FAMU must unify to end athletics woes

FAMU

Finger-pointing, discord and feuding is widespread in some areas of the Rattler Nation.   

Years ago, these feuds would go practically unnoticed before eventually dying out.    With today’s social media networks, even small “family” battles can explode.

That is the case today. Folks are upset. They have every right to be about what’s happening at the university. 

Strategic goal 

Specifically, the Department of Athletics has had its share of issues dating back to 2004.  Until then, former Rattler Head Football Coach Ken Riley was serving as the athletics director. He managed to maintain fiscal balance, leaving his final year with a near-$2 million surplus.

His goal was to purchase two new Prevost buses to help the department save money from the expense of constant charter buses it rents to this day. The Athletics Department spends nearly $150,000 annually on bus travel alone. 

Riley was ousted shortly thereafter in what, today, still strikes dissonance with alumni.  The administration, it appears, was forced by trustees to pursue NCAA Division I-A status at that time. 

That single but critical blunder began a snowball effect from which FAMU Athletics has not recovered. 

Surplus wasted 

The $2 million that Riley left behind was spent recklessly. With neither proper evaluation nor a strategic plan for funding the step up to Division I-A, the department ended up more than $2 million in debt in only one year.  

Just as a snowflake from the top of the Swiss Alps can grow into a dangerous boulder rolling downhill with devastating potential, so did the financial shortcomings of the FAMU Athletics Department build exponentially. 

Without a clear path to recovery, without stability at the positions of athletics director or president, that singular decision to move to 1-A has escalated to the embarrassing black eye that exists today. That boulder still accumulates kinetic energy as athletic directors, presidents, boosters organizations, trustees and other officials continue their 15-year game of musical chairs. 

The recent independent audit report on athletics points to the instability in oversight of both the Athletics Department and the university presidency as major contributors to the incoherence of athletics.

If a university president thinks an athletics director can find the cure, he or she is misguided.  If alumni think the president can cure this issue, they are misguided. If the athletics director thinks the trustees can cure it, then the director has no clue. 

Roadmap is necessary

There really is only one solution: An overall collaboration of athletics policy to include funding, operations, fundraising, oversight and communications. This can’t be done with a focus group, a consultant or an advisor.  

The president and his cabinet, the director of athletics and his staff, the Rattler Boosters, the FAMU National Alumni Association, the FAMU Foundation and the FAMU Board of Trustees need at least a three-day retreat to begin the development of a plan to chart a direction for a successful athletics department. 

Right after the retreat, they need to dedicate a 90-day window to make the roadmap for success attainable; ensure that it can be monitored; and make sure it is sustainable. 

If knee-jerk reactions continue to be the only way policies are developed, the failures of athletics will continue.  The carousel of athletics directors will continue, and so will the rotation of university presidents. Instability of the two positions has not been mutually exclusive.

Historic and systemic problem 

In recent history, FAMU presidents have sunk athletics directors; athletic directors have sunk presidencies.  Without a dedicated effort to solidify the department that is one of the most visible departments at most colleges and universities, we will continue to have discord, blunders and outright failures. 

The tension between alumni and other stakeholders is all about frustration.  While the FAMU National Alumni Association has clearly gone above and beyond to try to mediate the issues, it has now become the target of the frustrations. It won’t end there, and that is the danger of the irreparable damage that is occurring. 

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University was founded in 1887.  She has been through trials and tribulations, and its storied leaders have resorted to unconventional techniques to navigate the institution’s future. 

Today’s dysfunction in athletics must be addressed accordingly, or the story of FAMU Athletics will be irreparably damaged.


Vaughn Wilson is the former sports information director at FAMU.

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