Tucked into the northwest corner of Massachusetts in the rolling
Berkshire hills, Williams College stands as an object lesson in
the often sordid world of intercollegiate sports. What's so
refreshing--and remarkable--about Williams is that its athletic
program, the most successful in Division III, wins big and
A recently released NCAA study reports that money spent on
college athletics is (no surprise) wildly out of control.
Average expenses at Division I-A schools ballooned to $20
million last year, a 15.6% jump from 1997. "Ohio State spent $63
million on its teams," says Daniel Fulks, who is the report's
author and a professor of accounting at Kentucky's Transylvania
University. "It's gotten crazy. We ought to put 50 schools in
their own little world and let them do their thing. Everyone
else should play Division III, where they do things the right
Nobody does it better than Williams, which competes in the
11-school New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC).
The Ephs (named for college founder Ephraim Williams) have won
four of the past five Division III Sears Directors' Cups, awarded
to the school with the best overall performance in NCAA
competition. The last time one of Williams's 16 men's and 15
women's teams had a losing record was almost two years ago.
At a school where nearly 40% of the student body plays on a
varsity team, it's appropriate that the new president is an avid
sports fan. Morton Schapiro, the former dean of arts and sciences
at Southern Cal, had a satellite dish installed at the
president's house so he could watch every Trojans football game
this season. But Schapiro has no immediate plan to increase the
modest athletic budget at Williams, a school with an endowment of
$923 million (the largest, by $300 million, in NESCAC). "Maybe
athletics is a victim of its own success," Schapiro says. "[Our
teams] do it on a shoestring and win national championships. That
isn't exactly great incentive to admit more athletes or to give
November 27, 2000
Operating costs for Williams's teams in the 1999-2000 academic
year totaled $426,000, slightly below the NESCAC average of
$464,000. "Would I like to see more money?" asks the school's
first-year athletic director, Harry Sheehy. "Of course." The
football team (which finished 5-3 this fall in what, at Williams,
passes for a down season) spent just over $30,000 last year. "You
can't run a football team for less than that," Sheehy says. "If
you took $1,000 from the budget, we wouldn't be able to run the
program." In 1999, the 131 Division III schools with football
teams spent an average of $58,000 in direct game expenses.
"I believe you can make a case that we're underfunded," Sheehy
says, noting that his school's budget is spread over a
league-high 31 varsity teams. Sheehy insists that cutting a team
is not an option. What his department is left to do, then, is to
save in every possible way. Williams reports that it spends
$1,151 on recruiting in a conference that averages $9,200. Mike
Russo, coach of the men's soccer team (which finished 17-2 and
was ranked No. 1 in Division III most of the season), is given
only $200 each year to spend on recruiting. A single weekend trip
easily costs Russo more than $600, and the difference comes from
Players on the women's soccer team (11-7 this year and an NCAA
Final Four participant in 1999) receive just $3 per meal when
they're on the road. Lisa Melendy, the coach for 16 years, often
goes to a Stop & Shop to maximize the allotted money by buying
bagels, yogurt and juice. "We use the same uniforms for four
years, the same warmups for five or six years and the same
travel bags for 10 years," Melendy says. "Other [NESCAC] schools
change them much more rapidly."
While most NESCAC schools send their players to away games on
charter buses, many Williams teams travel in vans, often with the
coach behind the wheel. New England roads can be treacherous in
the winter. "Our budget is very low for what we're trying to do,"
Melendy says. "At the same time, we get it done."
Williams's facilities are far from spectacular. The ice hockey
rink has the feel of an old airplane hangar when a strong, cold
draft blows through it. Williams is one of a quickly shrinking
number of NESCAC schools without an artificial turf field,
essential for training during long stretches of inclement
weather. The football field's antiquated stands are creaky and
unstable. More than a decade ago, Williams's facilities were
ranked the best in the conference, but since then nearly every
school has made significant renovations. In the past year alone
Bates spent $4 million on improvements and Hamilton $2.5 million.
Where Williams is not frugal reveals its priorities. "If you look
at reasons that we have separated from the pack, I would point to
the coaching staff," Sheehy says. "We have coaches who clearly
could work at the next level."
Russo, for example, recently turned down an opportunity to be an
assistant coach on a Major League Soccer team. Melendy chose to
stay at Williams rather than become the athletic director at
another Division III college. Ephs coaches are NESCAC's
second-most-generously paid (behind Middlebury's). Male coaches
make an average of $60,663 and female coaches $49,646. (Both
figures are comparable to those at Ivy League schools.)
NESCAC athletic directors admit that Williams is a model for
schools in the conference. "Williams sets the standards for
excellence," says Tom Murphy, Hamilton's athletic director.
"Because of its success our league has become much stronger. Now
it's up to some of us to step up."
Maybe the place to start isn't on the practice field but in the
The Price of Success
Because so many students participate, the cost of football and
other sports at Williams is low even for a NESCAC school.
VARSITY PARTICIPATING EXPENSE
TEAMS ATHLETES PER ATHLETE
Williams 31 904 $471
NESCAC avg. 28 733 $633
Division I-A avg. 16 523 $30,038
Even though the budget is tight, says athletic director Sheehy,
cutting a team is not an option.