A year ago, more than 800 people squeezed into the Maher Athletic Center to watch the University of Dallas Crusaders take on the Texas Lutheran Bulldogs in the semifinals of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) Men’s Basketball Tournament.
The crowd was past capacity, giving not only a shot of adrenaline to a basketball team finishing up one of the most successful seasons in school history but also providing a perfect symbol of the evolution and progress of UD’s athletic program.
The growth in the program has not seemed to slow down. But as the university transitions from a place that never thought twice about athletics to one which includes a bigger and more viable athletics program, the question needs to be asked: How will UD deal with the growing pains of managing bigger and more popular sports programs?
With revenues for the university expected to decrease for the next academic year, President Thomas Keefe has asked all departments to tighten their budgets, including the athletics department.
Dr. John Plotts, senior vice president for enrollment and student affairs, says not to worry.
“We’re still going to be able to run the athletic program the same way we’ve been running it,” Plotts said.
Plotts says that no sports will be cut, and in fact, if everything goes as planned, UD will add women’s golf next year.
“I wouldn’t let the students worry that we won’t have men’s soccer next year,” Plotts said.
In order to cut expenses while maintaining the program, Plotts and athletic director Dick Strockbine have looked mostly to travel expenses, as well as attempting to squeeze a few more years out of the current uniforms.
“We’re cutting out flights except when they’re necessary,” Strockbine said.
Dr. Plotts says that teams will still be able to fly, however, he’s just looking to fly a little closer. For example, last year, the men’s basketball team flew to Roanoke, Va., as well as Boston, Mass. Plotts said he would suggest they stay a little closer to home, perhaps Phoenix, Ariz. and Salt Lake City, Utah, as an example.
“All I’m asking coaches is to pick particular venues where it’s maybe a little cheaper,” Plotts said.
Plotts also said that all of the teams have to meet specific non-conference requirements per the NCAA rules. They will also continue to meet their conference requirements throughout all sports.
This will be the first time since Dr. Plotts took charge of athletics, back in 2012, that the budget will not increase. Coach Strockbine, while not certain, believes that this will also be the first time during his 21 years as athletic director that the budget will decrease.
Of course, budgets are one thing, but actual expenditure is another. Dr. Plotts noted that, for many years, the athletics department would always spend more than its budget. Last year athletics significantly increased its budget by approximately $100,000 in order to account for actual expenditures.
“There’s always unforeseen expenses that we will spend money for,” Plotts said.
For example, this upcoming season, women’s lacrosse added a shot clock, and the current scoreboard wasn’t equipped for the rule change. So the school spent $11,000 on a new scoreboard.
Additionally, there are some things that the athletics department refuses to compromise on. All of UD’s athletic teams use professional bus companies as a means of transportation. There are some schools that will travel in vans driven by coaches, but Plotts and the athletic program refuse to risk the safety of the university’s athletes.
Much of the growth in the budget is attributable to that fact that UD athletics is getting bigger year by year. In 1999, Coach Strockbine’s first year as athletic director, there were 79 student-athletes. Last year, there were 267.
“I would say it’s been a goal of mine to grow the programs and increase the number of student-athletes,” Strockbine said.
Dr. Plotts shares the goal of growing the athletics department. He says that for the incoming freshman class, there have been 164 more applicants for athletics than a year ago, 62 more admitted students, and 9 more deposited students (ones which have already made their first deposit to attend UD). In fact, 25 percent of the incoming class is made up of student-athletes.
Despite the temporary budget cuts, the athletic department refuses to stunt its own growth. There are plans in place for renovations to the baseball and soccer fields, as well as plans for a new intramural field. The new intramural field would be in the forest area between the baseball and lacrosse fields (obviously the trees would have to be taken down), and would include a track since the school currently has a track team without a track.
The plans to renovate the baseball and soccer stadiums would vastly upgrade the school’s facilities. As soon as the money comes in for any of these three projects, Plotts is ready to go.
“If you have good facilities and a better team, you get better students and better athletes,” Plotts says.
Strockbine believes that growing the athletics department gives the university more visibility and increases the number of students.
Dr. Plotts is also keen on growing the department.
“I think [athletics is] essential to the overall development of the student. The education is not just of your mind but of your body and soul.”
He also believes that it is important for school spirit.
“I think athletics generate more school spirit, and I want to see more school spirit.”