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Task force to picture future of sports

What does the future hold for sports at the University?

Perhaps robots will serve as referees or improved shoe technology will force basketball hoops to be raised to 20 feet.

Such changes may be in the cards, but members of the Strategic Planning Task Force for Athletics plan to tackle more realistic issues pertaining to the future of University athletics.

The task force, a component of the University's long-term planning initiative, Virginia 2020: The Agenda for the Third Century at the University of Virginia, has been assigned to set long-term goals for the University athletic department in areas ranging from playing fields and other facilities to athletes' academic performance to Title IX compliance.

Members of the task force include several directors of the University's Athletics Department, current and former student athletes, and faculty members in several non-athletic departments.

The task force already has had two meetings -- one in December and one Monday.

Task force members have received background information on the Athletics Department budget, intramural and recreational sports programs and National Collegiate Athletic Association graduation rates, said Amy D. Cronin, assistant to University President John T. Casteen III.

Having such knowledge will "set the stage for the work that the group will do," Cronin said.

That work includes making recommendations for the next 20 years of University sports in three categories: programs and facilities, academic and student life and finances and fundraising.

Funding issues are of particular interest, as adequate funds are required to achieve distinction in the other areas. Athletic Director Terry Holland has said the funding levels of the University's athletic program now are up to 30 percent lower than those at peer universities with similar athletic programs.

Despite this funding disadvantage, the University's Athletics Department was acknowledged for overall excellence this year, receiving a top 10 ranking in the prestigious Sears Director's Cup competition, which recognizes the college teams in each division of the NCAA with the highest point total in all men's and women's sports.

But maintaining this level of excellence will require a steady stream of cash.

The task force will be examining "what it takes to have a top 10 program, and how we're going to fund it," Holland said.

The three most expensive areas of the athletics program are facilities, staffing, scholarships and operational costs, in that order, Holland said.

In the area of programs and facilities, task force members will take on issues such as determining which varsity and intramural sports programs the University should have, as well as what kinds of facilities are needed to support these sports, University spokeswoman Louise Dudley said.

For example, task force members will discuss whether the University should add or drop a sport, said task force member Peggy Boutilier, 1999 College graduate.

Boutilier, a lacrosse and field hockey player who won the NCAA Woman of the Year award in 1998 for her academic, athletic and service achievements at the University, said that as a recent graduate, she likely will be most interested in the issues in the academic and student life category.

"There is a perception that athletes struggle through classes and that they get in trouble with the honor system," Boutilier said.

The task force will attempt to determine "is that a myth, or is that true?" she said.

The subject of athletes' academic success will be a major discussion topic, Dudley said.

"Anything that needs to be done to make sure student athletes are respected in the classroom" will be examined, she said.

Task force members will explore "how we can ensure continued strong graduation rates among student athletes," including providing academic support services to those students who need them, Cronin said.

Another topic of discussion in the area of academic and student life will be the University's future compliance with Title IX, the federal statute that prohibits sex discrimination by educational institutions that receive federal funds, Dudley said.

In the final category of issues -- finances and fundraising -- task force members eventually will construct a budget to finance all of the objectives they set out for the Athletic Department, she said.

In addition, the group will explore options for funding that budget, including alternatives to the Department's current sources of funding, she added.

The group will attempt to determine "what will be the long-term funding needs, and what are potential sources of revenue," Cronin said.

Carolyn M. Callahan, an Education School professor and the University's liaison to the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference, will lead the task force.

Callahan was traveling and could not be reached for comment.

Casteen, in consultation with Holland and Callahan, set out the issues to be discussed by the task force.

Current student athletes on the task force include fourth-year College student Mary Frances Scott, a volleyball setter, and third-year College student Ahmad R. Hawkins, a football receiver.

Scott and Hawkins could not be reached for comment.


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