12 Essential Questions For. . . DICK REGAN
12 ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS FOR . . . DICK REGAN
Presented by Bill Cambria ‘69
It was three years ago when I did my first “12 Essential Questions” interview with Dick Regan, and I thought it was time to do it again. I understand that criticism of those who hold leadership positions is an important part of a message board, and I have posted some critical comments from time to time. However, I have had the feeling that lately the criticisms have been, in some cases, unrealistic and unfair, and part of my reason for doing this interview has been to give Dick Regan a chance to respond to some of the criticisms that have been posted on the Crossports message board.
As I expected, Dick was willing to cooperate and even a little anxious to respond to my questions. I tried to frame questions that would address some of the frequent comments that have been posted, while recognizing that in answering questions in a public forum, Dick has to consider various factors in framing his responses. I would like to thank him for taking the time to give us his perspective on these issues.
I think the answers make evident that Dick is well aware of criticisms that have been put forth, but also that there are a variety of plans in different stages of development that address almost all of them. I found the answers both interesting and informative, and I hope you will too. I also look for a healthy, reasoned exchange of views about these responses on the Crossports board in the coming weeks as we look forward to another year of enjoying Holy Cross student-athletes representing our school.
1. You have been Holy Cross Athletic Director for seven years now. How would you describe the current status of Holy Cross athletics and how have things changed since you arrived?
I had arrived in 1998 less than two years after a Trustees’ study on the state of athletics. You may have heard reports of it at the time, but that was the point in time when Holy Cross decided to bring back basketball scholarships, effectively making basketball our top priority. I think that has gone pretty well. Out of the past five years, I would say that both the men’s and women’s programs have had four very good seasons.
One of the other major conclusions from that Trustees’ study was that one of our top priorities should be increasing the number of full-time coaches. Since then, we have elevated part-time coaches to full-time status in ten sports – six of which were men’s and women’s cross country, indoor and outdoor track. The other four sports were baseball, softball, volleyball and women’s lacrosse. Men’s lacrosse had been elevated to full-time status just about a year before I arrived. At this point, we have full-time coaches in all the sports we intend to with the exception of crew where we have a very unique situation.
However, the bar is being continually raised. Now that we almost reached the point we intended to with full-time coaches, there is the current pressure to add full-time assistant coaches. Like everyone else, we’ve always had them in football, but since 1998 we’ve added another full-time assistant in men’s basketball, two in women’s basketball, one in field hockey and one in men’s ice hockey. We’re scheduled to add a full-time assistant in women’s ice hockey next year and most likely men’s lacrosse as well. Shortly thereafter, we need to consider women’s lacrosse and then soccer. The arms race never seems to end. Every time we get together as Patriot League Athletic Directors, we all commiserate with each other and complain about the “arms race.” We are all good academic schools and our schools have a lot of other priorities as well so it is a challenge. Every sport seems to need more money.
2. Holy Cross faces the special challenge of competing in 27 sports and having about one-quarter of its student body participating in varsity athletics. Why does Holy Cross compete in so many sports?
27 sports is a very large number for a school of our size. While such statistics are not kept, if you were to determine the ratio of varsity sports to students, I’d be willing to bet we would be in the top ten or fifteen in America out of almost 330 Division I schools. Lafayette would be barely ahead of us and Davidson would be as well. Otherwise, I can’t think of many that would. While many of the Ivy League schools have more sports, they also have much larger student bodies. Perhaps we would even be in the top five.
Like most good academic schools in the Northeast, there has been a broad participation in sports at Holy Cross. We have always had a strong tradition in a lot of sports, primarily what they used to call the mainstream sports such as football, basketball, baseball and, at various times, track as well. We haven’t added a male sport since the 60’s. In 1965, Holy Cross added soccer and crew, and then added ice hockey in 1966. Since women were admitted in 1972, we’ve added fourteen women’s sports. So going from fourteen male sports (we used to have wrestling in the 70’s but that was dropped) to twenty-seven total sports is understandable when you consider the growth of women’s sports. If you were starting with a clean slate today, you would never want twenty-seven sports. It’s simply too many for us to do well. However, like most schools, we are reluctant to drop something unless we feel we have no choice.
