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Rice hosts athletics discussion

By Farrah Madanay     1/25/12 6:00pm

On the heels of the recently approved $44.5 million new athletics facility and football stadium renovation projects by the Rice University board of trustees, President David Leebron and Director of Athletics Rick Greenspan hosted Rice student-athletes, alumni, boosters and faculty at the Rice Athletics Public Forum Jan. 19 in the Shepherd School of Music's Stude Hall to share their vision of Rice athletics and take questions from the audience.

Leebron emphasized the Rice administration's support for athletics through major investments such as Tudor Fieldhouse and smaller projects like the Centennial banners along the inner loop, of which 10 percent are athletics-related. Leebron, whose foray into athletics consisted only of a short stint as a pre-collegiate football player, is often seen donning a Rice baseball cap at on-campus athletics events he attends with his wife.

"We are committed to engaging in athletics with unsurpassed integrity and with a sense of balance about the mission and purpose of our university," Leebron said.

Though Leebron said he believes Rice recruits the most talented athletes, he added that for Rice to achieve a higher level of success, the athletes would need access to the best facilities and resources. Resources have been a challenge to come by since Rice ranks as the second-smallest school participating in NCAA Division I-A athletics, ahead of University of Tulsa.

"We, Rice, are the David of both the elite academic and athletic world, choosing to compete against the Goliaths," Leebron said.

He also referenced Rice's status as the second-smallest school in the Association of American Universities. In order for Rice athletics to compete successfully at a high level, Leebron said he urged broader community support, manifested particularly in philanthropy.

At present, the main object for philanthropic giving is the $44.5 million athletics facilities project, Leebron said. The administration has allocated none of its own funds toward the project and instead expects the funding to come solely from donors. More than $3 million has already been received through an anonymous gift, Leebron said.

Greenspan then presented the audience with an overall vision of the administration's anticipated future projects, challenges and opportunities. He said the administration had assessed the budget of each sports program.

"We determined that our highest capital priority was the construction of a new football facility at our stadium," Greenspan said.

When the forum transitioned to the question-and-answer session, alumni asked how much of the financial burden the administration would be willing to take on for future athletics renovations.

"If you look at our revenue pie, compare it to our peers, it falls short in a few specific areas that we can identify, Leebron said. "One of them is philanthropy."

Some student athletes voiced concerns particular to the future of their sport. Jones College senior James Llamas, a track and field and cross country athlete, asked whether the old Autry facilities behind Tudor Fieldhouse could be outfitted into locker rooms. Greenspan answered that reconfiguring the old facilities would be cost-ineffective.

Duncan College sophomore James Hiester, a golfer, asked what plans the administration had to increase enthusiasm among the student population.

Greenspan responded that Rice's general lack of enthusiasm is not an uncommon phenomenon, citing his experience at seven prior universities. He said he believed student enthusiasm and, ultimately, increased attendance, would ensue from student-athlete assimilation and self-promotion along with greater efforts by the administration to advertise athletic events.

"It is a shared responsibility," Greenspan said. "We have a big chunk of it, but I think students have a chunk of it too."

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