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Unifying Athletics Programs ? Press Conference

BY ANDRES FOCIL
Unifying Athletics Programs ? Press Conference

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. The University of Arkansas will merge its men’s and women’s athletics programs into a single administrative unit, effective Jan. 1, 2008. The following is a partial transcript of the comments by Chancellor John A. White, Director of Women’s Athletics Bev Lewis and incoming Director of Men’s Athletics Jeff Long.

Chancellor Dr. John A White:

“Thank you for attending this press conference regarding the future of the University of Arkansas’ athletic programs. After careful consideration and much consultation with senior university officials, President B. Alan Sugg, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Stanley Reed, incoming Men’s Athletics Director Jeff Long, Women’s Athletics Director Bev Lewis and current men’s Athletics Director Frank Broyles, I’m pleased to announcement today the integration and merger of the men’s and women’s athletics departments to be effective Jan. 1, 2008.

“When Coach Broyles informed me that he was going to retire on Dec. 31, I stepped back and looked at our overall athletic programs and I asked ‘if we were starting from scratch, what changes should we make to the program?’ In fact, throughout the search process as I talked with individuals from very successful programs nationally, as well as a number of commissioners of major athletics conferences, I asked what we could do to strengthen what are already two strong, but athletics programs.

“I asked the same question that coaches ask of their athletes: how can we take our programs to the next level? Stated another way, what can we do to ensure the total program is stronger than the sum of its parts, one for women and one for men? The answer was that integrating the two programs would provide us with an opportunity to take the best from each and apply to the other. Importantly, today’s announcement should not be viewed as an ending, instead it should be viewed as a beginning. A beginning of a new and exciting future for intercollegiate athletics at the University of Arkansas. It’s not an ending to men’s athletics and women’s athletics.

“Even before my first discussion with Jeff Long, I talked with Bev Lewis about her thoughts on the entire program. Her counsel regarding the merger certainly guided my thinking. Change does not come easily for some, while other embrace it. Certainly the athletics programs at the University of Arkansas have demonstrated that change is an ally. We’ve always been at the forefront of innovation and change with our programs. In fact, at the turn of the 20th century our men’s athletics teams were known as the Cardinals. Today our athletic teams are uniquely the Razorbacks. Thanks to strong leadership over the years, especially during Frank Broyles’ tenure as athletics director, the Razorbacks are known and respected, nationally and internationally.”

“Over 30 years ago in 1972, we established the women’s intercollegiate athletics department. From very modest beginnings and the College of Education, the Lady Razorbacks have become a national force in women’s athletics. As an example, numerous Lady Razorbacks have won gold, silver and bronze medals at the Olympic Games. Since Bev Lewis arrived here over 25 years ago, she has built her department into a model for other athletics departments across the nation, both men’s and women’s. She’s one of the nation’s most respected athletic administrators serving in leadership roles in the Southeastern Conference to NCAA’s pinnacle as a member of its Management Council. Bev has a stellar reputation for academic excellence producing both of the university’s SEC Boyd McWhorter scholar-athletes. Under her leadership, 98 percent of Lady Razorbacks who have finished their four years of eligibility have graduated from the University of Arkansas. I’m personally grateful to Bev for this incredible record of achievement and count it a privilege to have worked directly with her for more than a decade. I have learned much from Bev Lewis as have many, many other.

“So, why merge? We believe merging the two departments will allow our student-athletes, men and women, to inspire and learn from each other and benefit from what is best about both programs. We believe the synergistic benefits of merging the departments will make two plus two greater than four. Said another way, we believe bringing two strong programs together will result in an even stronger program overall. We also believe unification will streamline budgeting and optimize administrative processes.

“In fact, I also want to announce additional restructuring to bring the athletics department in line with the overall academic and administrative structure. Effective Jan. 1, 2008, Jeff Long will be vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics and director of athletics and Bev Lewis will associate vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics and the executive associate director of athletics. The vice chancellor of intercollegiate athletics will now be a formal member of the university’s executive committee. Bev Lewis will have increased responsibility over both women’s and men’s programs. Not only does merging the two departments make good business sense, more importantly, we believe it is the best way for us to serve our student-athletes in the 21st century. We will bring together the absolute best of both departments into one unit. A unit that will be stronger, more efficient and better prepared to face the needs and challenges of this new century.

“And my challenge to our new vice chancellor and our new associate vice chancellor is this: make the University of Arkansas’ athletics programs the strongest in the nation. Remember the vision statement of the University of Arkansas. The University of Arkansas is a nationally competitive, student-centered, research university serving Arkansas and the world. Now together, create a nationally competitive, student-centered, athletics program that serves Arkansas and the world.

