A group of alumni, parents, and friends of Skidmore College have raised pledges of $2.5 million to support the school’s athletics program, leading to the school’s Monday announcement that it will cancel plans to eliminate the men’s ice hockey program at the end of the 2003-2004 season.
“Our goal was never to eliminate ice hockey at Skidmore,” said President Philip Glotzbach. “We made a strategic decision in September to eliminate one sport simply because we did not believe we had the resources necessary to support all of the different elements in our athletic program at a level of excellence consistent with our mission. For a variety of reasons, we selected ice hockey. No one was particularly happy about that decision.”
“In the interim we have had quite an impressive effort by a number of alumni and parents that have stepped forward and helped us do something that we were planning to do anyways. And that is to launch the Friends of Skidmore Athletics, an athletics fundraising operation that will reach out to alumni, parents, and friends, and will fund all of Skidmore athletics, including intercollegiate, intramural, and recreational athletics.”
Reaction across constituencies affected has been one of great joy.
“The ice hockey players themselves were thrilled, the coaches were thrilled, and everyone from the Athletics department was thrilled,” said Skidmore Athletics Director Jeff Segrave. “We all feel, for various reasons, that ice hockey is good for the college.”
Skidmore formerly was an all-women’s college, and while the female-to-male ratio has narrowed to 60/40 in recent years, the school has had trouble shaking its old reputation.
“We don’t have football, so the quintessential men’s sport that we have here is ice hockey,” said Segrave. “Given Skidmore’s reputation as an all-women’s college with an emphasis on the arts, when you lose ice hockey it kind of reaffirms the stereotype that doesn’t really give us that sense of balance that is our niche within the marketplace.”
The funds are a combination of up-front cash and pledges spanning 10 to 15 years into the future. The majority of the funds will be used towards the operating expenses of various athletic teams, including men’s ice hockey. A portion will also be used to begin an athletics endowment.
“It is money that has come in for athletics, from which we can retain the ice hockey program, and we can also do a few other things that we need to do for the benefit of the athletics program as a whole,” said Segrave. “We can pay for ice hockey out of this fund, and we can still retain all of the advantages that we gained out of the original decision. It is a win-win situation.”
“This is not a Band-Aid. This does not put hockey in an ambivalent situation. Hockey is here to stay, but there is no plan in the future to add any sports.”
Almost immediately after the initial announcement in September, alumni of the Skidmore hockey team started organizing a plan to save the program. A core group of six alumni, and one parent of three alumni of the team, formed a group called “Save Skidmore Hockey.”
Initial efforts were targeted towards raising public awareness of the situation, including establishing an online petition that garnered over 2,400 electronic signatures. The group, along with current team members, organized protests on campus and also worked behind the scenes with the administration.
“I was surprised at the remarkable outpouring of support in terms of money for the ice hockey program,” Segrave said. “We have never had a mechanism at Skidmore to go out and ask these people for money. We were all surprised at the amount of money that was raised so quickly.”
“What surprised me was the willingness of a group of alumni to put together a very concerted, and in fact quite successful, fundraising effort,” said Glotzbach. “We had not expected them to be able to do this. It was a very pleasant surprise.”
The new advisory group, Friends of Skidmore Athletics, is meant to help the college move ahead with its athletics initiatives. The group will identify additional alumni sources of funds, as well as determine how to communicate the college’s athletic department’s message to its constituents. The administration is also expected to solicit the group’s input on various topics relating to the school’s athletic programs.
The ramifications of this announcement could be felt far outside of Skidmore. A few other Division III schools have established athletic endowment funds in the past. But the speed with which Skidmore was able to raise a large sum of money must be seen as a clarion call to other schools.
“I think it will wake up a lot of colleges and see what they might be able to do to alleviate some of the financial constraints that they are operating under,” said Segrave. “Our model clearly demonstrates that people are willing to give to athletics, and you need to establish some sort of program that allows these folks to support these programs. In some ways, if we had this kind of program five or six years ago, we probably wouldn’t have been in the predicament we are right now.”
It remains to be seen whether other schools will now feel obligated to attempt to tap into alumni sources to support athletics.
“I don’t think we are starting any kind of athletics arms race,” said Glotzbach. “We are simply doing what other schools have been doing for a long time. And that is have a fundraising operation that specifically targets people who have an interest in athletics.”