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  Athletics    
         
   

“Our objectives are simple”

A talk with Athletics Director Dick Regan ’76

By Jack O’Connell ’81

Q: How does it feel to be walking around this campus again after 25 years?
A: It’s funny, because I’ve been out of the country for a long time, and even before that, I was wrapped up in the NFL and the New England Patriots, so I wasn’t close to the collegiate scene for about 15 years. Still, it really hasn’t changed that much. The times have changed more than Holy Cross has. We continue to focus on academics first, yet we still value our athletic tradition. In the past 18 months I have had a number of situations where I had to deal closely with some of our athletes. I was enormously impressed with the quality of student that comes to Holy Cross. The type of person who attended Holy Cross 20-30 years ago is still the type of person who gravitates to the school today. This is a caring environment. There’s a sense of community.

Q: You are just about to complete two years as athletics director of Holy Cross. What’s it been like?
A: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed coming back to Holy Cross. I knew it would be quite a transition, going from the business world into academia. In fact, it has been, perhaps, a bigger transition than I would have expected. Most of my experience has been in professional sports.

Q: Without pinning you down to a black or white picture, are the changes for the better or for the worse?
A: I’m not sure if it’s a question of good or bad—it’s just different. For a college athlete to play in Division I athletics, it is almost a full-time job. Athletes have always worked out throughout the year to keep in shape, but the training is much more formal and structured now. It used to be that a team played in a certain season and that was more or less it, except for captain’s practices and off-season conditioning. Now, most sports have a “non-traditional” season. Let’s take a sport like field hockey or soccer. Players are allowed to practice as a team for 132 days. Field hockey and soccer are both fall sports, but the fall season may only take up 75 or 80 days. Team members may have 50-55 days, or, say, 11 five-day weeks of formal practice in the spring. And that’s just full-team practices. In addition, there are formal strength and conditioning programs which are essentially mandatory and, further, there is “skill instruction” where a coach is allowed to work with a limited number of athletes at a time. Regardless of the sport, the athletes never get much of a break.

Q: Is there too much pressure on college athletes in general? Do we expect too much from them?
A: I don’t think student-athletes feel undue pressure, as this has become the norm. The world has changed—people seem to be more focused in general. You hear, anecdotally, of 10-12-year-old-kids who will drop a sport they enjoy and play well because they want to focus on one sport. I think it’s a sad development. In the old days, young people would play three or four sports in the course of a year and have fun, and, by the time they were in high school, their focus would have narrowed to one or two. But now, parents seem to be pushing their children at a much younger age. The bar keeps getting raised, and the ramification of this, at an academically rigorous school like Holy Cross, is that it is much more intense today.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge in the last two years?
A: I would say the biggest challenge we’ve faced in my two years is dealing with gender equity. I met with representatives of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), from the U.S. Department of Education within five weeks of my arrival; they made it clear that, while they had conducted an audit of our athletic program, it was not closed, and, in their view, we had a way to go.

Q: Was this a surprise to you?
A: I knew that gender equity was an issue. It is everywhere today in intercollegiate athletics. In retrospect, I didn’t fully appreciate at the outset the distance we still needed to go. However, we are committed to gender equity, and it has been very satisfying to have both the OCR and NCAA approve our plan.

Q: What does the Office for Civil Rights consider in determining whether a college or university is in compliance?
A: OCR’s foremost concern is that participation in athletics reflects enrollment. For example, in recent years, female enrollment at Holy Cross has been approximately 52 percent. In 1995, when the OCR began its audit, female participation in varsity sports was 43 percent. With the changes we are implementing—primarily, the addition of women’s ice hockey this year and women’s golf next year—female participation will approximate 47 percent.

Q: Is that a problem? There is still a gap of 5 percent between participation and enrollment.
A: Not necessarily. The first way to be in compliance is to have participation equal enrollment. If it does not, the second method of compliance is to have a continuing history of adding sports for the underrepresented sex. As we had not added a new sport for either sex in 16 years prior to adding women’s ice hockey this year, this clearly was not an avenue to compliance for Holy Cross. The third method, which is commonly referred to as the “third prong,” gives an opportunity for compliance despite a gap in participation if the interest and ability of the underrepresented sex are met.