“In closing, once again I want to thank women’s director Bev Lewis for her phenomenal leadership and for stepping forward and committing to work with Jeff Long in ensuring this change will work best for our student-athletes.”

Bev Lewis, Director for Women’s Athletics

“When I came here in 1981 as the women’s track and field coach, I had three goals: recruit the best young women athletes to the University of Arkansas, teach them the value of getting a college education and coach them to be winners on and off the field. If I could do those three things, I knew we would have a successful program and we did. Nine years later when I became director of women’s athletics, I created some new goals: bring the best coaches to the university, help them to build their programs the right way and provide the teams with all the resources they need to compete. Again, if I could do those things, I felt success would follow for the Lady Razorbacks.

“Being a good athlete, coach or administrator means recognizing and seizing opportunities. Since Jeff Long joined the university, we discussed what we might be able to accomplish by working together with a unified department. It certainly became clear that we had a tremendous opportunity here, but one that we should seize. I have spent almost my entire career devoted to the Lady Razorbacks, looking out for the interest of female student-athletes. My staff and I have taken seriously our responsibilities being advocates for young women for them to have the opportunities to participate in intercollegiate athletics.

“In just over a decade, we have added four women’s teams and all four of these new teams have reached the pinnacle of their sport by participation in their NCAA championship. We have create a program for women at the University of Arkansas in eleven sports that is nationally competitive, nationally respected and provides a quality experience for our female student-athletes. I have enjoyed these accomplishments as well as my work at the highest level of NCAA management. That experience gave me the opportunity to impact every aspect of intercollegiate athletics.

“At Arkansas, we still have work to do and new goals to reach. I look forward to pursuing them in coordination with Jeff and not just in women’s athletics, but across the entire breadth of university athletics, including men’s programs. This provides me with a new challenge and I am very excited about getting involved with the total athletic program. When I think of national champions like Stacy Lewis and Mike Conley, and when I think of great leaders that willed their teams to Final Fours like Kristy Smith and Corliss Williamson, and when I think of the hundreds of other men and women who have benefited from being members of the Razorback family, I am excited about what lies ahead for hundreds of thousands of young people who will join a united family, a family totally committed to having them excel both on the field and off the fields and courts of competition. I am very confident Jeff will provide the leadership we’ll need for the future of our joint endeavor.

“Athletics is a window in which people see the university. Like the university, we serve the people of Arkansas. We also serve the students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university. This decision will benefit everyone. The men’s programs have been very strong. Having a separate women’s program allowed the women’s sports to grow to become their equal. It is now time to take the next step where we take the strengths from both departments and move forward as a united program.

“In conclusion, I would like to thank both chancellors (Dan) Ferritor and White for the opportunity to serve as the women’s athletic director. I also want to take a moment to thank Coach Broyles for his leadership and support over the years. Women’s athletics could not have grown to this level without his support. I look forward to the future working with Jeff to assist in the creation of a model athletics program. One that will benefit all student-athletes and the entire Razorback nation.”

Jeff Long, Incoming Director of Men’s Athletics

“Today, through the leadership of Chancellor White and the Board of Trustees and with the support of Coach Broyles and Bev Lewis, we begin a new chapter for this storied program. I believe intercollegiate athletics is an important part of a vibrant university community and I look forward to working with faculty and staff and university administration in my new role as vice chancellor of intercollegiate athletics. I also believe that academic and athletic success of our student-athletes should serve to inspire the entire university community, its alumni and fans.

“From day one, Coach and Bev have greatly assisted me in my efforts to gain insight into our two programs. I’m honored to be taking over the leadership role for both of these accomplished leaders. They have been valuable resources and I look forward to continuing these relationships, Bev in her new role as vice chancellor and Coach in his new position with the Razorback Foundation.

“Although this transition to one program will officially occur on Jan. 1, 2008, the full transformation of two independent and strong programs to one unified and fortified program will not be accomplished over night. It will occur in the days and weeks ahead and will be accomplished together as we work together to build an even stronger program. I am really excited and eager to begin to work with our coaches and our staff to build a new Razorback athletic program.

“Coach Broyles and Bev Lewis have provided our student-athletes a great gift through their leadership. They have certainly provided an unparalleled collection of facilities. These outstanding facilities combined with strong commitment to grow our resources and the continued dedication of our coaches and athletics department staff, I believe this will be a formula for even greater success for our programs.

“So today as we move forward together into the bright future of Razorback athletics, we do so with one overarching goal: to develop young men and women academically, athletically and socially so that the University of Arkansas continues to be a source of pride for this great state and Razorbacks everywhere.”



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