CSUN athletics program gets review from special commission

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A special university commission will look to develop a new five-year strategic plan for CSUN athletics and tackle some of the financial, competitive, and academic implications of a program that some officials say could benefit from more student involvement.

CSUN President Jolene Koester established the Blue Ribbon Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in early September to develop a set of recommendations that are “positive, achievable, and are directed toward building a fiscally sound, academically strong, and competitive” athletics program, according to a statement from officials.

Members of the commission include university officials, a student representative, faculty members and former NCAA officials, among others. They will focus on the competitiveness of the program, finance and accountability, academic performance of athletes, athletic facilities, marketing and fundraising, and compliance.

Overall, the commission was formed to come up with ideas and solutions to produce a successful athletics program, according to Mo Qayoumi, vice president for Administration and Finance at CSUN and chair of the commission.

The commission has met three times so far since its formation and will officially meet as a body three more times before December. A draft report of the group’s recommendations for the athletics program are due to Koester by mid-December, and a final report will be turned in by early spring, Qayoumi said.

One of the commission’s goals are to enhance academic performance among student athletes, Qayoumi said. Commission members are looking into ways to improve the graduation rates of student athletes, he said.

“We want the athlete to have a good experience, but also make sure they can learn and graduate,” Qayoumi said.

The commission will continue to discuss how money will be spent in the future and what it should be spent on, Qayoumi said. The commission will also look into fundraising for athletics as a way to bring more money in and improve business practices.

Some of the money that is raised will be used to renovate athletic facilities at CSUN, said William Watkins, associate vice president for student life in Student Affairs.

An investment in the upgrading of facilities is a way of getting potential CSUN student athletes interested in attending the university, said Watkins, who is part of a commission sub-committee in charge of looking into athletic facilities. The sub-committee will hold an open forum Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and anyone from the campus community is able to provide feedback or suggestions on CSUN’s athletic facilities.

“We want to think about (certain things) when recruiting an athlete,” Watkins said. “When they come here, they want to meet the coach, see the academic programs, see where they’ll be playing and training. Facilities are significant in an athlete’s choice (to attend school somewhere).”

Upgrading facilities not only may improve an athlete’s interest in the school, but it is also a factor in fan support, Watkins said.

To that effect, the commission will also discuss how to get the CSUN campus community and the surrounding San Fernando Valley community involved, Qayoumi said.

The commission is looking to get more people to attend games and more people involved with sports from the university and from the communities outside CSUN.

The commission wants to find a way of getting news out about big games, Qayoumi said, such as the men’s soccer match two weeks ago against nationally-ranked UCLA.

Spreading the word to the community about games is something the university currently lacks, said Byron Chambers, senior sociology major.

“You go to (Redwood Hall) and you’ll see sports calendars,” Chambers said. “Go anywhere else and you won’t see anything.”

The inability to sell out games is because CSUN teams do not win often enough, said Chambers, who used to attend CSUN basketball games. Another reason students may not attend is because the university is a commuter school, he said.

“Most people aren’t within 10 miles of campus,” Chambers said. “They don’t go, ‘Hey, let’s go to the game tonight’ because one lives in Glendale, another in Palmdale and the other in Granada Hills.”

These are the kinds of problems that the commission hopes to resolve, Qayoumi said.

“We want to be more connected with the community, and we want more people to come to the games,” said Qayoumi.

Though attendance has been steady over the years, Qayoumi said he wants to see more students wearing CSUN sweatshirts around campus and more overall support for Matador athletics.

“We want to see (a) sense of pride and school spirit here,” Qayoumi said.

Associated Students President Chad Charton, student representative on the commission, said his role on the commission was to provide the non-student athlete student perspective, as there is also a student athlete on the commission, Travis Bluemling, who will specifically focus on issues facing those individuals.

Oscar Areliz can be reached at oscar.areliz@csun.edu.