A Call to Arms

June 30, 2007

This is a critical time in the history of Georgetown athletics. Let me explain why.

In 1869, a group of Georgetown students, on their own, scheduled and played a baseball game against Columbia College. It was the first intercollegiate athletic contest involving Georgetown in recorded history.

That was 138 years ago.

Over the next 100 years, the story of Georgetown athletics was for the most part, a back-and-forth history emphasis and de-emphasis. For a variety of reasons over time, elimination may have been inevitable for some Hoya teams such as rifle, boxing, wrestling, and gymnastics. But for other higher profile sports on the Hilltop such as football (1941 Orange Bowl) and baseball (1922 national champions), it was a lack of financial resources that occasioned the subsequent regressions.

Then in the late-1970's, the paradigm began to change. With AD Frank Rienzo helping to create the Big East conference, and basketball coach John Thompson building a national powerhouse, Georgetown athletics began to deal with a new and welcome element: meaningful revenues. As new television, tournament, and royalty income from basketball began to increase in the 1980's, it provided a limited opportunity to address the growing needs of athletics. The question was: which ones?

For sure, just the costs of administering athletics at then-current levels continued to rise yearly. Added to this was the urgent need to provide appropriate funding for the growing numbers of women athletes on campus. The new revenues helped to pay for much of these cost increases. Of the remaining income, which ran in six figures (not tens of millions), what competitive athletic gaps did the University seek to bridge first? At the time, Georgetown chose people over facilities. This meant that in all sports other than men's basketball (which was already funded), Georgetown began to invest portions of these revenues in coaching salaries and grants-in-aid. Instead of continuing with walk-on athletes led by part-time coaches, the Athletic Department sought to catch up by doing what its competitors had been doing for years: awarding more athletic grants-in-aid and hiring full-time coaches.

It worked to some extent. While still awarding far fewer grants than permissible, all sports were able to improve -- somewhat. A few advanced considerably, e.g., lacrosse, crew, and sailing. The NCAA sought to help all schools put the brakes on runaway spending in these areas by imposing greater limits on the numbers of scholarships and coaches allowed in each sport. At least we weren't chasing a moving target here, although for a multitude of reasons, the revenues began to decline slowly during the 1990's.

Facilities were another matter altogether. First, Georgetown's athletic facilities have not been on par with its competitors. Second, this gap has only widened over the years, with existing playing areas lost to other campus priorities. It was further exacerbated after the aforementioned NCAA caps on people needs rechanneled competing schools to seek an edge by building more and better facilities. Today, the facility gap is a decided recruiting disadvantage for every coach and team at Georgetown.

So where is Georgetown athletics headed?

The University is committed to a greater degree than at any point in its history - from a financial, governance, and public relations perspective. In addition, the Athletic Department is moving ahead to identify its needs including developing preliminary plans for improved facilities.

What is missing are the funds essential for this future. First, we must secure the funding to continue the efforts to address people needs: scholarship grants and salaries. The small grass roots effort known as Hoyas Unlimited that began in 1970 by raising $15,000 a year with $10 membership gifts, will break the three million dollar mark this year. That will help a great deal. More is required. Second, we must raise the funds to underwrite our enormous facility shortcomings. There is no Hoyas Unlimited equivalent to look at for help in this area. We need a new model, a new paradigm where multiple gifts of seven and eight figures can be found to build a lasting legacy of Hoya athletic success. You can help by spreading the word on the need for athletic facilities.

138 years later, it's our next big challenge on the Hilltop!


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