Q: How does the impetus to achieve gender equity effect a college athletic program?
A: Title IX has changed the face of athletics in many ways. Clearly, it has created an environment in which women athletes can flourish. It’s provided them with opportunities they simply didn’t have 20 or 30 years ago. When I graduated from Holy Cross 24 years ago, we had 17 varsity sports—14 men’s and three women’s. Next year, we will have 27 varsity sports—13 men’s and 14 women’s sports. We’ve gone from approximately 350 varsity athletes to about 650 varsity athletes, and that growth has been entirely women. Clearly there is a cost associated with that type of growth. Right now, almost 25 percent of our student body participates in varsity athletics. That’s an extremely high number. By way of comparison, Boston College’s participation is roughly 9 percent and Georgetown’s is somewhere around 10 or 11 percent.

Q: It does point to the fact that a smaller liberal arts college is going to be affected financially, very quickly, by a change like that.
A: There is no question about it. For example, if you look at Georgetown, they have approximately the same number of athletes as Holy Cross, yet they have 6,000 students paying tuition, while we have only 2,700. Boston College projects that it will have approximately 800 varsity athletes once some sports are dropped and they have over 9,000 students. As a result, if Holy Cross tried to support a sport at the same level, the cost would be proportionately much higher here. Looked at in another way, while the Holy Cross student body hasn’t grown materially in size over the past 25 years, the number of varsity athletes has almost doubled. So, while requirements for things such as faculty and housing may have increased somewhat, in a relative sense, they have not increased nearly as dramatically as athletic requirements.
The bottom line is that the financial pressure on the athletic department has increased quite a bit over time.

Q: So what do you do when your requirements have begun to outpace your budget year after year?
A: You have to manage your department as prudently as possible. You have to take a hard look at where you allocate your resources. And, I think, you also have to look at ways of expanding your resources through enhancing revenue—by increasing attendance, which is difficult to do, and fund raising—something we have not done historically. You may have to make some hard decisions. I’m pleased that, so far, Holy Cross has not had to drop any sports.
Many schools have had to drop sports lately. Wrestling in general and baseball in the Northeast, in particular, have suffered. Boston College has announced that they’re dropping wrestling, men’s water polo and lacrosse. Boston University has dropped football and baseball. The University of New Hampshire has dropped baseball. Colgate has dropped baseball. Providence has dropped baseball, men’s tennis and men’s golf. Perhaps those decisions weren’t all entirely due to gender equity, but it was certainly a major factor in each case. Most institutions initially address Title IX by adding women’s sports. That was the intent of the law—to create opportunities for women. However, after initially adding women’s sports, what many colleges have had to do is achieve gender equity by subtraction rather than addition—an institution reaches a point where it just can’t afford to allocate more money for athletics. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t create any more opportunities for women, it just limits opportunities for men.

Q: Why does baseball seemed to be such a vulnerable sport?
A: Primarily two factors: the academic calendar and the weather in the northern part of the country. Classes at Holy Cross end May 1 this year. Spring sports are the most difficult to adapt to an academic calendar. First, the end of the season conflicts directly with final exams. This does not happen with fall or winter sports. So spring sports in general are more vulnerable. Second, baseball is affected more by weather than other sports. By contrast, lacrosse can be played in almost any weather. Further, the baseball schedule generally consists of 45-55 games while lacrosse has 15-17.

Q: Does Holy Cross face the prospect of similar cuts?
A: It’s hard to say right now. Our goal is to avoid dropping programs, and we have been successful so far. I’m hoping that we will be able to continue to find resourceful means of maintaining gender equity without dropping men’s sports.

Q: What are your feelings about athletic fund raising?
A: It’s an avenue we haven’t explored to any great degree in the past, but it’s something we want to take a look at now. In 1996, the Board of Trustees formed a committee to study athletics at Holy Cross. One of the conclusions of the study was that fund raising for athletics should be investigated. Just about every other Division 1 institution that I am aware of is involved in this to some degree. Obviously, there are risks to athletic fund raising if not properly managed. Just look at some of the abuses that have taken place involving booster clubs. But we believe this can be done in a proper way that is consistent with the mission of Holy Cross.

Q: How do you go about exploring this avenue?
A: There are a lot of models to consider. It’s a question of analyzing all the options, finding the right fit for us and then implementing it.

Q: Can we talk about football for a minute?
A: My view is that when the NCAA split into I-A and I-AA, it dramatically changed the face of college football. Right now in basketball, we are in Division I, the top division. We’ve been near the bottom of the Division for the past several years, but we will get higher. There’s no question about that. But we are still playing in the big league. We’re in the same Division as Duke and St. John’s and Michigan State. When football split into 1-A and 1-AA, the 1-AA division picked up a lesser status that’s difficult to shake. We had the same problem in the NFL with the World League of American Football. I think that if you were to ask most sports fans to name the national champions in I-AA football over the last few years very few people would be able to. What essentially happened, in my view, is that the middle ground in college football more or less disappeared. A team either went up or went down. And for a school of 1,300 males, with a total student population of 2,700—and given the minimum stadium and attendance requirements of 1-A—there is simply no way that we could have contemplated Division I-A.

