Athletic board kicks around fundraising, sports facilities

By Chris Nelson

Members of NIU’s athletic board met this Thursday to confer on the future of Huskie athletics.

The board, which is comprised of NIU faculty and students, is tasked with overseeing the effective administration of the university’s sports programs.

First on the meeting’s agenda was discussing fundraising efforts to offset the $500,000 the athletic department lost when the appropriated fund budget was reduced. Much of the money from this allocation was used to fund athletic scholarships.

In an effort to raise money, the athletic department sponsored an auction Oct. 1 at the Kishwaukee Country Club in DeKalb. The 140 people who showed up at the event dropped an estimated $18,000 to help Huskie sports recuperate some losses.

The next planned auction is tonight at the Oak Brook Country Club. A variety of items, from an autographed Michael Jordan jersey to several trips, will be sold to help the NIU cause.

Later in the meeting, members of the Gender Equity Committee (GEC) stated that their analysis of the Huskie athletic program is being finalized and will be ready for presentation to the board in December. The GEC is responsible for determining whether NIU offers a fair distribution of both men’s and women’s sports teams as outlined by the NCAA.

Much discussion was given to the proposal to finalize the future schedules of several sports teams. Topics ranged from games being scheduled during exam week to the apparent fallibility of long-range football contracts.

The football schedules proposed at the meeting had games scheduled up to the year 2001. Members of the board questioned how much weight these contracts have in light of the ease with which schools can bug out of them.

Gerald O’Dell, NIU athletic director, said the tentativeness of the schedules is a risk all schools have to take. He went on to say that committing to such contracts is necessary when scheduling for college football, due to the economic factors at stake.

“It’s no secret that the athletic department is under tremendous pressure to create revenue,” O’Dell said. In an effort to secure the kinds of teams necessary to create the needed profits, the long range terms must be established.

Also at the meeting, Associate Athletic Director Jim Schaus described the progress of the “Northern Advantage” project he is working on. Northern Advantage is a five- to six-year program intended to modernize NIU athletics’ facilities.

A spectator at the meeting asked Schaus to comment on the rumor that Huskie Stadium is to be expanded from its current 35,000 seat capacity to “60,000 seats.”

Giving the spectator a confused look that seemed to ask, “What are you talking about?” Schaus and other members of the board answered with an emphatic “no.”

Schaus said renovation, not expansion, is planned for the 30-year-old facility. Schaus conceded the stadium does need to be brought up to code in a number of areas.

When asked whether the home bleachers on the west side of the structure will be made accessible to persons using wheelchairs, Schaus said yes, so long as the changes meet with other established building codes.

Schaus also mentioned plans to upgrade seating for those wishing to watch NIU football in style. In addition to the existing skybox seats, chairback and benchback seats will soon be installed. The cost per game? Five hundred dollars for the skybox, $90 for the chairback and $60 for the benchback. Schaus emphasized that there only will be improvements made to the structure, with no plans for additional seating.

Near the end of the meeting, O’Dell was asked to address NIU’s plans in regard to its conference affiliations.

Earlier this fall, NIU courted Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) officials who were in the process of reviewing prospective schools to join their alliance.

NIU has not given up, however. Now NIU is thinking of seeking out another new conference. With the exception of football, which is a member of the Big West, university teams are members of the Mid-Continent Conference.

O’Dell was quick to iterate, however, that no decision will be made hastily.

“We’re not just going to jump and just go do something,” he said.