if it is to achieve and sustain a consistent presence in Division II," the report concluded.
Natalie-Mae Schaefer, a sophomore majoring in journalism and anthropology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Gibsonia.