New Director of Athletics, Additional Financial Resources Identified as Key to UB's Success in Mid-American Conference

By Arthur Page

Release Date: June 1, 2005 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A pledge to provide the institutional leadership and support to make the University at Buffalo's athletics teams, including football, successful in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) was reaffirmed today by UB President John B. Simpson.

Responding to a consultant's evaluation of the university's intercollegiate athletics program, Simpson stated that the keys to that success will lie with the recruitment of a new director of athletics, identification of additional financial resources and a close examination of the best way to position UB's teams for success in the MAC.

"Perhaps the single most important immediate next step is already underway," Simpson said. "We have embarked on a national search for an athletics director who will provide experienced, strategic leadership in directing a competitive intercollegiate program that effectively balances academics and athletics. With the help of a national consultant and strong search committee, we are moving forward quickly with this search, pursuing an aggressive timetable for its completion."

The search committee, which held its first meeting on May 19, is being led by Nils Olsen and John N. Walsh, III. Olsen, dean of the UB Law School, is chair of UB's Intercollegiate Athletics Board, an oversight group for UB's NCAA Division I athletics program that reports to UB President John B. Simpson and is comprised of UB faculty, professional staff, administration representatives, students and student-athletes. Walsh, vice chair of the board of trustees of the University at Buffalo Foundation and a former member of the UB Council, is chairman and chief executive officer of the Walsh Insurance Group. He previously served as chair of the Yale University Council Athletics Committee.

UB's 15-member search committee, which includes campus and community leaders, as well as current and former UB student-athletes, is working with national athletics consultant Bill Carr of Carr Sports Associates, Inc. to identify and recruit top candidates for the position of athletics director.

Speaking at a press conference at center court in Alumni Arena, Simpson said the new athletics director will work with UB's Intercollegiate Athletics Board, the faculty athletics representative, and coaches and staff in the Division of Athletics to develop a plan to implement the recommendations of the report prepared by nationally recognized consultant Gene Corrigan. Simpson said he will expect an initial report from the group by next spring.

Next spring also is the deadline for a report on the appropriate size and focus for UB's intercollegiate sports program. Simpson said UB's new athletics director will lead the review, following up on Corrigan's recommendations that the university consider reducing the number of sports, focusing on sports with the best opportunities for success.

The work, he added, will be conducted within the framework of the university's UB 2020 strategic planning process, the goal of which is creating and supporting academic excellence and moving up into the ranks of the nation's leading public research universities during the next 15 years.

"As an institution, UB is committed to pursuing a course of excellence in every aspect of our university enterprise. We are making substantial progress in this regard, emerging as a major national competitor on many fronts -- in the classroom, in the research laboratory and in the athletic arena," Simpson stressed.

"Building a high-quality, highly competitive athletics program is integral to our success and progress as a leading university community. We are firmly committed to this goal, and we have dedicated ourselves to pursuing it as seriously, strategically and planfully as we are pursuing our academic mission.

"I want to state very clearly: UB is firmly committed to Division I-A football, and we are equally committed to building a winning program in the Mid-American Conference," Simpson said. "The task before us is to determine how best to fulfill these commitments, and Mr. Corrigan's report has offered us a clear roadmap in this regard. How we achieve these goals, and how we accomplish the objectives laid out in Mr. Corrigan's report, will, in large part, be the responsibility of our new athletics director."

Simpson hired Corrigan as a consultant in January and charged him with developing recommendations on the steps necessary for UB's athletics teams to be successful in the MAC. Corrigan is well respected in the world of intercollegiate athletics. A former president of the National Collegiate Athletics Association, he has served as director of athletics at the University of Notre Dame, Washington and Lee University, and the University of Virginia. As a consultant, he who has worked with MAC member institutions, including Miami University, the University of Toledo and Ohio University.

Corrigan was charged with evaluating the athletics division's current fiscal plan, and considering its viability for making UB competitive in the MAC; reviewing the division's intercollegiate sports programs and their competitive, revenue and attendance goals, and reviewing the current athletics facilities, physical plant and proposed capital initiatives and priorities.

As part of his work, Corrigan met with UB Council members, UB administrators, members of the executive board of UB's Blue and White Club, local business leaders, and administrators and coaches in the UB Division of Athletics. Also interviewed were Bob Arkeilpane, former UB athletics director, and Bill Maher, former UB interim athletics director. Corrigan also reviewed financial and other UB athletics records and met with Commissioner Rick Chryst of the MAC and a number of athletics directors in the MAC.

Corrigan's report concluded that for its intercollegiate athletics teams to be competitive in the MAC, UB must:

* Make a firm decision on the value of NCAA Division I-A affiliation, which includes a football team

* Hire a permanent director of athletics to provide program direction "as soon as possible"

* Support a select few key sports at the championship level, including football and men's and women's basketball

* Consider reducing the number of sports and focusing on sports with the best opportunities for success. The NCAA requires that institutions participating in Division I athletics field a minimum of 16 teams. UB has 20 intercollegiate teams, compared with an average 17.8 teams in the MAC

* Consider adding sports that have potential for success due to UB location, facilities or expertise, such as ice hockey and lacrosse

* Identify and provide additional financial support, including private support and support from student fees

* Be concerned about academics, improve academic support for student-athletes and address NCAA academic success standards

* Increase awareness and support of athletics among the university's senior administration

Corrigan's report to Simpson said that if UB wants to support a successful athletics program at the NCAA Division I level, the MAC "is the right place for UB, particularly if Division I-A football is valued."

