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Athletics cedes Sears Cup

Maintaining the status quo, a new athletics department mission statement is conceding defeat for the foreseeable future in one of the prestigious measures of collegiate athletic programs.

The statement admits that winning the Sears' Directors Cup, an annual award given to the most successful college athletics program in the nation, is no longer a realistic goal for Duke athletics. Released last week prior to the Nov. 21 Academic Council meeting, it calls for strengthening the University's current track--in which some teams will continue to compete at the highest national levels, while others will remain competitive only at lower regional levels.

"We do not believe that we need to fundamentally change what we are attempting to do or how we are attempting it," reads the statement, drafted by Associate Athletics Director Christopher Kennedy. "In some programs, we need to find ways to achieve our current goals more effectively, but within the current structure and philosophy, as embodied in the tiered nature of the department."

With the current ESPN-driven world of college athletics in mind, the statement updates the University's nearly 20-year-old guidelines on issues like Title IX, admissions standards and financial commitment. President Nan Keohane, who was unavailable for comment, will present the statement to the Board of Trustees at the body's December meeting.

In order to be competitive for the Sears Cup, the statement said Duke would have to restructure and refinance the department, by adding 76.9 more scholarships and $2.8 million in financial aid and augmenting coaching staffs in non-revenue, non-scholarship programs like track and rowing.

Although Duke currently spends $8 million on athletic financial aid--the third highest total among last year's top 30 Sears Cup schools--its athletics budget of around $28.7 million was the fifth lowest among those same 30 schools.

"In a time when University resources are being pinched, that's just not a realistic path," Kennedy said. "If all our scholarships were endowed, then we could try [for a Sears Cup], but we're a long way from that."

The Sears Cup compares programs on a point-system, awarding points for achievement in each school's 20 most successful sports. Duke typically places in the 20s, with a high of seventh place in 1998-1999 and a low of 39th in 1995-1996. Last year, Duke tied for 30th with the University of Illinois.

Kennedy said Stanford University, a benchmark school which has won the past eight Sears Cups, is able to excel in many sports because all of its scholarships are endowed. Only 19 percent of Duke's scholarships are endowed, limiting the University's scholarship expansion opportunities.

Athletic Council Chair and biology professor Kathleen Smith dismissed the Sears Cup as an artificial goal "put together by a business to get publicity."

"It is all about how many programs a school has," said Smith--Stanford competes in 33 sports, compared to Duke's 24. "They put a lot of emphasis on sports that give them a lot of standing in the Sears Cup--like swimming--but that no one in the university cares about. [Winning a Sears Cup] is a level of size, not a level of excellence."

Duke is often compared to Stanford because both schools are among the nation's top academic research institutions, thereby raising admissions standards and limiting the level of student-athletes Duke is able to recruit.

"Judging from the experience of our academically marginal student-athletes, we have probably adjusted our admissions standards as much as possible consistent with our desire to ensure satisfactory academic performance and high graduation rates," the statement reads.

Smith said there remains a range of faculty opinion on the trade-offs between academic standards and success on the athletic field. Academic Council members will discuss the statement at its meeting this week, but will not take any further action on the item.

Kennedy noted that Duke continues to field nationally competitive teams in men's and women's basketball, soccer, lacrosse, golf and tennis and is almost at full capacity in terms of scholarships for those sports.

The University will also continue to try to compete on at least a conference level in football. Last month, the University announced a new mission statement in football, which called for several more players to be admitted at a lower range of standards for Duke student-athletes.

Duke will maintain its commitment to supporting "third tier" or non-revenue, non-scholarship sports like swimming and wrestling, on a limited level, but will not provide scholarships. The policy continues a strategy that views those sports as opportunities for student-athletes to pursue individual success on a Division I level, implemented by former president Terry Sanford.

The statement also highlights Duke's efforts to comply with Title IX. By next year, the number of female scholarships is expected to grow, mirroring the percentage of female undergraduate students, one of the statistical indicators of Title IX adherence.

The athletics department, only $3 million shy of its $130 million capital campaign goal, will shift financial attention to endowing team operating expenses and scholarships, Kennedy said, as the University wraps up a series of long-term capital projects, including the Yoh Football Center and an addition to Cameron Indoor Stadium.


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