Kent State seeks consulting firm’s aid to evaluate athletic program

Richie Mulhall

As the ever-changing landscape of Division I collegiate athletics continues to evolve, Kent State wants to see how it matches up to the competition, both on and off the field.

In order to do this, the university sought the help of a national consultant and hired consulting firm Collegiate Sports Associates to conduct a “sweeping assessment” of the intercollegiate athletics program, the Akron Beacon Journal reported Monday. 

Kent State will pay Collegiate Sports Associates $35,000 to conduct a review, which, according to the Beacon Journal, will include determining if any sports must be cut to reduce spending.

The Kent State Board of Trustees heard a presentation from Collegiate Sports Associates on Dec. 3. 

The firm, along with a university steering committee, said it will make an assessment “that focuses on the core values of continued student-athlete academic success, competitive success and an alignment of a long-term approach for intercollegiate athletics as an integral part of the university,” according to a December university press release. 

The firm has spent the past several weeks conducting interviews with athletic department personnel, student-athletes, student leaders, university administrators, alumni, donors and season-ticket holders, according to the Beacon Journal. 

“We’re going to review the entire program top to bottom from all of our sports to what we’re doing academically to our sports services,” Athletic Director Joel Nielsen said in a recent interview in the Beacon Journal.

Preliminary findings, including results of an online survey of different athletic constituencies will be submitted to the Kent State Board of Trustees in March 2015, the Beacon Journal reported.

Nielsen said he’s not sure what options Collegiate Sports Associates will suggest when a final report is delivered in May, but he would not rule anything out.

“Everything is on the table,” Nielsen said in an interview with the Beacon Journal. “You can’t go into an assessment protected or it wouldn’t be a true assessment.”

Kent State President Beverly Warren, who has a background in collegiate athletics as a former athletic director, has strongly advocated the assessment.

Warren told the Record-Courier in an article published a few weeks ago that she isn’t ready to commit to major changes to the athetic program just yet because she is still getting acclimated to the overall university culture. 

Many are hopeful that given Warren’s athletic background, she will support Kent State’s athletics program during unpredictable times of change — that is, once she becomes more acclimated to Kent State.

“I’m still learning,” she said in the Record-Courier article. “One of the things that Joel Nielsen and I agreed upon was that this would be a perfect year to do an assessment of our athletics programs. We brought in consultants who are working with us. That was the idea, for me to learn a little more not only about what I personally enjoy in terms of the sports programs, but where should we go and how could we help Kent State University’s athletic programs achieve their best result.”

Once the assessment is complete, the report will go to Warren.

“Joel Nielsen, the board and I will sift through that information and see where we might need to make changes and where we’re doing well,” Warren told the Record-Courier. “We’ll use that report as the basis for how we will approach this ever-changing landscape for NCAA athletics. It’s more complicated now than ever.”

Kent State’s consultation comes at an uncertain and fiscally challenging time for many colleges and universities, especially mid-major schools such as Kent State.

“We’ve invested in athletics, but athletics isn’t a big business for us,” Warren told the Record-Courier. “It’s still an educational experience, it still has to fit into the context of what we’re trying to do within each of our universities. It’s very hard for those of us who really believe in the student-athlete to keep the focus on the student-athlete, and keep some sanity about how we approach athletics.”

The Record-Courier reported that other MAC programs are preparing for potential changes in NCAA Division I athletics, including “cost of attendance (money paid to each student-athlete on scholarship for tuition fees, personal expenses, transportation, loan origination fee and administrative fees in addition to the full scholarship — estimated in cost from $2,000-$5,000 per year), and the modification or elimination of transfer rules.”

“NCAA intercollegiate athletes is evolving tremendously,” Warren said in the article. “It’s becoming more and more difficult to remain competitive in the NCAA when you have the five power conferences really pushing the envelope in terms of program support. It makes it very hard on programs like ours in the MAC.”

Additional costs come easy to major collegiate athletic programs like Ohio State, but to schools like Kent State, where resources are scarce, finding new sources of revenue to fund any changes the NCAA might implement becomes even harder.

“Most of the power five have a pretty large donor base and a pretty large fan support base that makes their decisions perhaps a little easier than those of us who don’t have that level of support,” Warren told the Record Courier. “It can’t simply come on the backs of students and their student fees.

Nielsen told the Beacon Journal he doesn’t see the upcoming NCAA changes as affecting the university in a negative way.

“It’s not as though this is something that is going to flip our cart over, so to speak,” he said in the article. “It’s something that’s difficult now. It’s like anything else: If you add more costs on, it just increases the difficulty to do all of the things you’re doing right now.” 

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].