Athletics vs. academics at WSSU

by Keith Barber

Chancellor Donald J. Reaves has emphasized Winston-Salem State University’s need to improve academics as the athletic department’s budget deficit has ballooned in the midst of the school’s transition from Division II to Division I. (photo by Keith T. Barber)

Winston-Salem State University Chancellor Donald J. Reaves put up a slide during his PowerPoint presentation at a community forum on the school’s campus on May 13 that appeared to suck the air right out of the room. It revealed the running budget deficit of the school’s athletic department for the past four years during its transition from Division II to Division I. The projected athletic budget shortfall for the 2008-2009 academic year is estimated at $2.6 million, Reaves said. That brings the total budget deficit to more than $6 million since the historically black university began the transition to Division I in 2005. And the news only got worse. Due to NCAA requirements for Division I schools, Winston- Salem State projects its athletics budget shortfall will stand at $12.6 million at the end of the 2010- 2011 school year. Reaves made it clear the issue is not on the expenditure side of the athletic department’s ledger but on the revenue side. Winston-Salem State has the smallest athletic budget of any school in the Mid- Eastern Athletic Conference, despite having the second highest athletic fee of any school in the University of North Carolina system. Winston-Salem State students pay $579 apiece as part of the school’s tuition package. That amount is dwarfed by MEAC rival Norfolk State’s student fee of $1,150. Winston-Salem State is currently a provisional member of the MEAC. When it meets all of the NCAA Division I requirements, the school will become a full-fledged member of the conference. At several points in his presentation, Reaves pointed out how Winston-Salem State is faltering in its bid to become Division I. The chancellor acknowledged the NCAA has sanctioned the school for not keeping 80 percent of its athletes on scholarship. Winston-Salem State now has to repeat the second year of transition to Division I. Reaves pointed to a graphic that revealed the majority of the athletic department’s budget comes from student athletic fees. The lack of diversification in funding and the growing budget deficit are the primary challenges the school faces in making the transition to Division I, he said. “We will work with the alumni association to try to raise money for athletics but I do not believe you can raise $3 million a year. That’s point number one,” Reaves said. “And if you could raise $3 million a year, should you raise $3 million a year for athletics or should you raise $3 million a year for other activities such as student scholarships?” Reaves set the stage for the debate over the school’s priorities during the first part of his presentation to the approximately 150 people gathered inside the Anderson Building. He pointed out that the school had a 13-percent graduation rate after four years and a 39-percent graduation rate after six years. Statistics also reveal that 59 percent of freshman at the university received at least one “D” or “F” during the fall semester. “That is not acceptable,” Reaves said. “We need to give students a fighting chance to get out of here.” Reaves laid out his student retention plan, which includes the creation of a retention and graduation task force, development of a comprehensive program for student advising, creation of a language arts center and expansion of a peer tutorial program. Then the chancellor turned to the subject of the budget crisis currently faced by all state-supported schools. In September, the state told all schools in the UNC system to be prepared to return 2 percent of their state allotment of funds to the state treasurer at the end of the school year. That 2 percent eventually became a request for an 8 percent return, which equates to $5.6 million for Winston- Salem State, Reaves said. The state is staring down the barrel of a $4.6 billion budget deficit so the school is looking at cutting between $5 million and $7 million from its budget, Reaves said. The cuts will be vertical, which means the elimination of entire programs. Reaves declined to specify which university programs are being considered for elimination.

ChancellorDonald J. Reaves has emphasized Winston-Salem State University’s needto improve academics as the athletic department’s budget deficit hasballooned in the midst of the school’s transition from Division II toDivision I. (photo by Keith T. Barber) “We are in a budget crisis. We’re going to have to deal with this situation and we’re going to deal with it in such a way that we maintain and protect the core mission of the university, which is teaching, research and public service, and that will have to be done at the expense of other activities,” Reaves said. Despite the projected budget cuts, Reaves confirmed the $30 million student activities center will break ground later this year. However, the proposed $30 million science center has been put on hold. Reaves opened the floor to questions at several points during the forum. Most of the debate centered on funding for athletics.

‘Weare in a budget crisis. We’re going to have to deal with this situationand we’re going to deal with it in such a way that we maintain andprotect the core mission of the university, which is teaching, researchand public service, and that will have to be done at the expense ofother activities. — Chancellor Donald J. Reaves, Winston-Salem StateUniversity

Al Roseboro, a Winston-Salem State alumnus, said the move to Division Icould have been planned better and more inclusive of alumni andboosters. Roseboro said you need to have a winning program toraise sufficient funds no matter what league the school joins. ForsythCounty Commissioner and WSSU alum Walter Marshall called on the alumniin attendance to “put up or shut up.” Marshall said the responsibilityfor athletics fundraising falls squarely on the school’s alumniassociation and booster club. School officials should have reached outto the alumni association and the booster club before it made thedecision to go from Division II to Division I, Alfred Harvey said.Harvey, a former WSSU football player and assistant football coach,said the alumni who have raised money for the school in the pastcould’ve helped make the transition smoother. “When you don’thave the right players involved, you have the type of results we haveright now,” Harvey said. “People are not supportive; they’re lukewarm.If the right people were involved, we could get the right support.Everybody needs to be on the same page.” Harvey said it doesn’t seemfeasible for the school’s alumni and athletic boosters to actuallyraise $3 million in one year. “It’s a monumental task to raise thatamount of money especially in these economic times,” he said. Reavesresponded to a question about an anonymous blog entitled“firedonaldreaves,” stating that he “can’t afford to be distracted bythat stuff.” “When I arrived, I came here with a clearlyarticulated set of goals and objectives and at the very top of thatlist is retention and graduation and that’s what I’m focused on,”Reaves continued. “If you write me an e-mail and sign your name, I willrespond. I don’t let it distract me.” Reaves said the school’s board oftrustees will discuss the transition to Division I during its Junemeeting and the MEAC is asking for a commitment from the school by theend of the summer. “I’m not going to make this decision on myown,” Reaves said. “The decision to move to Division I was made by theboard of trustees. The decision to do anything different will be madeby the board.”