3. Are there different challenges involved in achieving success in women’s sports, and if so, how is Holy Cross meeting them?
I’m not certain there are different challenges for women’s sports than for men’s sports. I would say this: in certain sports the competitive pressure is noticeably higher for the men’s sports. By that I mean the pressure to increase resources based on what your competition is doing. Lacrosse is one such example. I can’t really explain it, that’s just the way it is at the moment. What’s interesting is that if you look back over the past several years, we’ve generally fared a bit better in women’s sports than we have in men’s sports, although the difference is not significant.
4. What do you foresee on the horizon regarding possible conference realignments and how will that affect Holy Cross and the Patriot League?
We talk about this a lot in intercollegiate athletics. I think it’s going to be relatively quiet for the next few years. I don’t think we’re going to see anything like you saw in 2004 for quite some time. You may see a school move here or there but certainly in the eastern part of the country, I think things are going to be pretty stable for a few years. There are constantly rumors that the Big East will further subdivide, but that’s just talk and I don’t see anything happening there in the next few years.
The Patriot League would like to grow. We would like to see ten teams in the League and, from our perspective; we absolutely want to see more colleges that are closer to Holy Cross. There have been some discussions but it’s hard to tell if they will lead anywhere. If we could get to ten teams, we could divisionalize and minimize some of our travel. In many ways, the Patriot League is a great place for us to be but geographically, it’s very difficult for us. While most schools have some short trips, we don’t have any trips within the League that we would consider a “short trip.” For that reason, we were very disappointed in the League’s decision to move away from the “travel partners” scheduling – that allowed us to combine some long trips.
5. Why was Holy Cross unable to gain admission to the ECAC for hockey, and is there still the possibility of a future invitation?
First of all, understand that there is no absolute answer to this. There were eleven schools making this decision and each one could have had something different that affected its decision. You have no idea how much time we have spent kicking this around over the past year. Many reasons were cited but I think there are a few things in particular that made a difference. I have spoken to many within the ECAC and I think it’s pretty clear.
First of all, Quinnipiac had already committed to a brand new, state-of-the-art facility. Understand, though, where they were coming from – they didn’t have a rink or a good basketball facility. The timing of Vermont’s departure was fortuitous for them. I think a lot of people in the ECAC saw the new facility as very exciting. As I’ll discuss further below, our facility is decent but it is below standard in comparison to most of the ECAC facilities. We know that we need to do something about the Hart Center and we told them that it was likely that we would but, unlike Quinnipiac, we did not have a definite plan that we could point to. I had negotiated an agreement with the Centrum (excuse me, the “DCU Center”) to play a majority of our games there. We had hoped that would be considered as a major plus as it would be the best facility in the ECAC. However, being a secondary tenant in a building that we could not control and the prospect of not being able to play all of our games there was discouraging to some members of the ECAC.
I think a second major factor was the scholarship situation. We felt it was ironic since seven of the eleven schools are non-scholarship but I think that at least two schools, which I won’t name, were very upset about the fact that we were not prepared to add 18 scholarships for men and 18 scholarships for women. Further, I believe that they resented the fact that we had basketball scholarships but weren’t prepared to commit to hockey scholarships. We told them that scholarships are something we’d be willing to consider in the future but, once again, we clearly weren’t in a position to commit to them at that time. I honestly think those were the two biggest factors. By the way, the estimated incremental annual cost to Holy Cross of 36 ice hockey scholarships would be approximately $800,000.
The alleged weakness of our women’s program was cited by as a factor by various (unreliable) rumor mills, but I honestly believe that was somewhat of a red herring. It would have been helpful had our women’s program been a little further along in its development, but I honestly don’t believe that was a major factor. I really think it came down to the rink and the scholarships.
Do I think there could be a future invitation? Possibly. When the ECAC decided to expand by one, they had given consideration to expanding by two or three so I wouldn’t rule it out. From the perspective of resources required, the jump from where we were in 2004 to where we needed to be to compete in the ECAC was huge. Our focus now is to try to continue to elevate both programs so that should an opportunity present itself in the future, the leap won’t be nearly as steep as it was in 2004. Frankly, in our defense, we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for that. Vermont made a decision to leave in January and the decision was essentially made by the ECAC in June.
