Director of Athletics Kirby Hocutt's Remarks
Statement made at January 25 press conference
Jan. 25, 2007
Good morning. Our mission at Ohio University Athletics is to inspire, develop and support Ohio University student-athletes in their pursuit of academic and athletic excellence.
This is a superb mission. Yet we're before you today with less than pleasant news about the present position of our Department of Athletics at Ohio University.
Specifically, we're here today to publicly address the state of Ohio Athletics. We are operating as a Division I-A program that serves and supports the educational mission of Ohio University, and serves as a source of pride for the University, the Athens community and the State of Ohio. Yet we're faced and will talk about the significant issues that have been present at Ohio Athletics for many years.
We are then going to present you with a significant decision that has been made to reconcile these issues. This is a significant decision because it affects people's lives.
This decision marks a turning point in our program and it has received the unanimous support of our President, and each member of our athletics department executive staff. Today, we take the first steps towards resolving those issues. In that sense this is an important day in the history of our program.
I'm confident that you'll find that our research has been comprehensive. We've had some of the most respected individuals working to address these issues. We've used discretion, and we've been respectful throughout this process. Yet everyone associated with our university has a right to know where we stand. While we have been very sensitive to being respectful, there are no secrets here.
To begin, we have three issues that have hamstrung our program for years:
1. The financial position of our department, specifically we've been operating at a deficit for many years.
2. It's obvious that because of our financial position, we were not providing our student-athletes with the high-quality experience that is expected at Ohio University.
3. We face the continuous challenge of complying with Title IX. I'm sure you heard of Title IX – it is the federal mandate that guarantees all Americans the rights to education regardless of gender. Since its inception in 1972, this law has had its most profound impact on intercollegiate athletics.
In the past year, we've had to face these issues head on. We acknowledge that we couldn't move forward without addressing each of these. If we do not address each one of these issues our entire athletics program will be at risk.
You should know that our priorities include the following:
* We remain committed to supporting the educational mission of the University.
* We remain committed to the mission of the Department of Athletics.
* We remain committed to the welfare of the student-athlete and providing each and every student-athlete with a quality experience.
* We remain committed to winning the right way.
Again, we make the tough decision today OR we place the entire program at risk.
That being said, we are announcing today that we are dissolving at the conclusion of their 2007 seasons –
* Men's swimming and diving
* Men's indoor & outdoor track
* Women's lacrosse
This decision directly affects eight coaches and nearly 100 student-athletes. These individuals are our first concern. Right now, they are our primary concern. We'll do everything possible to remain sensitive to their situation and assist them during this transition period.
As such, those student-athletes who plan to stay and complete their undergraduate education at Ohio University will continue to receive aid at their current scholarship levels for a period equal to their remaining eligibility. We'll also do everything we can to help those student-athletes wishing to transfer to another institution to continue their athletic careers. I've spoken with my colleagues in the Mid-American Conference and others throughout the nation that have been through a similar situation, unfortunately, and they've given us some insights and recommendations about how to address this issue.
Let's transition for a moment to the issues and information leading up to this decision.
This decision follows hundreds of hours of comprehensive research and study over an extended period of time on the part of my staff, department advisors and others within the University.
Upon my appointment as Athletics Director 17 months ago, I received a presidential mandate to operate our athletics department within our available resources – to be fiscally responsible. Ohio Athletics faces significant budget challenges over the next three to five years. At the present time, our resources are simply not adequate to provide a quality experience for the number of programs and student-athletes that we are serving.
In 2005, the Division I Financial Report (prepared by Athletics Financial Services) indicated that Ohio University sponsored the second-largest athletic program in the Mid-American Conference and the 39th-largest program in Division I-A in terms of the total sports that we sponsored. (In 2005, there were 118 Division I-A programs). We had 20 sports programs. Yet our athletics budget was in the bottom half of the conference.
That report ranked Ohio University 10th out of 12 in the MAC and 105th nationally in Division I-A for the total expenses we spent per sport.
If you break it down by looking at our women's sports programs, our total operating expenses ranked ninth in the MAC and 107th nationally.
