U reacts to criticism of reserved student-athlete housing policy

Brad Unangst

While many University students wait in hotel rooms and floor lounges for promised campus housing, many student-athletes never had to worry about where they would live.

The University reserved almost 300 housing spaces for athletes this school year, according to Housing and Residential Life records.

Most of the 300 spots are in University Village and Roy Wilkins Hall – with the University’s most desired accomodations.

“There’s a recruiting issue involved here,” said Tom Moe, men’s athletics director. “If we’re serious about being a competitive force in our conference, then we have to be mindful of what other schools are offering.”

But some students argue the University gives athletes unfair preferential treatment.

“There’s resentment from the general student population,” said Rollie Buchanan, Comstock Hall director and former University Village employee. “So many people want to live there, and they think it’s unfair.”

Reserve space inequities exist between the University’s 21 teams. Two-thirds of football players, 80 percent of volleyball players and the entire men’s basketball team are guaranteed spots in the two facilities. But other sports, such as men’s track, are not given any spaces.

Mannix Clark, a Housing and Residential Life representative, said reserve space allocations are based on the size of the team. He said football has “more athletes with full scholarships, so they get free housing.”

About 86 percent of the football and volleyball teams and 69 percent of the men’s basketball team came to the University with full scholarships including room and board.

“If I didn’t play football, I wouldn’t be able to afford to come to school here,” said Johnathan Richmond, a sophomore living in University Village.

Richmond said his decision to come to the University was not based on housing but on what he was offered academically.

Jeff Schemmel, senior associate men’s athletics director, said football and basketball team members were given the first reserved spaces when Roy Wilkins was built because they play revenue sports.

“That really is part of and has always been part of a University commitment – part of the University mission – to successful athletics,” Schemmel said.

The 19 other teams received reserved spaces when University Village opened in 1999. But space is limited: Football and basketball players constitute 80 percent of the spots allocated for male athletes.

In total, male athletes occupy 170 reserved spots on campus, while female athletes have 112. The female Gophers occupy one-third of the spots at Roy Wilkins and University Village.

Karen Weaver, associate women’s athletics director, said the disparity is due to smaller women’s teams. She said she doesn’t think women athletes feel they are treated unfairly.

“Would we love to have more spaces in great places like ‘U’ Village and Wilkins Hall? Sure, but we have to be very, very respectful of the fact that student athletes are just a small portion of the overall campus population,” Weaver said. “The overall population should also have access to those facilities.”

Moe said the decision to house athletes in University Village and Roy Wilkins was based partly on the proximity to athletic facilities.

“Given the very busy nature of their schedules and the demands of their time, we think it’s essential that (athletes) be as close as possible to those places … where they spend an awful lot of time,” he said.

While student-athletes receive preference on location, Clark said athletes are “by no means our only reserved space.”

Besides athletics, the largest portion of reserve space allocations are for the First-Year Experience, which comprises nearly 1,500 spots in the Superblock, and the Honors Program, which holds 234 spots in Middlebrook Hall.

The University also holds spots for 21 Living and Learning Communities such as the ROTC and the West Bank Arts House. The Global Studies House is the only community placed within University Village, where four spaces are set aside for its members.

None of the 2,252 spots allotted for Living and Learning Communities are in Roy Wilkins Hall.

Buchanan, of Comstock Hall, said criticism of the University’s reserve space program is most prevalent during housing registration, when students say they are being denied the best housing.

But freshman Erin Foley isn’t one of them. A member of the Anthropology House Living and Learning Community in Comstock, Foley said she is content with her placement.

“It’s unfair to put (athletes) on the priority, but it doesn’t bother me too much,” she said. “I guess I haven’t really seen the alternatives to compare with my dorm.”

University Village and Roy Wilkins apartments are newer and more spacious than most residence halls. University Village units feature dishwashers and laundry facilities within the apartment, and both facilities include self-cleaning stoves and furnished living rooms.

In the 1980s, many universities had housing where team members lived together.

But the NCAA now limits the number of athletes allowed in one housing unit to 50 percent, intending for athletes to not be isolated.

“It’s part of the philosophy that the student athletes should be part of the overall campus community,” said Athletic Compliance director Frank Kara.

But even though athletes comprise about 30 percent of the tenants of the two facilities, some athletes said they do not feel connected with the rest of the University.

“I don’t know if you get a real feel for college life here,” said Charlton Keith, a freshman football player.

Keith said he likes the fraternal atmosphere in the facility but said there are drawbacks to being put in clusters – feelings of isolation, for instance.

Dan Kelly, president of the Minnesota Student Association, said he is concerned the reserve space placement program might not benefit the overall University community.

“I would have no qualms if we put a lot of money into this, if it’s benefitting a majority of students,” Kelly said. “The question is: If we have a stellar athletic team … how does that really make an average student’s life better?”