Athletics' Strategic Planning

January 31, 2008
In play: Women's field hockey is among twenty-six varsity sports included in the plan

In play: Women's field hockey is among twenty-six varsity sports included in the plan. Jon Gardiner

Having reconsidered its oversight structure and mission statement in the wake of the lacrosse case, Duke athletics has begun a new strategic planning process. The process is aimed at recognizing the role that the Duke athletics department plays in the educational experience and confronting the challenges raised in combining athletics and academics. One in ten Duke undergraduates participates in varsity sports, and thousands of students are involved in intramural and club sports.

"The goal is to foster a better understanding of how athletics works among faculty members, the president, and the board of trustees; more involvement by faculty members in athletics; and a better vision for the place and purpose of athletics at Duke," said Michael Gillespie, a professor of political science and chair of Duke's Athletic Council, at the November meeting of the Academic Council.

The strategic planning process will focus on questions such as how Duke can better bridge the gap between athletics and academics, whether the university should continue to fund twenty-six varsity sports, and the benefits and costs of greater investment in athletics.

Gillespie discussed scholarship issues as well as the annual subsidy that the athletics department receives from the university. Duke's annual subsidy for athletics is around $7.5 million, he said, far less than any other school in the ACC and considerably less than many Ivy League schools.

"The elephant in the room," Gillespie said, is football, which takes up a large chunk of the athletics budget but has failed to produce a competitive team for some time. Most top high-school football players fall below Duke's minimum admission standard and cannot be admitted, Gillespie said, and that's not going to change. But improvements in facilities, different scheduling, and other changes might attract more of those student-athletes who are qualified.

This year, Duke football has undertaken its own strategic planning process, and has sent research teams to examine various other schools that have faced similar challenges and performed well in the past.