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2008 Winter Issue 8 (February 29, 2008)

Varsity teams feel the paucity of college funds

February 29, 2008
By Christian Dewey

A low budget for varsity sports equipment is affecting competitiveness and safety, according to some varsity athletes and coaches.

Kurt Ramler, head football coach at Carleton, claims that “since I’ve been here, I’ve been fighting for a budget comparable to that of other teams in the MIAC, so that my team can compete.” He adds that though “Carleton does a great job emphasizing its priorities – and they value the right things – I'd be lying if I said I was convinced that our budget is at a point where we can compete with the level of opponents in our conference. Our competitiveness is limited by our budget, which is significantly less than that of other teams in the conference.”

Scott Bierman, Dean of the College, advises the Administrative Council about “broad athletic department financial issues,” as he calls them – such as renovating the arboretum tennis courts and hiring new coaches. Bierman speaks to the claim of varsity teams being under-funded, saying, “if you looked at the Carleton athletic department budget as a whole, you would probably see that it is significantly higher than the MIAC average. If, on the other hand, you looked at the portion of the budget concerning specific equipment, you might find it less. That is a decision we have made to provide the best personnel possible for out athletes.” Bierman states that “our students will have the best athletic experience if we provide the best coaches we can get. I am convinced that our students are receiving the best athletic education from the best coaches in the country.”

Full-time coaches at Carleton receive several privileges, not least of which is enjoying faculty status, which gives them the title of professor and a salary reflecting it. (Incidentally, for Ramler, “being a faculty member is a great honor,” and that “on a personal and professional level, Carleton does a fantastic job with its staff.”) Bierman admits that “hiring a coach full-time represents a significant financial decision, as does giving coaches faculty status.” But according to Bierman, “we are willing to trade cutting-edge equipment for the best personnel – with the exception of safety.” When it comes to safety equipment, Bierman says “I talk with Leon [Lunder, Athletics Director at Carleton] on a regular basis to make sure we are not skimping on safety.”

Yet, Ramler argues “if we don’t have state-of-the-art equipment for football, often we are putting our players at risk.” The issue of lacking and out-dated safety equipment extends into sports beyond football – particularly baseball. Geoff King ’10, a pitcher for the Knights baseball team who describes the current array of baseball equipment as “essentially some bats and balls,” states that “we don’t have very good L-screens, which are important for pitcher safety when throwing for batting practice,” and that “the cage we use for outside batting practice definitely could be replaced.” Cam McDonald-Hyman ‘09, outfielder for the Knights, seconds King. “I can think of six or seven times,” McDonald-Hyman says, “when one of my teammates has either been struck or come very close to being struck by a baseball that passed through a hole in a net.” Also, according to McDonald-Hyman, “the surface of the outdoor batting cage is AstroTurf laid over gravel, not cement or a composite surface as it should be.” As a result, “the uneven surface causes balls to ricochet at odd, possibly dangerous angles.” He says “this equipment is dangerous and not even close to the state-of-the-art equipment that a school like St. Thomas and St. Olaf have.”

King and McDonald-Hyman also expressed displeasure at travel arrangements for the team. Both cited the fact that individual team members have to pay upwards of $350 out-of-pocket for their team’s spring training, which McDonald-Hyman describes as “a more than necessary venture to a warmer climate to play about nine or ten games before we begin our conference schedule back here in MN.” Additionally, McDonald-Hyman describes how “the team travels to away games in yellow school buses (except for when we play Concordia-Moorhead).” He remarks that “I have never seen another MIAC team travel to a game in this manner. Travel buses would be nice instead of cramped, stuffy school buses – if for no other reason than to not look like a high school team when we arrive at another team's field.” King also mentioned that players pay for their own hats. Ethan Guevin ’09, also a pitcher, commented that “it would be nice if Carleton varsity athletic teams were given the same treatment that students are expected to get in the classroom at one of the premiere schools in nation.”

To Kane Bechstein ’09, defensive back and sprinter for the Knights, the manifestations of under-funding appear slightly differently where safety and travel are not an issue. “Our sports teams have the "essentials" needed to compete,” he says, “like jerseys, equipment, and training facilities, so I feel greedy having any complaints, but after doing football and track for the last three years, it’s tough not to get envious at away games, seeing the type of locker rooms, fields, and equipment all the other MIAC teams enjoy.” He adds that “I went to a public high school in Minnesota, and even those facilities were kept up to date much better than Carleton's.” He uses the weightlifting facilities available to athletes as an example: “There is the Rec Center, but I know many athletes view that more as a fitness center with all the treadmills and TV's than a legitimate place to train with enough free weights and room for dynamic lifts necessary for higher-intensity sports. Then there's the stadium weight room which has the right type of equipment, despite being a little past their prime; but even as one of the smallest football rosters in the conference, we still struggle to manage team workouts in such a crowded area with very limited time and tools.”

That said, Bechstein acknowledges and appreciates that “Carleton is more than generous in other areas of student funding, like financial aid.” And he adds that “if lack of funding is affecting our ability to prepare and compete, it's only to a small degree, though it sure is a bit tougher.”

As for competitiveness, Bierman says “the best advancement we can make [towards becoming more competitive] is providing the best faculty for our student athletes. Too many schools dwell on equipment needs rather than providing the right personnel. I think we have the right priorities.”

“We don’t think we should get all the money in the world,” Ramler says. “We just want to compete. We provide a superior education, which is excellent, but as a coach I want to provide my athletes with the additional opportunity – one that I believe is important – of being competitive in the conference. I do feel that Leon Lunder and the powers at be here at Carleton are making progress towards this goal, and I trust that he and the Deans are balancing the issues at Carleton that are most important to our student-body. Obviously there's a trade-off. We provide the best education in MN, give great financial aid, have the best professors and the most beautiful campus, and many other amenities that deserve the financial support that they get. It's tough, and no one questions that."”

Ultimately, Bierman points out that “across the board there are competing uses for scarce funds, and certainly no shortage of creative ways for Carleton to spend extra dollars.” He describes his allocating decisions as “really, really tough, because lots of groups have excellent ideas, and unfortunately, we can’t fund them all.”

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