It's On: The Role of Athletics at Seattle U

Posted by Caitlin Joyce on Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 3:40 PM PDT


“People had fears of Division 1 that never came to reality. Our athletes are still great students and we continue to develop great university programs. - Erin Engelhardt, academic advisor to student athletes

“We make decisions as a university that can change who we are and what we stand for. We need to make sure the changes we make are still true to who we are as an institution.” – Chris Paul, communications professor

 
On the evening of May 1st, spectators packed Connolly’s North Court.  Alumni, staff and students, perched on the edge of their seats preparing to see the battle take place on the court.  This wasn’t the type of action the hardwood was used to seeing.  No hoops, guards, or overtime. Just words - a debate entitled “The Role of Athletics at Seattle U.”

Women’s basketball coach, Joan Bonvincini, Erin Englehardt, and debate student, Al Sadi represented the pro athletics argument.

Their challengers were Chris Paul and Mara Adleman, both professors in the communications department, and Robby Noble, a graduating senior on the debate team.

As the debate got under way, three primary arguments emerged. The first was whether Division 1 athletics aligns with Seattle U’s mission . According to Coach Joan, Seattle University’s mission to create leaders for a just and humane world mirrors her own values.

 “I’m an educator, not just a coach. My lessons are those in life: how to set goals, work as a team, and invest in the community. You’ll find my team doing more community outreach than most of the other students at the university.”

Coach Joan and Erin Englehardt both agreed that athletics helped those attend college who may not have had the opportunity to do so otherwise, and that is indeed in line with our mission. “Look at our Recent Outstanding Alumnus Award winner, Santa Maria Rivera.” said Englehardt. “Without soccer, he would never have ended up at SU or be where he is today.”

That argument didn’t fly with professor Adelman, who shot back saying, “We talk of our university as a premier Jesuit institution, but nowhere in the mission statement does it say that we have to be D-1. When people think of Gonzaga, they don’t think academics or Jesuit values. They think sports. Do we want the same reputation for our own school?”

Professor Paul added his concerns over the NCAA’s treatment of student athletes,  Paul argued that universities who focus on athletics view it as a revenue source, yet the players don’t see that money, pointing out that the term “student athlete” is there to prevent those injured on the job from collecting workman’s comp. He asked the crowd if such an organization supported the just and humane values our institution was founded on.

The second key argument questioned whether athletics affected a student’s success. “They’re under immense pressure to succeed, but to participate in their sport they are required to miss classes. It started off as 2 classes a quarter, and then jumped to 5 and now it’s at 6. We are setting them up to fail. To me that seems unjust and inhumane.” Adelman said.

Englehardt countered with the facts that SU’s student athletes are on average 10 grade points ahead of other students and 70% of our student athletes have a 3.5 GPA .  “We have a senior going on to Harvard for grad school. She missed more classes in the fall for her graduate admissions interviews than because of her sport and I don’t hear anyone complaining about those absences.”
 
The final argument and the one that perhaps drew the most reaction from the crowd, was that of the cost of D-1 sports. The opposition claimed that you can’t be half D-1 and you can’t do it on the cheap. It takes a lot of investment. “Gonzaga built a $30 million arena on its campus. Is that an investment we are prepared to make, or should we make?” questioned Paul.  Are there students who could benefit from that money being spent elsewhere?

According to Paul, “on average schools in the WAC spend $12,000 per student and $56,000 per student athlete. “I’ve had athletes in my class. They have been great. However, I also have a lot of students who aren’t in a sport, and every student deserves the same resources and support.”
 
Robby Noble went on to add “Perhaps there are other students, who are not doing as well that could benefit from the same resources, but are not offered them because they aren’t athletes. I’m graduating this year, with the highest GPA in my college, but I was unable to get into a grad school. Perhaps if I had the same support systems, I too could be celebrating my admission to a PhD program.”

In defense of Seattle U’s athletics, Englehardt said that D-1 benefits students and alumni because of name recognition that it brings, “when applying for jobs, you want people to recognize the name of your university. On the east coast, Gonzaga currently has more pull than Seattle U because of its sports teams.”

After all arguments had been made, the two sides retreated to their respective tables and the audience was asked to vote on the winner. A loud roar rang out in support of our communications faculty, followed by an even louder wave of cheers, posters, and stomping from those in favor of athletics. In the end, both sides agree that everyone wants what is best for our students, our alumni, and our University. We may have different viewpoints, but it’s that diversity of opinion and commitment to every form of excellence that makes this university truly great.