Our women's operating expenses if reviewed by sport, ranked 10th in the MAC and 108th nationally.
Take one step further and look at our expenses per female student-athlete, and we ranked 11th, next to last in the MAC, and 111th nationally.
In the operation of our men's program, our total operating expenses ranked 11th, next to last in the MAC and 113th nationally
Our men's operation expenses if reviewed by sport, ranked last in the MAC, and 114th nationally.
Taking it one step further to look at our expenses per male student-athlete, we ranked last in the MAC and 114th nationally.
Simply put, our expenses exceed our financial resources. We have a significant financial challenge and pretending it doesn't exist will sink the entire program. We will have an accumulated operating deficit of over $4 million this fiscal year. Had we not made this decision and things were to proceed on this same course, we projected our deficit would expand to over $7 million by 2010.
The decision to eliminate four sports does not solve our financial situation, but it is one of the first steps to a long-term recovery plan. You should know, after these four sports are dissolved, Ohio will offer the 16 sports necessary to remain a Division I-A program.
We are focused and working diligently to develop a sustainable business model in which we can grow and provide a quality experience for our student-athletes.
Providing a Quality Experience:
Ohio University is committed to providing a quality experience for each and every student-athlete that competes for the Bobcats. We will accept nothing short of providing all of our student-athletes with a positive environment to achieve their academic and athletic aspirations. We will operate our program within a Division I-A environment and accept nothing less. Unfortunately, our financial position has prohibited us from providing the level of experience that is expected at Ohio University.
We have made some significant advancements capitalizing on revenue opportunities:
The Ohio Bobcat Club, our recently introduced annual-giving program has increased unrestricted donations by 73 percent in 2006, still not enough but a significant improvement.
Tickets are another area, and there's no better sales tool than a winning program. Football season ticket sales are up 88 percent over the last two years and men's basketball season ticket sales are up 50 percent this year. Clearly we're making progress and driving hard.
Corporate Marketing – we expanded our existing partnership with ISP Sports recently, resulting in a guaranteed 54 percent increase in revenue over next four years.
There is much to be done, but we are moving in the right direction.
Today, Ohio University is committed to compliance Title IX. It is committed to compliance with this federal statute that guarantees equal rights to everyone regardless of gender. There are three ways to comply with Title IX.
1. The level of intercollegiate athletic participation opportunities for men and women students are provided in numbers substantially proportionate to their respective enrollments.
2. The institution can show a history and continuing practice of program expansion for its underrepresented athletic program.
3. The institution can demonstrate that the interest and abilities of the members of the underrepresented gender have been fully and effectively accommodated by the present program.
In 1995, Ohio University adopted a gender equity plan that called for the addition of three women's programs. The following three women's programs were added:
1997 – Women's soccer
1998 – Women's golf
1999 – Women's lacrosse
In May 2001, as a follow up to their 1998 review, the NCAA requested Ohio University submit a report indicating its plan to continue compliance with Title IX. Representatives from Ohio University developed a revised gender equity plan indicating a fourth women's sport would be, and I quote, "definitively determined on or before September 1, 2002." This never happened, and the plan was never acted upon.
Simply put, Ohio Intercollegiate Athletics has not met our goal of compliance with Title IX, and due to our financial position, we cannot add a women's program. This leaves us, as it has seven other MAC Institutions since 1999, to take the necessary measures of dissolving sport programs to continue our commitment to compliance with this federal statute.
Our need to comply with Title IX is not a new issue for this department to deal with. Again, this is an issue that existed over seven years ago and still has not been met. We can not delay action any longer. This decision today is one of the first steps in development of a comprehensive gender equity plan that will assist in guiding our decision making in the future.
We've made an extremely difficult decision that will ultimately place us in the very best position to be successful in the future.
In closing, I want to give you my personal assurance that we will do our very best in the future planning for Ohio Athletics. We will have an organized and well-planned department.
I'm humbled to say that even now, in the midst of this difficult news, we need to support each other more than ever. I ask our staff, coaches, student-athletes, fans, alumni, faculty and student body to support each other as we go through this challenging time.
Working together we can achieve our goals and continue to bring credit to this great university.