January 18, 2006
After Hurricane Katrina ended any hopes of a fall 2005 semester at Tulane, the university's students, faculty and staff scattered to the four winds.
All, that is, except the university's student-athletes. Athletics director Rick Dickson and his staff kept the teams together at schools in Texas and Louisiana, making them, in the words of President Scott Cowen, "ambassadors, carrying the torch for Tulane." (See related story.)
The football team played 11 games in 11 different cities and though its 2-9 record wasn't what the team wanted to achieve, it had persevered, played strong and carried the Tulane name with integrity.
So it was with particular difficulty that the university administrators and board began examining the athletics program in light of the financial difficulties brought about by the hurricane.
"Given the financial impact on the university, what it came down to was either to drop all sports for some period of time, drop down to NCAA Division III or find a way to stay in Division I with fewer teams," says board member Douglas Hertz, A&S '74, B '76, chair of the board's intercollegiate athletics committee. "Anybody who loves Tulane University athletics owes Scott Cowen and Rick Dickson a huge, huge pat on the back."
What Cowen and Dickson were able to achieve, Hertz says, was the NCAA's promise of a five-year waiver from having to meet the requirements for Division I athletics, allowing Tulane to compete in eight sports for the next five years rather than the normal minimum requirement of 16. From Conference USA, they also received a five-year requirement waiver, as well as the pledge of a full share in conference proceeds during that five-year period.
The downside, Hertz says, is that for the next five years, Tulane will have to say goodbye to participation in eight other sports that include some of the university's biggest success stories. "It was a matter of trying to figure out what we could do, to not put a financial burden on the university because we were having to make so many other decisions regarding academics," he said.
Beginning in fall 2006, Tulane will have six Division I-A programs -- football, baseball, men's and women's basketball, women's volleyball, and women's track -- that will compete in eight sports.
Suspended after the spring 2006 semester are men's and women's golf, men's and women's tennis, women's swimming and diving, women's soccer, and men's track and field.
Yvette Jones, Tulane's senior vice president for administration, said all athletics scholarships will continue to be honored at Tulane. The university will offer counseling and assistance to student-athletes who wish to transfer to other schools.
In January, she said, the university will form a task force to develop a renewal strategy for intercollegiate athletics.
Hertz says the post-Katrina athletics review was a different situation than the board's much-publicized 2003 review of the athletics program during which discussions centered around whether or not to keep the financially beleaguered athletics program in Division I.
"We've made tremendous progress in raising money for our athletics program from when we reviewed it a few years ago," he says. "But, that being said, we were still running a significant-enough deficit that it just wouldn't have been right to move ahead with all 16 sports programs."
But Jones says administrators also believed it wouldn't be right to shut down the sports programs altogether. "We felt strongly that the city of New Orleans needed to have Tulane continue to be in intercollegiate athletics," she says. "There are so many bad news stories out there -- we feel it is important to provide athletics for the community and for our community of students."
They are also mindful of the disappointment that will be felt by the 100 student- athletes involved in the eight suspended programs. "It pains the board and everybody else," Hertz says. "They have been a model of what Tulane University is all about -- having student-athletes who do well in sports and who do well academically."
From Survival to Renewal
Renewal: The Undergraduate Experience
Renewal: Academic Reorganization
Renewal: New Strategy for the School of Medicine
Renewal: Community Focus and Partnerships
Renewal: Intercollegiate Athletics
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org