Athletics set to revamp in prep for new director

From funding levels for varsity teams and recreation clubs, to the importance of sponsorship and licensing, Western’s athletics program is getting a long overdue check-up in preparation for its soon-to-be announced athletic director.

Following a pair of town hall meetings, led by acting athletic director Jim Weese, the university’s Sports and Recreation Services is reassessing its programming for the first time in more than a decade.

“It’s quite common, in university life, to do a review whenever you have a leadership change,” said Weese. “What’s working? What’s not working? What can we do more effectively and more efficiently? Universities are facing tough economic times and this is a program with a long and proud history, and we want to make sure that’s not jeopardized in any way, shape or form. We’re looking at everything from the scope of our programs to the policies we have. I want to have clarity about what we are doing.”

With a budget just shy of $15M (Campus Rec $5.9M; Athletics $6.3M, TD Stadium/Thompson Recreation Athletic Centre (TRAC) $1.5M; athletic financial awards $750K), covering 46 varsity teams and 19 recreation clubs, Weese added the impetus behind the review is to “look at our performance,” not necessarily in the wins and losses column, but in order to have a blueprint for the new athletic director, scheduled to begin July 1.

Weese plans to talk with, and visit, some of the U15 universities in the coming months in order to garner feedback of what works and what doesn’t for other athletic programs across the country. He understands, however, Western needs to have its own voice, not just bits and pieces of other programs.

“We are Western and we are leaders in this area (athletics), so we’ll look at what they’re (other universities) doing. But we want to develop our own plans – plans that make sense for us,” he said. “We are committed to having the best sport recreation program in the country. We occupy a leadership position and we want to ensure we maintain that. We don’t win every championship, but we represent our university well and we want to continue to do that.”

This means garnering input from a wide swath of stakeholders – campus recreation participants, student athletes, coaches, recreation staff, alumni and students – to ensure athletics continues in the right direction.

This is a program that really reaches out to so many, a program people are passionate about,” said Weese.

The voices of the students – at $7M, the top donor group for athletics – will be a key in moving ahead and Weese doesn’t want to jeopardize that relationship without their input, he added. The opinions of the university’s solid alumni base will also play a role in shaping the review and its outcomes.

“Our alumni remain very attached to our programs. They are so loyal; they bleed purple and are very proud,” Weese continued. “They help us financially, they help us emotionally, they cheer for us, they come to our games, they follow us on Mustang TV. We want to know what’s important to them.”

At the town hall meetings, Weese praised the university for its leadership in constructing the new Western Student Recreation Centre in 2009. Since then, however, other universities have continued to push for improvements to their facilities and programming, he added.

The University of Windsor, for example, recently approved a $73-million expansion of the St. Denis Centre, following a student-supported referendum to cover $55 million of the capital costs, with the university contributing the remaining $18 million.

Weese’s budget requests this year sought financial support for the new athletic director position and coaching salary supplements, along with capital projects, including electrical upgrades to Thompson Arena and $2 million towards TD Stadium turf and track replacement.

The possibility of a student referendum, similar to that of Windsor, has never been discussed at Western, he said, and it would have to be something for the new athletic director to consider.

“This is a unique opportunity and we have to get it right,” he said. “Whatever we come up with, it has to be fair, clear and transparent so anyone can look at it and understand the decisions that have been made.”

HAVE YOUR SAY

The review of Western’s Sports and Recreation Services (SRS) needs to be a community project, said acting athletic director Jim Weese. Input from students, SRS staff, campus recreation users, coaches, alumni and others will play a vital role in what is presented to administration and, ultimately, the university’s new athletic director, who will step into the role July 1. To offer your insights and suggestions, visit westernmustangs.ca/srsreview.