In the Face of Cuts, Athlete Safety and Education of Utmost Importance

Ryan Thomas

Charlie Titus, UMass Boston’s Vice Chancellor of Athletics, will not let cuts to the athletic budget effect the safety of the student athletes or the primary mission of UMass Boston: education.

Titus has been in talks with Chancellor J. Keith Motley and the leadership group within the athletic division of the school regarding how much of a cutback the athletic department will endure, but no numbers have been set in stone yet. One thing is for certain. Titus will not sacrifice jobs or the safety of the student-athletes, and he will never forget that UMass Boston is an educational institution first. Athletics only supports that mission.

“We are going to protect the quality of the education at this institution,” Titus said. “Then we’ll take a look at those things that are supportive to that mission. Athletics is supportive to that mission. Critically supportive, buts it’s supportive. It’s not the primary.

“We’ll be on that same page with the Chancellor and the other administrators here to protect the quality of the education at this institution, making sure that we’re not doing anything to hurt our goal.”

Major cuts and full-fledged disembowelment of certain facets of the athletic department are not in the plans. Rather, a series of nips and tucks seem to be in the works. Titus said that they are looking for “efficiencies within the current operations.” That translates into taking vans in some cases instead of buses, or having one set of uniforms instead of two. It may also involve the cutting back of copying and printing and other supplies within the department, as well as subscriptions to useful recruiting publications, among other things.

Titus stressed that the athletic department hasn’t been “living extravagantly” for a while (“I think our athletes would tell you that,” he added) and said “we’ve been pretty tight, but we can tighten up a little bit more and that’s what we’re looking to do.”

Another area that will almost certainly see cut backs is facilities, such as the Beacon Fitness Center. Not so much the facilities themselves, but their hours of operation. “Instead of opening the Beacon Fitness Center at 6 a.m., we may have to take a look at the time. Instead of staying open in the evening until nine, ten o’clock, we may have to cut that back. Those are things we’ll look at,” Titus said.

UMass Boston is not an athletic institution first; education is the primary goal and Titus knows the value of that. At his alma mater, St. Michael’s College, Titus’s professors would be some of the loudest, most raucous fans at his basketball games, but once the court turned back into the classroom, it was back to business. Titus does not – under any circumstances – want to put athletics above what he calls “the right thing” – learning.

“The fact that we have an academic coordinator on our staff full time [Mary Beth Maneen], the fact that we’ve invested in support services, that we have two graduate assistants – not cheap. But all of that is to support the primary mission of the institution; education. We want our student athletes to do well. That’s what we’ve invested [in].

“I haven’t talked about cutting the grad assistants. That will be the last place I look to cut because I do believe in our primary machine – education – and we’ve got to protect that.”

Of the utmost importance along with education, to Titus, is the safety of the student-athletes he interacts with on a daily basis. He just won’t put the athletes at UMass Boston in “unsafe situations and circumstances” due to budget cuts. “When you talk about cutting, you have to say ‘will it have any impact on safety?’ We have to look at liability issues. We have to be sure that we don’t do anything…that puts our colleagues and competitors in a negative position.”

The department’s request for a new Zamboni for the ice rink is an example, and a double-edged sword. The school’s current one is in less-than-suitable condition and can lead to a deteriorated condition of ice that is potentially harmful to those who use it. The lack of a suitable Zamboni also inhibits the rental of the ice, therefore decreasing revenue. As Titus said bluntly, “if you don’t have ice, you can’t rent it.” A new Zamboni has been ordered.

But with Titus, it comes back to the safety of the students and making sure that funds aren’t taken away that lead to a deterioration of student-athlete safety. Auditors do routine checks on all facilities within the athletic department and if certain areas of the budget are cut, the safety of the athletes could be in jeopardy.

“If the fields aren’t in good shape, people get hurt. If we’re not making sure that the baskets [on the basketball court] are all in good order, people could get hurt,” he said.

“You can’t cut those kinds of funds out.

“The other part is that you’ve got to make sure you have enough staff on the safety side, in terms of the trainers and the equipment that they have to have and use to take care of the student athletes to prevent injuries.

“I’m concerned with how people travel. I don’t want our teams going on extended trips – I won’t allow extended trips in those 15-passenger vans. Only in the city. I’m not going to be foolish and say ‘ok, we’re gonna save $2,000 ’cause we’re not gonna send them on this particular trip on a bus.’ No, no.

“Those lives are worth much more than $2,000.”

Ryan Thomas can be reached at [email protected]