6. Although the new soccer stadium is under construction and the new baseball stands have gotten rave reviews, there seems to be much discussion that Holy Cross still needs to improve its athletic facilities. Do you agree, and are there any plans for improvements to the Hart Center?
I think that our outside facilities are going to be very good once these new stadiums come online. There are some minor improvements that could be made to outside facilities but generally with the turf field, the new soccer stadium, the football stadium, baseball stadium and with some further planned improvements for the softball field; I really believe our outside facilities are in very good shape. However, our inside facilities, are an entirely different matter. The Fieldhouse is now almost sixty years old and that’s not counting its previous life as a World War II airplane hanger. The Hart Center is thirty years old this coming fall and it needs some work. The pool is fine and it’s nice to have a rowing tank, which few schools have, but our primary facilities there – the gymnasium and hockey rink –are in serious need of upgrading. We will be doing a feasibility study this fall to try to get a sense of the best direction for our indoor facilities. At this point, I couldn’t give you a timetable for when that will happen but suffice to say we recognize there’s a serious need there and something needs to be done.
You will see some cosmetic changes in the next year or two. This summer, the main corridor of the Hart Center will be re-carpeted and one side of it will be painted. The reason that the other side won’t be painted is that at the end of this next year, we are looking to install new scoreboards throughout the entire campus. That will affect some of the signage and renovations to the side of the Hart Center where the concession stands are. You will also see some NCAA and NIT appearance banners in the Hart Center this year and the thing I would like to do most of all is replace the bleaches on both sides of the court with seats. If anyone out there has a spare half million dollars, please let me know.
7. Speaking of the soccer stadium, can you tell us some of the thinking behind the grass field and why this will delay the project.
The soccer stadium project is something that we’ve been looking at for several years. We had to make a decision whether we were going to go with artificial turf with some of the new infill systems like FieldTurf or whether we would go with natural grass. There are pros and cons of both, but both of our coaches felt that grass was the best answer.
Initially our plan was to use sod for the field. However, our engineers surveyed a lot of different projects and came to the conclusion that, long-term, we’d be much better off if we seeded it rather than laid sod. What is unique is that this is sand-based field which provides for excellent drainage. One of the problems we’ve had at Holy Cross is that drainage has been very poor and when grass fields get wet, they get destroyed very easily. The thing that clinched the decision for us is when we went down to Foxboro to look at the Patriots’ facilities. The Patriots have a practice field and a field in the stadium, both of which are grass. However, the stadium was laid with sod whereas the practice field was seeded. The practice field actually gets a lot more use than the stadium field does but, despite that, the practice field is in much better condition. The Patriots have had to replace the sod in the stadium several times now and it was their strong advice that we would be far better off long-term on a sand-based field to seed rather than sod. Our coaches felt strongly that it was worth the wait to do it right so we’ll have a very nice looking stadium in a few weeks but the grass won’t be ready until next year. It takes that long for the grass to develop strong enough roots to withstand play. The people I really feel badly for are this year’s seniors.
8. Why has Holy Cross done so poorly in the Patriot League’s President’s Cup standings every year, and is there any reason to believe this situation will improve in the next few years?
This would take a long time to respond to fully and I don’t think we have enough time to cover everything but let me make a few points. First, whilst we’re not satisfied with our performance in the Presidents’ Cup, winning the Presidents’ Cup is not a high priority at Holy Cross. I would like to do generally better in several of our sports and, if we do that, our performance will improve but winning the Cup itself is not something we think about much here.
As a practical matter, there are ten sports in which we do not score at the Patriot League. Men’s & Women’s Track count as six of those sports and swimming and tennis would be the other four. Tennis has actually been out of the League for the past few years so we get zero points for that. (Tennis will be coming back in with a new League structure for tennis.) As I noted earlier, Holy Cross made a decision to emphasize basketball and that has worked out very well. However, basketball happens to be very expensive sport to emphasize. You could emphasize two or three other sports with the resources it takes to make basketball your top priority. So, had we decided to have a middle of the pack basketball program, there could have been two or three other sports that we could have been one of the top teams in the League and we would score higher in the Presidents’ Cup. Whilst we want to improve in a lot of our sports, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice what we’ve achieved in basketball. Three of the sports that we haven’t done nearly as well as we wanted to are football, women’s soccer and men’s lacrosse, but I honestly believe that all three are improving and I am optimistic about doing better in these sports.
