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Winter 2003

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Athletics at Skidmore

Debating its appropriate role

Last summer, after many interviews and surveys, Skidmore’s Athletics Review Committee made its report to the college administration (see www.skidmore.edu/arc.pdf). Some of the key recommendations include codification of a student-athlete recruiting policy in admissions, commitment to a fitness and wellness program and hiring a director of recreation, construction of a softball facility and a fieldhouse, and ensuring that all head coaches are full-timers who coach no more than one varsity team. The report is merely advisory, and no implementation decisions have been made yet.
     Scope recently met with Jeffrey Segrave, interim athletics director and longtime professor and tennis coach, for a Q-and-A about the report and the role of athletics at Skidmore.

Q: How do you feel about the ARC report generally?
A: I’m thrilled. It demonstrates that there is strong support for athletics at Skidmore. The report acknowledges the significant role that athletics plays, not only in the life of the college but as part of the college’s image in the marketplace. I argue that college athletics makes two chief claims upon us. First, and most important, student-athletes receive a profound form of education, one that touches them on many different levels. Second is a more political dimension: athletics serves Skidmore in terms of public relations, student recruitment, and alumni attachment. The trick is to keep a healthy balance between the political and educational roles.

Q: How does the national debate about athletics having gone too far, even at Division III schools, relate to Skidmore?
A: Athletics has a cultural pre-eminence in America, one that trickles all the way down to Division III. Athletics should be kept in its rightful place, but it’s not antithetical to academic excellence. It’s no coincidence that the best liberal-arts athletic programs are at colleges that are considered tops in academic quality—Williams, Amherst, Middlebury, Emory, Pomona-Pitzer, and others.

Q: The ARC report makes a number of ambitious, potentially expensive recommendations. Can the college pay for all of them?
A: The ARC’s recommendations may not all happen. And the report, wisely, is tentative about calling for additional sports programs. Without the resources to deliver what we have with the quality we’d like to see across the board, adding programs would probably be counterproductive. Our number-one issue is adding personnel, not only to existing athletic programs but also to the support structure for these programs. The other key area is facilities. Skidmore is one of the few top liberal-arts colleges in the Northeast without a fieldhouse. We’re severely constrained in terms of practice facilities and indoor facilities.

Q: When you talk about personnel, you mean full-time head coaches for each varsity sport?
A: Absolutely. If Skidmore is going to recruit, retain, and excite top student-athletes, we need full-time coaches. I’ve been full-time for twenty-five years with women’s tennis, Tim Brown for twenty-two years with men’s golf. It’s no surprise that these two programs have been so successful. What’s the old expression? “Good programs attain. Great programs sustain.” Sustained succcess doesn’t so readily come with part-time coaching.

Q: Of course, Skidmore has other resource needs, many in academic areas.
A: That’s the tricky balance. Everybody wants more resources, whether it’s Honors Forum, Liberal Studies, the sciences, or athletics. We’re all faced with the constraints and realities of the moment. We’ve all got to recognize that good solutions can only be spun out over time in a way that strengthens all of us. Beyond this, the success of our athletic program should not be an end in itself. You’ve got to think of the larger picture—the physical education of all students. Any resources added to athletics should enhance the education and wellness of the entire community.

Q: It must be frustrating to know how far Skidmore athletics has come, yet how far there is to go.
Skidmore parents root for the red-hot Thoroughbreds field hockey team during Family Weekend.
A: Sometimes it feels like we’re chasing a ghost. In the last twenty-five years, Skidmore athletics has probably done more, come further, and been more successful than any other program of its kind. Compared to 1976, when we had next to nothing, it’s like night and day. Now here we are competing with some of the best Division III programs in the country—and beating them, in some cases. That’s remarkable. But that doesn’t necessarily satisfy our hunger to get better. —PM


© 2003 Skidmore College