Special Report: Athletic Atmosphere on Campus

The sizable difference between the athletics spending at Pomona-Pitzer and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps has raised some questions about the value that the P-P administration places on athletics. Interim Dean of Pomona College Betsy Crighton, however, is quick to defend the value of athletics and physical wellness programs at Pomona.

“Physical education in its broadest sense is a form of character building,” Crighton said. “We learn how to fail and then to pick ourselves up and try again. That kind of commitment and endurance and discipline and heart is fundamental to living a well-lived life. It seems to me that athletics are a prime place where we learn that kind of experience.”

As a faculty member for over 40 years, Crighton has seen the college through many different changes and understands some of the core values at the heart of a Pomona education. Now serving as Dean of the College, she recognizes that varsity athletics don’t play as central a role in the campus culture as it does at other institutions. Furthermore, she sees that there is concern over this value system from certain corners of the college.

Emma Wolfarth PO ‘14, the ASPC Sports Commissioner, comes from one of those corners.

“I do not think we provide the necessary funding for our student athletes to succeed,” Wolfarth said. “I think there are a lot of problems with the current structure of the department and how it relates to the rest of the college.”

Wolfarth was especially critical of the department’s hiring process for coaches.

“The school cares so little about athletics that it lets coaches self-promote unqualified candidates to the detriment of the overall program because there’s a lack of oversight and accountability,” she said, “I think if the program had an athletic director with the appropriate funds and resources, that wouldn’t happen.”

Wolfarth, a student and former athlete, recognizes that historically, the Pomona and Pitzer College student populations have cared less about varsity athletics than the CMS students. She added that she doesn’t think this is necessarily a problem either, saying that students are entitled to either dislike or feel apathetic toward P-P athletics. However, she does take issue with the institutional structure supporting the P-P varsity athletes.

“I think the problem comes more from the lack of institutional support for those students who do choose to provide an important service to the school by playing on a varsity athletic team,” she said. “Just as I think students with a passion for dance or art should be provided with sufficient support by the school, attention to the needs of student athletes should be an equal priority. Currently, the lack of proper attention translates into insufficient funding for hiring decisions, equipment, and upkeep of facilities.”

Wolfarth sees the vast budget difference between P-P and CMS athletics as a dramatic indicator of inequity—not inequity between teams, but inequity between athletes and the student body as a whole.

“If equity is our goal, we have to increase the funding for varsity athletics, or else we’re failing to provide an equitable experience for those 386 students. That’s where we need to start,” she said.

Crighton has recognized that the administration could be doing more to support the varsity athletics program than they’ve been doing so far. Beginning July 1, there will be a commitment to a budget increase of $270,000 for the ensuing school year. This will look to pay for team buses, full-time assistant coaches, and improved recruiting. 

Director of Athletics Charlie Katsiaficas sees the increased budget as a fundamental improvement in the direction of the program.

“There were some things we had been discussing about team travel and assistant coaching allowances, and we made some real good strides that are going to be evident going into next year.”

Still, without other changes, CMS will outspend P-P athletics by more than $2 million in the upcoming school year. This isn’t a comparison that Katsiaficas or Crighton find particularly relevant.

“I’m not really interested in comparing ourselves to anyone else,” Katsiaficas said. “What I am really interested in is the experience we’re providing to our student athletes and the students in general. I’m comfortable with that.”

Crighton echoed these sentiments.

“We would make decisions on spending that are in line with our academic goals, so I don’t see us spending infinite amounts of money increasing infinitely because we’re not increasing the student body.”

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