Why athletics are so important to YSU


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by Joe Scalzo - "A blog about YSU Penguin athletics, not the insides of penguins."   | 155 entries

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1. For Sunday's Vindicator, I wrote a big story about YSU's recent facility upgrades at Beeghly Center. The story ended with a quote from athletic director Ron Strollo, who said that without athletics, people may perceive YSU as a bigger Eastern Gateway Community College.

Now. I hope most people understood that the quote was dealing the school's identity, not with its academic reputation. Eastern Gateway doesn't play sports. And when many people think of YSU, they think of Jim Tressel winning national championships and the women's basketball team playing in the NCAA tournament. It's hard to imagine YSU without those moments.

Strollo is a proud YSU graduate, as is his wife. Both were YSU athletes. And while YSU's first goal is to educate its students, Strollo believes athletics can help serve that goal.

Here's a few of his thoughts:

"Athletics is considered by many as the "front porch" to the University and many (wrongly) associate the strength of their athletics programs with the strength of their academic programs.  

I believe it is important to do everything in our power to field competitive teams and utilize our events to promote academics on campus (which hopefully you have noticed at our basketball games on the video board).

Those that don't know the quality academic programs we have, may perceive they aren't strong because our story isn't being told — in part, via athletics if we weren't in existence. Very few schools across the country are able to sell their academics without the assistance of an athletic department recruiting prospective students and assisting in telling their "message".

Athletics has become a very powerful vehicle to tell your story as an institution. It is our job to maximize that."

2. While YSU has made big strides with its basketball facilities over the past decade, men's coach Jerry Slocum still has a few things on his checklist.

The first thing? Charter flights.

While the football team charters flights to most of the Missouri Valley schools (Indiana State is one exception), the men's basketball team either buses to road games or flies commercial. That created a problem on the first road trip to Wisconsin when the flight got canceled, forcing the Penguins to bus to Milwaukee.

"We left here at 8 o'clock in the morning and you can't just get another commercial airline to give you 25 seats," he said "So within 45 minutes, we got a bus, we got some drinks and some food, and 10 hours later we're in Milwaukee."

The next night, YSU lost, 82-76. The Penguins then played road games in Green Bay and Chicago, busing home from UIC after the game.

"We got home from Chicago at 5 o'clock in the morning," Slocum said. "That's really tough for everybody. Every other team charters in this league and I really believe we have to start chartering our two toughest trips."

3. YSU women's coach John Barnes has seen both sides of the charter issue.

When he was coaching at Michigan Tech, which is on Michigan's upper peninsula, his team bused just about everywhere.

"We had games where we'd spent 14 or 15 hours in a bus," he said. "And then I've been at Michigan and Wisconsin, which were all charter flights, no matter how far away. It's nice in this league because most of the teams are close enough that it's usually easier to bus rather than fly."

4. Speaking of road trips, Slocum hates playing three straight road games.

YSU started its Horizon League schedule with three road games, then played four straight home games. Starting Friday, the Penguins will play the next three games on the road. He thinks the league should do everything in its power to play two home games, then two away games.

Slocum would also like to avoid situations like last week, when YSU played Valparaiso on Thursday, then played Wright State on Saturday. The Raiders, meanwhile, had not played since Tuesday, giving them extra time to prepare.

Slocum thinks the Saturday game should have at least been moved to Sunday.

"I think the league needs to get it right," he said.

5. As far as the non-conference schedule, Slocum would like to see the Horizon League help its members buy a few more home games.

In order to save money, YSU usually schedules a couple non-Division I teams for home games. (This year it was Warren Wilson, Thiel and Westminster.)

"Nobody in our program likes playing those games," he said. "I'm sure most of the teams in our league played at least one or two non-D1s. So I'd love to see the league say, 'We'll put in $50,000 and you put in $50,000 and go buy two home games. Or the league can put in $60,000 and we have to match it. For what we're offering, we can't get anybody that's a mid-1 [mid-Division I] to play here. That's why we pay non-1s."

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