Dear Pomona College,
You’re failing. You’ve been criticized so much recently for unionization politics, investment in fossil fuels, and laid-back attitudes on campus that no one has noticed how inadequately you’re supporting your varsity athletics.
In 2011, Pomona College and Pitzer College spent a total of $2,177,673 on athletics. This includes coaches’ salaries, team operating expenses, recruiting costs, and miscellaneous expenses like the training staff and their equipment. Two million dollars may seem like a lot, but in the scheme of things, it’s nothing. Our athletics budget is less than one percent of the combined Pomona and Pitzer operating budgets.
Before each season begins, every coach submits a budget request to Director of Athletics Charlie Katsiaficas. They include the necessary items: new balls, helmets, gas for traveling to away games, and so on. Then they add on some wish-list items; new uniforms, maybe a new batting cage or scoreboard. Katsiaficas has to look at these budgets and figure out how to allocate the precious dollars that the school has decided will go to athletics for the year. The kicker? The budgets hardly change from season to season. Every year we provide the necessary items a team needs to function, and that’s it. We’ve made a decision as a school to operate the athletics department at its cost point, just giving it enough money to take the field under reasonable conditions.
Consider that principle in the context of Pomona College. Pomona, where we spend every penny we can find to enhance the student experience. Pomona, where we subsidize movie tickets and send kids off to Ski-Beach Day. Pomona, where orange juice is produced by hand every morning at a rumored $50 per gallon. Pomona, where we throw parties with school-bought kegs and fancy cheeses. Pomona, where the soccer nets are held together by duct tape. Pomona, where the weight room doesn’t have air conditioning, so there are signs warning against passing out. Pomona, where student athletes don’t matter.
It’s easy to counter this by arguing that our teams do pretty well in SCIAC, so we must not be doing too bad of a job providing for our athletics department. And no, we’re not failing to produce competitive athletic teams. Of the 18 P-P varsity athletic teams that compete in the SCIAC this year, 14 either finished in a playoff position or are poised to this spring (a playoff position being one of the top four spots in the standings). But our successful programs are a testament to the athletes that come to these schools and the coaches that organize them onto the field everyday, not the support of the college.
Like all Division III schools, we don’t offer athletic scholarships. For the athletes offered positions at DI and DII schools that choose to come to Pomona or Pitzer, they’re making a literal financial sacrifice. On some level, that’s a choice the athletes have to make. Giving up a scholarship somewhere else gives them a chance at a diploma from one of the Claremont schools, but it doesn’t get any easier once they’re on campus. There are no reduced expectations for athletes, no special majors or guaranteed As. Still, without financial or academic incentives, competitive athletes are choosing to come to our schools and play on our teams. They’re accepting the daily four-hour commitment just because they love the sport they play. That is the reason why we have so many teams finishing in the top of their division—these students have earned the credit. But while we’re not failing to compete in these sports, we are failing to support the student athletes that we put on the field on a daily basis. We’re sending a message, as a school, that athletics are at the bottom of our priority list.
I hate to admit that our neighbors to the north do anything better than us, but it’s about time we took a page out of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps’s book when it comes to varsity sports. They spend more than double what we do on athletics across the board, from operating costs to assistant coach salaries to gymnasium maintenance and repair. For every dollar we spend on recruiting, they spend five. They know how important athletics is to campus climate, alumni support, and national recognition. This spring, they’ll begin renovating their gymnasium. They recognized it as an inadequate facility, just as we have about Rains Center. But rather than just laugh at the poor quality, they’re actually doing something about it.
On some level, we’re starting to figure it out down here at Pomona. Two years ago we hired Jeffrey Kniffin, our first Sports Information Director, and he’s changed the face of the program, doing everything from keeping parents involved to fighting for our athletes’ regional and national honors. According to Dean of the College Elizabeth Crighton, we’re increasing the athletics budget for next year by $270,000 to salary full-time assistant coaches, replace equipment, and begin reinstating the previous travel policy, which allowed each team to fly to a competition once every four years. These are big improvements, but I say that carefully—these are improvements, not solutions. We’re only just beginning to recognize how important athletics should be to our campus.
If we’re serious about rebranding our image, athletics should be one of the key components of that strategy. If we’re serious, it’s time we start to care about our student athletes.