Roadblocks to athletics departments’ merger remain

Stumbling blocks include Title IX issues and gaining media attention for women’s sports.

Kari Petrie

Approximately one year ago, the men’s and women’s athletics departments stared down a $21 million deficit. To reduce expenditures, the University Board of Regents approved merging both departments and eliminating men’s and women’s golf and men’s gymnastics.

A fund-raising campaign completed in January secured enough money to save the sports, but merging the departments has taken more time.

Several roadblocks to integrating the two departments’ operations and cultures remain, and more than a few questions linger unanswered, athletes and officials said.

Dana Baum, an elementary education senior and varsity swimmer, said the merger has limited discussions of women’s issues by an athletics council responsible for addressing concerns of student-athletes.

Subjects in question include Title IX issues and ways of attracting media attention to women’s sports.

Two representatives from each sport are on the council, which also organizes community service activities for athletes. Before the merger, each department had its own council.

Baum said the council discusses some women’s issues, but they are no longer the main focus.

“It makes me wonder if it’s just not as important anymore,” she said. “It scares me a little.”

Baum also said she saw the former women’s athletics director attend more events when the departments were separate. Now, even though Athletics Director Joel Maturi is present at swim meets, he is not as visible as his predecessor, she said.

Despite Baum’s concerns, she said men’s and women’s athletes are more united, and less tension exists between them.

Louellen Essex, a consultant hired by the University to help with the merger, said uniting the departments under a single culture is an obstacle.

She said the women’s department was more structured and tightly managed than the men’s department.

“There’s just a different way of doing things,” Essex said. “It’s a bit of a challenge to find a middle ground.”

She said she is working with a 35-member strategic planning group to create a mission statement and set broad departmental goals, including improving marketing, public relations and the relationship with the academic communities.

The group includes administrators, coaches, athletes and others.

“We’re (meeting as a group) to get some common direction,” Essex said.

As a whole, Essex said the merger is going smoothly and on schedule.

“Most people have really let go and they’re seeing the benefits of collaboration,” she said.

Some coaches said the merger has been positive.

Wendy Davis, women’s rowing head coach, said the merger has been easy because of smart planning.

As a result, budget meetings have improved, Davis said. Every decision-maker involved with the rowing program was present. They have listened to her requests and asked questions, she said.

“That never happens,” Davis said.

Men’s wrestling head coach J Robinson said he has not seen much detrimental change since the merger.

He said he has seen more unity between men and women student-athletes, which he credits to the merger.

“I think the women’s department is happy because they just got out of prison with Chris Voelz,” he said.

Kari Petrie covers Board of Regents and administration. She welcomes comments at [email protected]