Q: What are our current objectives in football?
A: Our objectives are simple: We want to be good where we are, at the 1-AA level. We want to beat Colgate and Lehigh. We want to beat Harvard and Yale. We want to beat these teams more often than we lose. Like other sports, we want to create an opportunity for our students to be in a competitive situation where they have a fair chance to succeed.

Q: What are your feelings about the Patriot League?
A: We have a commitment to the Patriot League. We wanted to get together with like-minded schools that were primarily focused on academics, but who wanted to have competitive athletic programs. Clearly it was modeled, more or less, on the Ivy League. Right now, in football, for example, there are a lot of schools in the 1-AA division providing scholarships and they’re feeling the financial squeeze. I could tell you of three or four schools right now in 1-AA that are unhappy with the financial burden of 63 football scholarships and the required 63 corresponding scholarships in women’s sports. The whole idea behind the Patriot League is to get good academic institutions together—schools that have athletics in the proper perspective and that still want to be competitive. In football, we’re comfortable with the level of play in the Patriot League. We haven’t been comfortable with our performance at that level, but we’re comfortable with the level itself. Now, basketball has been a different situation. We want to see the Patriot League strengthen itself in this area. Ironically, in other non-revenue sports, the league is extremely strong—in soccer and lacrosse, for example.

Q: What are our objectives in basketball?
A: We have high aspirations for our basketball programs. We want to see both our women and men in the NCAA tournament. I believe that the men can accomplish this within two or three years. The women are already there. We want to see both teams make it past the first round of play. I’d like to think that within this decade both of them can make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Now that’s a far cry from where we’ve been, but if you want to know our goal, what we hope to achieve, there you have it.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about non-revenue sports. What’s your feeling about them?
A: The study that was conducted by our Trustees in 1996 concluded that we need to become more competitive in our non-revenue sports. The important thing is to provide all of our students with as positive a college experience as possible. Most of the feedback I get from alumni has to do with football and basketball. But if you take football and men’s and women’s basketball out of the equation, there are still over 500 student-athletes here participating in varsity sports, and these people deserve a positive experience. It’s part of our school’s mission, and it’s a big part of my job. Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to be outstanding in 27 sports in Division 1. So, in some cases, we have to be realistic about what we’re capable of accomplishing. As a rule, I would like all of our athletes to be able to step onto the court or the field or whatever the arena and feel that they are competitive and have a chance of winning. In some cases, we may have to seek a different level at which to compete. However, we remain committed to being a Division I school and I don’t see that ever changing.

Q: What about a sport like soccer? How does that fit?
A: Soccer is a sport that is enjoying tremendous growth in America. It’s the most popular sport in the world, and a sport I would like to see flourish at Holy Cross. We’ve got good coaches. Our only drawback is the lack of an appropriate playing facility and locker rooms and we’ll have to address that if we want to be competitive in soccer.

Q: Do you think there’s still the passion for Holy Cross athletics that there was in the ’40s or ’50s or ’60s?
A: One change I have noticed is that interest in sports is much more diffused today than it was 25 years ago. Sports such as hockey, soccer and lacrosse are commanding more interest than they did a generation ago. Women’s sports have made a quantum leap during this period. I think that the sports actually compete with each other for attention. If the women’s basketball team is playing Tuesday night and the men are playing on Wednesday, students who have a test or a major paper due that week may decide to attend only one of the events. My recollection as a student is that there was football in the fall and men’s basketball in the winter, and that was about it. As those two sports have had a rough history recently, it appears as if there isn’t as much interest in athletics. While there is some truth to that, I really believe that that the passion and interest is spread quite a bit more throughout several sports.

Q: Personally, what’s your most memorable Holy Cross sports moment?
A: That’s tough. The one that stands out the most, I think, occurred in 1977, when Holy Cross beat Providence in basketball. At the end of the game, Providence was holding a one-point lead, and Mike Vicens stripped the ball from Bob Miscevicius, raced the down court and did a behind-the-head-slam-dunk. I think that most would have done a timid lay-up, but Mike punctuated it with an emphatic dunk. For whatever reason, that moment has stayed in my mind more than any other.


 

Dick Regan ’76
Dick Regan ’76

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