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Bench Pressed: Athletics excel but resources make it challenging

Updated: Apr 16

Women's soccer huddles up before a playoff game in November. The team practices and competes in Washington Township. | Hanna Swanson

By Emily Carroll, Alyxander LaBranche and Danielle Castillo

Rochester University has a proud history of academic and athletic excellence, but its sports teams are struggling to keep up with other universities in terms of atmosphere and infrastructure. 

Athletic Director Clayton Bissett said, "When it comes to facilities, we are extremely lacking. We have two facilities on campus — a baseball field and the arena — that serve a very small portion of our athletic teams."

He said few schools have on-campus facilities for sports such as golf, bowling and hockey, but RU falls behind in other sports. "Pretty much everyone in our league has on-campus facilities for the other sports, so when it comes to recruiting that can be a hindrance. It can get challenging because it's important to many athletes as to where they are going to play or practice. When we have to recruit against schools in our conference that have very nice facilities, that can be a hindrance to us."

The epicenter of athletics at RU is the Garth Pleasant Arena, which was built in 2017 and is the first big addition to the university’s sports infrastructure. RU is also equipped with an auxiliary gymnasium and the Warrior Center, which houses a weight room on campus.

athletic director with microphone
Athletic Director Clayton Bissett speaks about RU athletics at a press conference on Feb. 20. | Olivia Duffy

Dr. Klint Pleasant, senior vice president and head men's basketball coach, said the lack of facilities for sports is a historical issue that the university has been trying to address over the years. 

"In 1959, the school only had a few buildings and did not have athletic facilities. The first athletic building built was a gym with no windows, and plans to add bleachers were not realized due to budget constraints," Pleasant said. "The university later decided to expand its sports programs to help with enrollment and now has 22 sports programs. The university did not have enough athletic facilities to support these programs, and in 2016, the Warrior Center was created by raising funds and repurposing classrooms."

Quin Rice, golf coach and assistant men's basketball coach, said students may not notice improvements in the Warrior Center if they have only been at RU for a year or two. "The Warrior Center is in much better shape than five years ago — new windows, equipment changes, new signage and upgraded bathrooms. We haven’t done huge renovations, but we are constantly make tweaks and upgrades to the facilities that we have."

Teams represent RU on campus and around town

Warrior Athletics is home to 10 female sports, 10 male sports, and two co-ed sports. Garth Pleasant Arena hosts men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s volleyball competitions and practices. Bill Shinsky Baseball Field is another on-campus athletic facility where the baseball team practices and competes.

Men's and women's wrestling and competitive cheer practice and compete on campus. They utilize the Warrior Center for practices and use the Garth Pleasant Arena for home competitions. In addition, the esports team has an esports arena in the Richardson Center on campus. 

The remaining teams rent facilities around the region for practices and games.

RU teams and where they practice and play home games

Graphic by Alyxander LaBranche

Be a Game Changer

Bissett said the university is working on raising money for a new facility. "It is vital that we get that built and get other sports on campus."

To do that, RU has created a fundraising campaign to build an artificial turf field that will be home to men’s and women’s soccer, baseball, softball and women’s lacrosse. 

The Bill Shinsky Athletic Complex will cost $8 million, and the university is currently raising funds to build this complex. The excitement of hosting games on RU’s own turf, coupled with helping student-athletes have an easier transition from classes to athletic practices and games will be beneficial to the more than 400 student-athletes at RU. 

The complex will include:

  • Artificial turf field 

  • Lighting system to allow evening competition

  • Walkways that increase transportability throughout our expanding campus

  • Spectator seating including soccer grandstand

  • Press box with pro shop

  • Multipurpose building with locker rooms, athletic training room, umpire office and roof decks

  • Guest amenities including concession stand and restrooms

Rendering for the proposed Bill Shinsky Athletic Complex

It comes down to money

To delve deeper into the intricacies of Rochester University athletic funding, it's crucial to examine the broader landscape of the athletic department's operations and strategies. 

Traditionally, basketball has dominated the landscape at RU, receiving a larger budget, better facilities, and more extensive marketing efforts.

Sports, such as basketball, receive more funding due to their popularity and revenue potential from ticket sales, sponsorships and merchandise. Yet, prioritizing basketball leaves less mainstream sports, like wrestling, soccer, cheer, and track and cross country struggling for resources.

