After hundreds of student athletes and alumni petitioned the president to evaluate the athletic director, President M. Lee Pelton held a meeting with team captains Thursday to discuss their concerns.
The topics of the meeting included improving communication between the Athletics Department administration and the team members, and working to increase the current budget for the department.
When the petition created by former men’s basketball player Kabir Moss Feb. 23 called to reconsider the position of current athletic director Kristin Parnell, hundreds of current and former students supported the sentiment by signing the document.
Pelton said he was aware of the petition, and while it was not directly discussed during the meeting, he got a sense that the captains are disgruntled with the relationship between the administrators and the athletes. The petition was directed to Pelton and Vice President for Information Technology William Gilligan who oversees the athletic department.
“Some expressed frustration and a loss of pride in what they do,” Pelton said. “Many of them discussed the erosion of trust and confidence and lack of outward support. I take those [concerns] very seriously.”
Olivia DiNucci, a junior captain on the women’s basketball team, announced earlier this year she will not play her senior season in part due to problems with the athletic department. In a Feb. 23 article in the Beacon, DiNucci said she did not like playing in the atmosphere at Emerson, and she would not miss playing for the college.
The political communication major said after the article was printed, Pelton asked to meet with her.
“We talked and I said I was representing a lot of voices,” she said. “I really respect him as a leader for coming to me and understanding there is a problem and wanting to fix it.”
During her one-on-one meeting with the president, DiNucci said they discussed having a meeting for the captains to speak with Pelton in a comfortable setting.
DiNucci said she was happy to that see all teams were represented, with the exception of women’s lacrosse, which had a game and was unable to send a representative.
“Everyone who was there had something to say,” she said. “It’s funny, that’s the only time that we have all been together. It was nice to see everyone there not because they wanted to bash someone but because they wanted to make something better.”
Before the meeting, Brandon Fox, the fall 2011 men’s cross country captain, said he had written a letter to Pelton with his concerns about the state of athletics, questioning the transportation for athletes to and from away games and gym access for athletes that attend The Berklee College of Music and Massachusetts College of Art and Design, whose students can play for Emerson’s athletic teams through the ProArts Consortium.
Fox said the college currently uses a combination of vans and buses, allowing team members with a license who receive certification to drive teammates to games.
“It’s not safe for athletes to be driving each other to practices or meets; it puts a lot of stress on us that we really don’t need,” Fox said.
Pelton said changing the mode of transportation for athletes is a budgetary manner. He said the students spoke at length about the struggle of driving to practices and games.
Fox, who graduated from Emerson in December, said the meeting only scratched the surface on the depth of conflict within the department. Like many of the senior captains, Fox will not be at the college to see any of the changes spoken about come to fruition.
Similarly, DiNucci will be studying in Washington, D.C. next semester and plans to graduate in December. While she will not be at the school to see any of the discussed needs within the department addressed, she hopes future athletes will have a better experience.
“The biggest shame is what a lot of alumni have done is leave Emerson and not care to look back because of the state of the department,” she said. “I want the best for all the athletes.”
But Pelton said he plans for there to be a way for the concerned athletes who will be graduating to keep tabs on their alma mater. While no definitive strategy has been spoken about, Pelton said he will be meeting with the athletic administration in the next few weeks to determine what the next steps for the department will be.
“The next steps should answer three questions: What is the role of intercollegiate athletics at Emerson College, what do we need in order to support our student athletes, and what do we need to ensure that they are able to be competitive and have a great experience whenever ... they engage in an athletic contest,” Pelton said.
As the college prepares to leave the Great Northeast Athletic Conference and enter the more competitive New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference in the fall of 2014, Fox said Emerson needs to expand recruitment efforts to be able to keep up with its new opponents.
“We want to be able to be there, be ready, and have an athletic department behind us at all times,” Fox said.
Pelton said many of the frustrations that athletes presented will be worked out over time.
“It’s my goal to ensure that when student athletes compete, that they will have a great experience and that they will be on a level playing field with the opposing teams,” Pelton said. “It’s not easy to be a student athlete at Emerson College because of the lack of fan support and other factors. Those who participate are dedicated, committed, and represent the college. ery well.”