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UL goes public with athletics sefl-study


After concluding a year-long, campus-wide effort to study its athletics program, UL held a public hearing on Friday.

Few people from the community showed up to ask questions and give input on the self-study, which is a part of the NCAA Division I athletics certification program.

Even so, UL athletic director David Walker answered why it’s so important the university completes the NCAA-required self-study.

"It’s an opportunity for outside eyes to take a look at athletics," Walker said. "It’s an opportunity for outside people to say ‘This is what we think you’re doing right, this is what we think you’re doing wrong.’"

The specific areas covered in the self-study include academic integrity, governance and commitment to rules compliance and a commitment to equity and student-athlete well-being.

Walker said the study showed there are three areas that require improvement: academics, revenue and facilities.

"Our emphasis in improvement has to continue to be in academic areas," Walker said. "We need to continue working on that. And that translates into our coaches recruiting student-athletes that can come in here and succeed academically.

"Obviously, we need to continue working on generating revenue streams to help our budgets. We also need to look at facility improvements, especially in our women’s sports."

Walker pointed to the progress made in the men’s basketball program according to the Academic Progress Rate, which uses a scale of 1 to 1,000 to rate whether student-athletes are making adequate progress toward graduation.

The Cajun men’s basketball program was the lone UL team to post a 1,000 APR score last year. An overall APR score of less than 925 (about a 60 percent graduation rate) can result in the loss of scholarships.

Just a few years ago, Walker said the men’s team had a score in the 800s.

Improving APR scores has been a point of emphasis for Walker, named to his current position in July after two years as interim athletic director.

"The (coaching) contracts I have written and signed since I’ve been here all tie the bonus structure to the APR standards," Walker said. "And that’s something we need to continue to do."

The self-study pointed out the importance of improving athletic facilities – notably in track, baseball and softball. The women’s basketball and volleyball locker rooms at Earl K. Long Gym are in the process of being renovated.

Men’s and women’s track athletes currently share the same locker room. Walker said the plan is to raise funds to build a combined track and soccer facility in the near future, although the university has no time frame for the project. The soccer offices are currently in Earl K. Long Gym.

The design and architectural drawings for upgrades to the softball locker room are complete. Walker wants that done by the start of the 2010 season. There are also planned upgrades for the baseball facilities.

For now, Walker is unsure whether baseball and softball renovations will be done together or separately.

UL is also trying to increase participation in women’s sports, both scholarship and walk-on players. With that in mind, the university wants the women’s basketball team to get a third assistant coach – the same number as the men’s team.

"As we grow that program we need to have more coaches," Walker said. "They need a larger staff to be able to cover things just like the men have."

UL completed its first certification self-study in 1999. At the 1997 NCAA Convention, the Division I membership voted to change the frequency of athletics certification from once every five years to once every 10 years and to require a five-year interim-status report. The current self-study is the second in the certification process for UL.

"I think it’s a good process," UL senior associate athletic director Scott Farmer said, "and I think it affirmed some of the things we’ve done well and what we need to do better."

The purpose of the certification program is to ensure the integrity of an academic institution’s athletic operation. The committee responsible for the self-study included UL president Dr. Ray Authement, steering committee chair Dr. Carolyn Bruder, various members of the university faculty and staff and athletic department personnel, alumni and community leaders.

UL will submit its self-study to the NCAA by May 1. In November, an external team of reviewers from other colleges, universities or conference offices will conduct a two-day evaluation visit on campus. That team will then report to the NCAA Division I Committee on Athletics Certification, another independent group.

At that time, the committee will determine the institution’s certification status and publicly announce their decision. The possible options are certified, certified with conditions and not certified.

The current self-study can be viewed online at http://apfd.louisiana.edu/NCAA.

Posted by Daily Advertiser April 19, 2008