While it's understandable that funding often aligns with a sport's popularity or revenue-generating potential, disparities can arise. At RU, Tom Rellinger, executive vice president and chief financial officer, sets each team’s’ athletic budget every school year in collaboration with Bissett and Pleasant. Bissett said the budget often is determined by the cost of running a sport. "Some sports are more expensive. For example, baseball has 50 or so guys on the team, so outfitting that team and getting them to games costs mores than the golf team."

graphic by Alyxander LaBranche

Reassessing funding priorities to ensure fairness and inclusivity by promoting gender equity, supporting underrepresented sports, and increasing visibility for all programs could address any funding disparities.

To read more about where RU Athletic funding goes, click here to read RU's Equity in Athletics Disclosure report, which is submitted annually as is required by the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act.

Bissett said it is important to remember the EADA report also includes money that is fundraised by each sport. "Some sports fundraise a lot of money and others don't raise any money. That is why it may seem that some teams are more 'profitable' than others," he said.

Student-athletes juggle commitments

More than 50% of students at Rochester University compete on sports teams, and since 17 of the sports do not have facilities on campus, these student-athletes are juggling classes, jobs, and commuting to practices and home games because their sports do not have facilities on campus. It can be hard for RU’s more than 400 student-athletes to manage all these responsibilities. 

Many student-athletes commute daily to practice, then to campus for classes, then to work and then to their homes. This map shows where RU teams practice geographically from the main campus in Rochester Hills.

Transportation is an issue students care about. Ivan Stojanovic, a sophomore men’s soccer player, said, "We don't have our practice field or game field on campus, meaning on some days we end up not going to practice. Sometimes we have to get an Uber back to campus which, as international students, is financially unstable." 

The lack of on-campus athletic facilities also can cause financial challenges for athletes. Gadiel Herrera, a sophomore men’s soccer player, said, "It is hard to not have the facilities on campus, which means spending gas money to get to the training sessions and games. Also, it is really time consuming. In my case, I have to travel 30-40 minutes to get where we have practices. I hope we get facilities on campus for the sports ASAP." 

Liliana Tasich, a freshman lacrosse player, said, “The campus facilities could also be improved by creating a designated lacrosse/soccer field. The field we play on currently is not large enough to host our home games for lacrosse and has multiple holes making it easy to roll your ankles at times.”

graphic by Emma Saddler

Commuting to practices adds to student-athlete stress

This juggling of schedules and commitments can add to student stress. Ryan Long, a senior hockey player, said commuting to practice every day and to games is “stressful…, especially with work after practice." 

Ryan Long, a hockey player for RU, said commuting to practice and games is “stressful." |

A sophomore women's soccer player who asked to remain anonymous said she wishes their only coach was more supportive of the team's mental health. “He’s a guy and he doesn’t really understand,” she said. However, she said she and her teammates are close knit. “We can talk to each other about anything. Everybody understands what everyone is going through,” she said. 

Jackson Vlassis, a sophomore men’s varsity bowler studying sports management, said from his experience with mental health, his coach and teammates,“have been nothing but supportive, we all just want the best for each other, and I feel that's what every team should have." 

Having a scrappy mindset

Dr. Gregory Czar talks about the mindset of "scrappiness" for the wrestling team. | Olivia Duffy

Dr. Gregory Czar, an assistant wrestling and mindset coach, encourages his wrestlers to look at the lack of facilities as a reason to be more scrappy.

"We go to some campuses and it is amazing to see their facilities. I don’t believe we need a state-of-the-art facility to create great athletes and a great culture. We don’t have the facilities, but we make it work and that makes us that much better. That has translated into the whole culture of the team. We accept it. We are scrappy."

Having a positive mindset and having support from the RU community can help student-athletes manage their academic, work and athletic lives.

“Something I like about RU and their facilities is the family-like atmosphere in my team and the school overall. They try to include everyone and being a small school everyone gets to know everyone. The ACE [Lab] is a great facility on campus. It creates a great study space for students and socializing with others,” Tasich said.

Support from across campus

Scott Kunert, head baseball coach and assistant athletic director of event management, said baseball players often have to miss classes because they are playing a spring sport in the Michigan winter, but that the community helps them manage their responsibilities. "The ACE Lab is wonderful. When we are recruiting players, we tell them about the resources on campus help our student-athletes. It really helps to be at a small school where professors are understanding about this."

While RU Athletics strives to be successful on the court and playing field, the entire department's No. 1 goal is to "work with athletes so that they go on to be outstanding men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers. If our coaches are doing that, we are happy. If a coach goes to a national championship but they are not doing that, we are going to make a change. That's what we want from the coaches on our coaching staff."

To read more about RU Athletics philosophy, click here.

With reporting by Layla Cypher, Sofia DiNoto, Trent Fagan and Hayley McQuade

Shield Media held a press conference on Feb. 20 with coaches and ADs. | Olivia Duffy



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