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President’s Perspective: My Review of UW Includes Athletics Assessment

October 24, 2013

By Robert J. Sternberg

Since I began working as president of the University of Wyoming July 1, I have been reviewing many aspects of the university’s operations -- just as a new leader of any organization would. I have asked my leadership team and sought help from others to assess the performance of various academic units, admissions, student housing, marketing, athletics and much more.

The basic philosophy behind my approach is that no matter how well any of us, including myself, is doing, there is always room for improvement. By reviewing a wide array of the university’s functions, my administration can identify areas of particular need and set priorities for improvement.

It became clear early on that one area deserving of my attention is UW athletics. As I have said before, I believe a strong NCAA Division I athletics program fits well within UW’s land-grant mission of educating future ethical leaders who will make a positive, meaningful and enduring difference to the world. Successful teams promote positive spirit and passion toward a university, produce financial benefits, and raise its profile statewide and nationally. They also provide a tremendous opportunity for athletes to develop their ethical-leadership skills. Done right, athletics complements a university’s academic mission rather than competing with it.

While we want all of our men’s and women’s athletics programs to be successful, the “big two” in terms of fan interest are football and men’s basketball. Looking over the long, proud history of those particular programs, I have observed that, for the past couple of decades, we have not been consistently as successful as we would like to be. And because the level of competitiveness is so high nationally for these sports, I decided to seek some national expertise to see if there are ways to boost our performance on the field -- while maintaining the excellence our athletes have achieved in the classroom.

Before the current football season started, I began discussions with Collegiate Sports Associates (CSA), an executive search and consulting business that specializes in athletics at Division I universities. I executed a contract with CSA on Sept. 6, with the goal of improving and sustaining the competitiveness of UW’s football and men’s basketball programs.

CSA is assessing the operations, organizational structure, facilities, personnel and financial resources that support our football and men’s basketball programs. A team from CSA recently visited campus to tour facilities and interview campus officials, coaches and others. We expect to have CSA’s written report in the next few weeks, and we plan to make it available to the public.

UW is paying the firm $35,000, plus travel costs. The money comes from state dollars in the president’s budget. While the UW Board of Trustees does not need to approve the consultation, the trustees were fully apprised that it would occur. I also consulted extensively with UW Athletics Director Tom Burman about how we could work together to optimize outcomes for UW athletics, both through the consultation and through other means.

To reiterate, the decision to hire a consultant to review football and men’s basketball was made before the start of the football season -- long before the football team’s loss to Colorado State. All of us -- especially the coaches and the players -- are disappointed with that defeat and dissatisfied with the program’s performance Saturday. But my decision to hire a consultant is much more about the long term than it is about a single game or even a season. I encourage all of us to stand behind this year’s Cowboys, who still have an opportunity for great success. And we have high hopes for basketball, as the start of that season approaches.

Rest assured that any improvement plan for football and men’s basketball will include a continued focus on “doing it right.” Despite regular news about NCAA compliance problems in athletics programs around the country, it is possible to build high-performing programs while obeying the rules and holding to the highest standards of ethical behavior. None of us will tolerate any lapses in UW’s integrity as we work to win more consistently, and there will be no such lapses.

The hiring of CSA does not signal a lack of confidence in anyone who is a part of UW’s Athletics Department, but it does recognize that we are not where we should be or want to be. And it fits with my overall objective of continual improvement for the university and becoming the nation’s No. 1 land-grant institution. The people of Wyoming expect the best from us, and they will get it.

Robert Sternberg is president of the University of Wyoming.

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