Athletics forum underscores types of improvements needed to ensure success of future Rice athletics
Last Thursday, Jan. 19, the athletics department took a strong step in outlining its vision for the second century of Rice athletics by holding a one-and-a-half hour forum for Rice athletics' fans and supporters (see story, pg. 1). The Director of Athletics Rick Greenspan and President David Leebron discussed the merits of Rice student-athletes as well as the five pillars that Rice is choosing to erect its plan for the success of Rice athletics upon.
The forum was, by and large, a success, as many have long been clamoring for the current athletics administration to engage Rice's fanbase in actively seeking their opinions concerning the direction for Rice athletics. The presence of both Greenspan and Leebron showed that both sides are in accordance and are committed to this blueprint. Additionally, the fact that Stude Concert Hall was nearly full validates the belief that there are fervent supporters of Rice athletics that wish to see it improved. While Rice has achieved recent success in many of its 14 sports, most notably tennis, track and field, cross country and baseball, the "revenue" sports of football and men's basketball have not been competitive in relation to Rice's conference or academic peers for too long, something that must be the first priority of the athletic department.
In this world of college athletics driven by television contracts, advertising and athletic apparel sponsorships, it is critical that the athletics department's marketing efforts are vastly improved in order to market Rice athletics to the casual sports fan. The Thresher feels that Greenspan and his department need to improve the visibility of athletics in order to ensure that attendance numbers rapidly increase. The proposed facilities are an excellent start, but marketing Rice athletics as a cheaper alternative to Houston's professional sporting events and a superior product over the University of Houston's competitions against far-flung Big East opponents is crucial. Additionally, Greenspan must actively use his experience as an athletic director at a Big Ten conference to ensure that Rice is no longer an afterthought in future conference realignment discussions, as it was this past year.
The Thresher commends Leebron on his willingness to take a leading part in this forum. Leebron's frank and thorough answers of fans' questions, as well as his impressive knowledge of the conference realignment landscape in college athletics, confirms that Leebron is, perhaps, the most receptive Rice president in the last half-century to the idea that top-tier intercollegiate athletics are vital to the overall mission of this university. The president reminded the audience that Rice has overcome many obstacles in the past to meet its goals of becoming a world-class research university and that championship achievements in the realm of intercollegiate athletics are no different from any of these previous challenges. For this forthright and optimistic mindset, the Thresher feels that Leebron's administration is one that fosters the rejuvenation of athletics at Rice.
To students, the Thresher encourages greater support of Rice athletics through their attendance at athletic events. Be proactive in engaging student-athletes in your college and take pride in your ability to know these members of your university, an opportunity that is not easily afforded to students at other Division I institutions.
To alumni, the Thresher challenges that the proposed football facility, tennis facility and any other capital-intensive athletics projects are fulfilled by donation. Athletics are, in large part, the most conspicuous tie that each of you still has to the place where you spent four or more years of your life, and your support of this endeavor ensures that Rice will take a large step to becoming a university that people associate with both academic and athletic excellence.
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