The report noted, however, that UB was "not well positioned" when the decision was made to join the MAC.

"A course was set that UB had never been on before," the report said. "It is not an unreasonable course, but it is one that demands attention if it is to succeed. Buffalo is now the only school in the MAC that has not won at least one team conference championship during the past five years."

While UB's men's basketball team has achieved some success, the report said that "in all the other sports, there is little to show for the time and money and for the effort and energy. It is clearly time to re-evaluate your sponsorship of programs."

The report stressed that loss of any of the present funding of UB's athletics program "would be disastrous." It added: "If UB desires a successful athletics program, it must have the administrative and institutional will to see that appropriate funding is generated for the program, particularly in the face of limited state support." Additional private support and student-fee support "will be essential," the report said, stressing that financial support is driven by sport success.

Noting that local supporters of UB's intercollegiate athletics program are "hungry for success," the report said that "there are private financial resources to be developed for the program, with increased university and student support, and with greater program ownership by alumni and friends. Local supporters seem to be willing to have the patience necessary for success, if they believe the administration is enthusiastic and supportive of the program."

Corrigan noted in his report that "THE QUESTION" for UB is whether it continues with a football program; if it doesn't, it would not be eligible for MAC membership. "It seems to me that you have to make a basic decision -- football and the MAC -- or a different set of sports, and if it were open to you, membership in another conference."

The report added: "I cannot answer this basic question for you. It allows you to play in the highest level of college football at an institution that is seeking that level in all endeavors. However, only you can determine its value to UB."

If the university makes a commitment to keep football at the MAC level, Corrigan said, "it will take a commitment that is not evident at UB at the present time."

UB's football program, the report said, is in need of "immediate" financial help in areas including recruiting, facilities and student financial aid, housing and academic support. Coaches' salaries need to be addressed, but Corrigan said that "doing something about that should be considered after success is achieved" on the playing field.

"I would classify your current situation as minimal, and suggest that you will need to begin the process of upgrading," Corrigan said. "You are deficient across the board compared to other MAC schools."

Looking at the budget for athletics, Corrigan said UB "probably" has teams in too many sports. The university, he added, needs to examine if it's putting its money in the "right sports" and "the best sports for your program to be successful."

Corrigan suggested that UB's athletics director put together a study group to address those issues, noting that it has been done at other MAC institutions. "This effort should be coordinated with the on-going UB 2020 planning effort. This should lead to recommendations as part of your campus strategic plan."

While UB should look at the possibility of eliminating some sports, the Corrigan report said it also should consider down the road whether there are other sports currently not offered in which it can excel. The report cites the examples of ice hockey and lacrosse, particularly since both offer men's and women's teams. It cautioned, however, that "the thought of adding sports right now to a university program that may be presently misfunded and/or under-funded doesn't make any sense to me."

Corrigan noted that "looking at eliminating some sport and possibly adding others would seem to fit into your 2020 planning initiative. That approach makes sense to me, as you seek to understand at what UB can be 'the best,' understand your reality, engage in continuous debate and move beyond good to great. This is a great approach for both the university and for the university athletics program."

In addition to the chairs, the members of the national search committee for UB's new athletics director are Jonathan A. Dandes, member of the UB Council and president, Rich Baseball Operations; Thomas Donahoe, president and general manager, Buffalo Bills; Willie R. Evans, past president, UB Alumni Association; Charles R. Fourtner, UB faculty athletics representative and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences; Edmond J. Gicewicz, M.D., member of the UB Council and the UB Alumni Association's Athletic Hall of Fame, and Mari M. McClure, student in the UB Law School and former member of the UB women's basketball team.

Also, Audrey Olmstead, interim UB vice president for university advancement; Barbara J. Ricotta, associate vice president for campus life in UB's Office of Student Affairs; Suzanne M. Rocque, head athletic trainer in the UB Division of Athletics; Mary Anne Rokitka, associate dean for biomedical undergraduate education, UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and professor of physiology and biophysics; Kathleen M. Twist, head coach of the UB women's tennis team; R. Steven Ulmer, member of UB's Blue and White Club and president of Davis-Ulmer Sprinkler Company, Inc., and Nicholas Zieziula, captain of the UB men's tennis team.

Assisting the committee will be Bill Carr, principal in Carr Sports Associates, Inc., who has four decades of college athletics experience as a student-athlete, coach and administrator. His experience includes being director of athletics at the University of Florida -- where he became the nation's youngest NCAA Division I athletics director at the age of 33 in 1979 -- and the University of Houston.

Carr Sports Associates, Inc., recently has provided search consultant services to three other universities that compete with UB in the Mid-American Conference: University of Toledo, Northern Illinois University and Miami (Ohio) University. Other major clients have included the University of Texas, North Carolina State University, University of Virginia, Washington State University, Iowa State University, Utah State University, Southeast Louisiana State University, University of North Carolina, University of Tennessee and University of Maryland.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB's more than 27,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. The university offers the only degrees in law, pharmacy and architecture in the SUNY system, and is the home of the only comprehensive public school of engineering in New York State.