With the financial challenges faced by the university and its students, why do you support Division 1 athletics?
Our NCAA Division 1 program consists of 360 student-athletes on 19 teams, head and assistant coaches, as well as athletic trainers, academic support, sports performance, event management, facilities and compliance staff. This does, indeed, represent a significant use of university funds, student fees and donor investment.
Let’s begin with the student-athlete experience. Our athletes are also excellent students. Well over 50 percent earn a GPA of at least 3.0. While 68 percent of our students in the general population graduate in about five years, that number goes up to 86 percent for student-athletes on athletic aid.
Student-athletes excel at serving the public good. They posted almost 1,600 hours of community service in our region last year, and 13 student-athletes went to an impoverished area in Panama to build sports courts for youngsters. They embody the ideal that for “people who have been given much, much is expected in return.” With a 76 percent service participation rate, our athletic programs meet that mark as well. Cultivating leaders and champions for life is at the heart of our athletics department mission.
In addition to our student-athletes, almost 350 other paid, interning and volunteer students work for athletics as tutors, mentors, media specialists, team managers, athletics trainers, musicians, dancers, spirit team members, as well as in marketing and event management. The internships relate directly to our academic departments and offer students on-the-job experience in business, sport management, sport medicine, kinesiology, film, communication, journalism and graphic design.
The university has won five NCAA Division 1 championships and 14 National Championships, including the 2018 Men’s Volleyball National Championship. We’ve reached the NCAA Quarterfinals in Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Men’s and Women’s Volleyball, Women’s Soccer, Baseball, and Softball.
Former players have become active professional athletes in the top USA leagues in Baseball (MLB), Men’s Basketball (NBA), Women’s Basketball (WNBA), Women’s Soccer (NWSL), Men’s Golf (PGA), Women’s Golf (LPGA) and Men’s and Women’s Beach Volleyball (AVP), with many more playing abroad. Eight of the last nine years, Long Beach State has had more former baseball players competing in MLB than any other university.
And, Long Beach State has had at least one representative at the Summer Olympics since the department’s founding. Beach 49er Olympians (143) have won 56 total medals, including 18 gold medals.
Athletics adds to the local economy by hiring over 100 event staff every year and, of course, supports manufacturing and retail staff, on and off campus, who are involved in making and selling our famous 49er, Beach, LB and Dirtbags concessions, beverages, and merchandise.
A university’s athletic program is its “front porch.” How crowded is ours? More than 152,000 people attended our games in 2017-18, including 13,467 students. Students have free admittance with university ID cards. Athletics is part of the pride and nostalgia that holds alumni together and keeps them in touch with their alma mater.
And, finally, attendees not only enjoy great athletic performances, they see Beach values on display — persistence, grit, fairness, generosity, expertise, passion, inclusivity, civility and some appropriate light-heartedness.
My leadership philosophy is to find areas of strength, integrity and accomplishment across campus and then invest in excellence. Our student-athletes offer a connecting hub for current and former students, faculty, staff and community members. Their frequent appearances in the national media have lifted Long Beach State’s profile across the country.
In my view, the returns on university investment have been positive and are getting better every year.
Dr. Jane Close Conoley is president of Long Beach State University.