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June 24, 2004

ULM Explores Conference Affiliation

In its report presented to the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors in Baton Rouge today, Carr and Associates recommended the Athletics Department at the University of Louisiana at Monroe develop a five-year strategic plan that includes moving all sports to the Sun Belt Conference.

Currently, of ULM's 17 men's and women's sports, two of them, football and swimming, are in the Sun Belt Conference. The remaining 15 are in the Southland Conference.

Carr and Associates analyzed three options: the university can either stay with the dual affiliation, move all sports to the Southland Conference or as they recommend move all sports to the Sunbelt Conference.

ULM President James Cofer also appeared before the UL System Board of Supervisors today. He told the board that the university is exploring all options presented in the Carr report. Cofer said, "Through the hard work of many of our faculty, students and staff we addressed numerous problems on campus during the first two years of this administration. For example, when we first arrived on campus, we inherited a $4 million deficit in the auxiliary budget, including athletics. At the end of this fiscal year just two years after starting to address the problem, there will be a surplus in these accounts. We accomplished this result by better management of the activities and privatizing housing, food service and bookstore operations. In addition, we are working on a strategic plan for the university and we feel that now it's time to turn our attention to athletics. We will be exploring all the options available to us for conference affiliation with help from the community and our athletic boosters."

In comparison to other regional collegiate football programs, ULM brings in and spends significantly less on staff and resources. ULM also spends less on average when compared to both the Southland and Sun Belt Conferences.

The Carr report acknowledged that at least $1 million in additional funds would have to come into the athletic program in order for it to succeed in any conference. Cofer added that these funds would have to be externally derived.

"No additional funds will go into the athletic budget from the general budget over and above what the Regents allow," said Cofer. "Funding is a critical issue. More funds have to be generated through community support and ULM athletic boosters. We need to know if the public wants a football team here and the only way to do that is by greater community participation, attendance and monetary support of our program. If we do not see more financial assistance for athletics we will not be able to compete in either conference," said Cofer.

ULM faculty members agree with the president that the university is poised to focus on athletics. ULM Faculty Senate President John Rettenmayer, said, "It seems to me that it is important for us all to build on the enthusiasm and optimism that have been generated in the last two years. My observation is that faculty members are much more upbeat about the university's prospects, and are more positive in their outlook (than at any time in at least 10 years). This turnaround stems from new leadership and the investment of money and, more importantly, faculty, staff, and student time and effort in renovating the campus and invigorating the curriculum. Dr. Cofer's arguments, based on economic evidence and logical reasoning, regarding the importance of the football program to the university and the community are persuasive. University athletics have been badly undercapitalized, a condition in which almost no businesses thrive and which very few businesses survive. I believe the faculty will support a serious effort to operate athletics at a viable level, particularly in light of President Cofer's assurance that doing so will not be at the expense of the university's academic programs."

ULM economics professor, Dr. Robert Eisenstadt, estimates the economic impact of football on Ouachita Parish to be approximately $6.3 million. His estimates also indicate that the absence of football at the University could cost the Parish economy as many as 152 full-time equivalent jobs.

For example, without football there would no longer be a need for a large band, a national championship cheerleading squad, the Warbonnets, or many student managers and trainers. The loss of the Band would mean fewer music students and therefore, a smaller music faculty. That loss would affect participation in several programs from area high schools, theaters and the Monroe Symphony Orchestra, which is composed largely of ULM professors.

Cofer went on to say that the university's job is educating the whole student. "We are not here for a student to get 50 minutes of instruction three times a day. Our job is to develop our students socially, culturally, emotionally, physically, and intellectually. We do that by providing a rich academic experience; vibrant and active student activities; a clean, attractive, and safe living and learning environment; significant leadership opportunities; a full range of intercollegiate athletic experiences; and frequent and meaningful contact with faculty both in and out of the classroom."

ULM supporter and President of Strauss Interests, Tom Nicholson, said he would support the university in whichever decision is made. "There are only hard choices here, and some potentially produce better results. The stakes are high either way. It's harder to choose a path that promotes the whole student and the whole community, than it is to choose an easier path that has a lesser set of outcomes. To me it's clear there is every reason to choose the path that represents the higher standard," said Nicholson.

ULM is searching for a new athletic director to replace Bruce Hanks, who resigned last spring. The new athletic director, who could be hired within a few weeks, will work on a strategic plan for ULM Athletics.

"Upon recommendation of the Carr report, we will be spending the next 9-12 months working on a strategic plan for athletics to get us headed in the right direction. We will look to our new AD to lead that charge. " said Cofer

The preliminary Carr report can be found online at Click on news

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