Student Opinions Then:
After an interview with Don Harden, who was the associate chancellor and interim athletic director from 1974-1985, I was able to understand what it was really like during the largest turning point in UWGB Athletic history.
Don Harden shared with me that students were not avid fans of athletics until the Dick Bennett period. Dick Bennett was the UWGB men’s basketball coach from 1985-1995. Therefore, we can suspect that all athletics did not receive student support for at least 15 years. When I asked specifically about women’s athletics Mr. Harden stated that women’s basketball was not fully supported until late in the Dick Bennett era. He also alluded that the only reason they started to receive support was because they were doing extremely well each and every year. The support of women’s basketball led to the support of women’s athletics as a whole in the early 1990’s.
Student Opinion Now:
In Spring of 2015 the President of UWGB met with all of the SUFAC members to try and convince them to vote yes for a new sports complex. By voting yes, SUFAC agreed to pay just under one million dollars. This demonstrated that the majority of students at UWGB do indeed support athletics today.
Sadly, Vanya Koepke (the President of UWGB in 2015) stated that it was not an easy road to win this vote. He said that today, at UWGB, there are still negative stigmas directed towards athletics. He stated that many of the individuals he spoke with feel as though athletes are privileged and do not deserve extra money being invested in them.
Overall, the general view of athletics today is very positive. Yes, there are still students who cheer on other universities, but there are also many more that attend UWGB athletic events.
After an interview with the current athletic director Mary Ellen Gillespie, I was able to better understand the student perspective on athletics today. When asked about what the student perspective is towards athletics, at UWGB, Gillespie stated that the it is very mixed. She believes that “We (the athletic department) can always do a better job about talking about why division one; why that is good for an institution, why that is good for a local community.”
Gillespie thinks that a lot of student uneasiness stems from the questions relating to why athletics continues to receive student funds when budget cuts are happening and our institution is experiencing a general lack of funding. Gillespie said that students need to keep in mind that student fees do not just support athletes. Student fees fund managers, mascots, the pep band, cheerleaders, student workers and tickets for the entire student body. She also said that the general student body needs to remember that “Athletics is responsible for about 84 percent of the overall media attention that this institution gets.”
When Gillespie was asked if there is a differentiation between supporting men’s athletics and women’s athletics today she stated that “At football institutions yes but there is less of a differentiation at non football institutions because your numbers are more equitable.” Gillespie also stated that from a giving standpoint the numbers are about equal sport to sport and exactly equal when it comes to the same sport having a mens team and a women’s team. The main differentiation comes into play with basketball because it is the sport that is most likely to receive national media attention. Gillespie stated that you need to push funds into certain areas where you know you are more likely to reap larger benefits.
From the SUFAC decisions that were made in the early 1970’s and 1980’s people are able to see that there was a lack of student support for athletics. After speaking with Vanya Koepke and Mary Ellen Gillespie, one is able to see that although there has been a growth in student support for athletics, there is still many people who do not fully agree with supporting athletics monetarily.