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Your Commitment to Athletics

(Photo courtesy the Chicago Examiner)

The guys in the picture to my left are definite diehards. Though it looks like they might be Holy Cross fans, they're actually Baltimore Ravens fans that submitted their picture to the Chicago Examiner's "Tailgater of the Year" competition.

While it's not easy sometimes to summon up that football (or athletics) spirit during the offseason, there's a Lehigh alumni survey that is still open that, among other things, asks about the importance of athletics in your alumni experience.

Ordinarily such a survey wouldn't raise many eyebrows. But then again, the landscape around collegiate athletics in general and football in particular has to make anyone have cause for concern these days.

Ask the folks at Hofstra - who suddenly and dramatically had the plug pulled from their program thanks to a "double-secret" athletics study that is still waiting to be made public. Ask the folks at Northeastern - who made a decision that their high school-grade football field wasn't giving the student-athletes there a good experience, giving them plenty of cover to fold their football program as well.

Ask the folks at the Knight Commission - who wrote a fire-breathing editorial in the Washington Post about how a FBS playoff wouldn't balance the books of FBS schools. While the biggest blows were landed on FBS schools, there were general shots at collegiate athletics that were troubling for FCS schools, too:

The real crisis facing college athletics is the sustainability of its business model, which is on a path toward meltdown. The core of any debate about major-college football must be about the need to develop a business model consistent with the economic realities of our time and that would benefit student-athletes and educational institutions alike.


Now, consider all this in an environment where athletics costs are escalating at all but a few institutions while academic budgets are being cut and student fees and tuition are being raised. NCAA data show that the rate of increase in athletics spending in Division I programs is three to four times greater than the rate of increase for academic budgets. That is neither acceptable nor sustainable.

Don't think FCS presidents aren't paying attention to this. In this whirlwind, Lehigh and Lafayette quietly release end-of-the-year surveys to gauge their alumni opinion.

Interestingly, just around Lehigh/Lafayette, the assistant VP for Alumni operations released the following letter just prior to the alumni survey:

I hope that my talk of “The Game” stirs up memories of your Lehigh family and our great university. Keep those in mind when you receive our alumni survey, coming your way in the near future. Your opinions are important as we shape our programs and how we support them going forward.

How important is this survey, then? If it is indeed "how the programs are supported going forward", this survey could be very, very important.

I'm not saying the survival of athletics at Lehigh is in the balance - but certainly reaffirming how important athletics plays in your alumni experience cannot possibly hurt. Folks make dollar decisions based on surveys like this. In my opinion, it's a great time to say exactly what is important to you about Lehigh athletics - showing you care.

For the record, one of the questions in the survey is: "What is the most meaningful thing Lehigh can do for you in the next 5-10 years?" Here's my response:

Lehigh has a great tradition in its sports programs. While continuing to ensure that the athletes going to Lehigh are true student-athletes, Lehigh should continue to support its teams and give them the best Division I experience that the school can offer.
If a lot of alumni put something along the lines of this as a response to that question, it can only help the athletic program in the future. I'd strongly suggest you take the 10 minutes to tell Lehigh that you demand a Division I football program.


Robert said…
Football was a large part of my Lehigh experience and I was NOT a student-athlete. Thus the problem with surveys that appear to focus on college athletics from the sole perspective of the student-athlete.

Spectator sports (like football, Bball and wrestling) bring much to the collegial spirit and social aspects of the undergraduate experience as well as bolster community interest and alumni support. On the other hand, non-spectator sports (like cross-country, track, rowing, swimming & diving, tennis, golf, etc.) commonly benefit solely the student-athlete, while bearing a significant financial cost.

If the NCAA and colleges & universities were serious at beginning to look at financial costs, they might first take a look at the NCAA requirement that Division 1 schools participate in a minimum of 14 sports (all at the D1 level). Paring back the number of sports, rather than targeting football might be a better answer. But don't count on the NCAA for any bright answers...they are too busy being run by the large Conference insitutions with massive football stadiums, large BBall arenas, significant TV revenues and alumni boosters. Mind you, I am not opposed to cross-country, rowing, swimming and the host of other non-spectator sports, but from a financial standpoint they are cash negatives and provide little if anything to the college experience of the non student-athlete.

And by the way, don't ever underestimate the prestige and reputational factor associated with Lehigh playing three Ivy League football games each fall. Sad to say, but or lose, those scores rolling across the ESPN ticker every fall have as much to do with our national academic reputation as the pedigree of our faculty.
Anonymous said…

How were these surveys distributed? I am a household of two Lehigh grads and a partial season ticket holder, as well as being an annual donor, and I didn't receive a survey.
ngineer said…
I think they came through a couple weeks ago as an email from the Lehigh Alumni Association requesting us to take a survey. With all the email that piles up and other crap, I don't give much notice to electronic solicitations and 'can 'em'...I'm afraid that's what I did to mine...
wujing said…
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