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By ALVIN HOLLINS JR.
southern-jagThe recent newspaper reports detailing NCAA rules compliance and Title IX concerns within the Southern University athletic department have raised questions about the internal status of the program, which has been dogged by continuing financial problems.
Southern University, which just completed the longest football season in school history at 2-9 under first-year coach Stump Mitchell, has been put on notice by the NCAA, the nation’s collegiate athletics governing body, that their internal paperwork for certification is not up to standards, and a follow up report is due December 17.
In addition, the athletic department is admittedly understaffed in its’ NCAA rules compliance and student support services area, and concerns remain about the program’s adherence to Title IX gender equity regulations
SU Athletic Director Greg LaFleur has downplayed the situation, telling the school’s Board of Supervisors recently “I think we are in pretty good shape…. There’s just a couple of things we need to clean up here and there.”
Other university officials don’t share LaFleur’s optimism however, including the system president and members of the Board of Supervisors.
They are concerned that the magnitude of Southern’s problems may be larger than first thought, and that less than stellar initial report previously submitted may not only jeopardize the program’s certification, but might further aggravate an already rocky relationship with the NCAA.
LaFleur admitted that previous requests to the university to fund salaries to fill staff vacancies had been denied, resulting in the existing compliance and student services staff being overwhelmed, leading to them not maintaining proper documentation on the program’s 350-plus student-athletes.
In response, Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr., confirmed last week that the school would shift dollars to file the vacant compliance position within Athletics.
The athletic department’s well-documented financial challenges in recent years, spurred by a drop in football ticket sales revenue along with state-mandated budget cuts, has left the program in the lurch.
Plus, the university’s recent decision to build a new baseball stadium with no corresponding plans to address upgrading the women’s softball facility, stirred the pot on the program’s lagging Title IX performance, further aggravating the athletics situation.
Still, the problems besetting Southern’s athletic program are familiar to many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) of all competitive levels, which all suffer from lack of funding.
That historic lack of funding kept some schools at the Division Two level or in the NAIA, while others in the SWAC and MEAC, along with Tennessee State, moved up to the Division One level in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
But those two dozen Division One HBCUs traded up in class without a strategic business plan to grow and expand within NCAA guidelines, and after 30-plus years of competition, many programs operate at a bare bones level, thanks to flatlining revenue streams and lack of consistent fundraising.
This inadequate pool of revenue has forced several schools in recent years to drop sports programs, slash athletic staff positions and cut down competition dates in certain sports in an attempt to stay afloat, and schedule guarantee games against major schools in football and men’s basketball to generate dollars.
Still, the mandatory Division One requirements to sponsor a minimum of 14 sports, and adhering strictly to rules governing initial eligibility, academic progress and graduation rates, and gender equity, push HBCUs to stretch their available funding to the max.
And with the national and state economies continuing to spiral down with no end in sight, the onus will be on the institutional leadership to find creative ways to strengthen and sustain their athletic programs.
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