9. Many think that Holy Cross has the opportunity to excel in men’s and women’s soccer and lacrosse. How do you see this?
I would agree that these are two sports where we can excel. Let’s take lacrosse for example. In our part of the country, it may be the fastest growing sport. The Patriot League is very focused on lacrosse for obvious reasons. We had three men’s teams in the League ranked in the top 25 last year. Further, many of the schools which are strong in lacrosse are very good academic schools. So, given our geography and our academic standards, it really makes sense for us to try to elevate this sport. When I first got here, this sport was seriously under-funded. We’re still not where we want to be but this sport in particular has come a long way in the last five years from a resource perspective. It was good to see the women’s team finish second in the League and go to the Championship game last year.
Regarding soccer, anyone who knows me knows how I feel about soccer. It is the most popular sport in the world by a very wide margin. We’ve done reasonably well in this sport at times over the last six or seven years. One notable thing about both of these sports is that they are sports where it’s not hard to find some good athletes who are also very good students. Right now, I’m excited about some of the things that are happening in both of these sports. The stadium is going to be a huge lift for both of our soccer programs and we’ve had a real step up of support in the lacrosse program just in the past six months.
10. Publicity and marketing for Holy Cross sports seems to be a constant challenge, but the new web page and more internet broadcasts are positive steps. Will there be anything new in these areas coming up?
Let me first say that I am very thankful for the support of the College’s new Public Affairs Director, Ellen Ryder. We wanted to move our web hosing to College sports online for a few years now, and with her support we were able to get it done. Our previous software was cumbersome, impossible to update from the road and prone to errors. Our people caught a lot of heat for matters that were often times out of their control.
We’re kicking around some different ideas right now, along with the League. One of the things being discussed is online video. There are a number of complexities however, and, as usual, additional financial resources are required. We would also like to extend some of the internet broadcasts to other sports. The new press box for the soccer stadium, which will also cover the turf field, is wired for internet and that will give us some opportunities.
11. How would you describe the current relationship between Holy Cross coaches and the Admissions Office regarding acceptance of prospective student-athletes?
First of all, it needs to be understood that at virtually any institution in the country, there is a natural tension between athletics and admissions because they have different objectives. That’s only normal. In that respect, I believe the relationship at Holy Cross is very similar to what it is at most schools. However, we are different in some regards. Holy Cross has always been far more focused on high school performance than we have on test scores. Obviously, we’ve made that point now by no longer requiring SAT’s, although the majority of students will still submit them. We are different in that respect from most other schools out there. The result is you have to look much harder at a prospective student to evaluate them. Obviously, test scores are very easy to evaluate. I think it takes some time for coaches to get used to this. Tom Gilmore’s done a very good job. Tom’s one of the brightest coaches you will ever meet and he was able to figure it out. He believes the system can work but he does feel that he has to look harder at a lot more prospects because you can’t just glance at a transcript and test scores. I know that after having gone through it for a year now, both Coach Adam Pascal and Coach Deb Flaherty feel much more optimistic about the type of year they are going to have recruiting this year than they had a year ago. Part of that is learning the process.
12. Will there be more sport-specific fundraising along the lines of the Crusader Gridiron Club, and what are your thoughts on the positive and negative aspects of these efforts?
Yes, I think that we will. We are studying some alternatives now for consideration for next year. We will be presenting some proposals to our Trustees this fall. For the past several years we have been conducting targeted fundraising for what is referred to in the fundraising business as “capital gifts.” The Gridiron Club is our first foray into an annual fundraising effort with a much broader solicitation.
The major concern is the migration of gifts from the general fund to athletics restricted funds. The hope is that donors will continue to support the general fund and that gifts restricted to athletics will be additional or incremental gifts from the donor. The Annual Fund is an essential element in supporting the College’s overall operation so we need to find a way to bring in more money for athletics on one hand without hurting the college on the other. We will figure out a way to do it that works at Holy Cross. Virtually every other Patriot League and Ivy League school has some form of annual fund for athletics and this has given them a competitive advantage that we would like to eliminate.
End of Interview
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