Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Mounting pressure: Track team supporters pen letter to W&M admin calling for an external audit of athletics dept.

BackTrack Inc. sent a letter to the College of William & Mary demanding an independent, external audit of the Tribe Athletics department following the university's decision to cut seven varsity sports teams during the coronavirus pandemic. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Tribe Athletics)
BackTrack Inc. sent a letter to the College of William & Mary demanding an independent, external audit of the Athletics department following the university’s decision to cut seven varsity sports teams during the coronavirus pandemic. (WYDaily/ Courtesy of Tribe Athletics)

BackTrack Inc., a group supporting efforts to reinstate William & Mary’s men’s indoor and outdoor track teams, sent a letter to administration, demanding an external and independent audit of the athletics department.

The reason?

The group pointed to confusing financials with little information on why the university decided to cut seven varsity sports programs in the first place.

The two-page letter to W&M President Katherine Rowe, interim Athletics Director Jeremy Martin and Board of Visitors Rector John Littel calls into question the decision to cut the programs and what financial information was used to make the decision.

“We received the letter late yesterday and appreciate the questions by the group. William & Mary takes very seriously our obligations toward donors to honor the terms of their gifts,” Martin wrote in an emailed statement Friday. “As we shared during Wednesday evening’s public town hall, President Rowe and I have already asked for a thorough review of the department’s internal control structure including a review of compliance with donor restrictions by the internal auditor.”

Martin said that auditor reports to the Board of Visitors and “is independent of the administration.”

“The auditor will review procedures in the Athletics Department to verify that appropriate internal controls are in place to ensure that expenditures follow donor intent with respect to restricted funds and the results will be public when completed,” Martin said.

Littel was not immediately available for comment.

The joint letter, written by the executive committee of BackTrack vice president Juan Conde and treasure Glenn Crafford, expressed concern about W&M’s lack of oversight regarding “restricted endowments” of the Track and Field Teams.

“BackTrack is concerned that various internal studies and external consulting reports leading to the recommendation to terminate the 7 sports, including Men’s Track and Field, was based on incorrect and/or misleading data,” according to the letter. “We do not accept the argument that provision of misleading data and reporting would have had no change in outcome to the termination of the 7 sports.”

Here are some of the main points in the letter:

  • Accounting changes: In spring 2017, the athletics department changed the number of accounts for the women’s and men’s track and field teams from separating their teams’ budget to combining them into one account.
  • No notice: From 2017-2020, donors were not told of this change which they referred to as “process changes and the lack of traceability.” They found out within the past two weeks.
  • Traceability of funds: BackTrack noted it is uncertain if the endowments’ fund are “being used for the required purposes.”
  • NCAA reporting: BackTrack claims W&M endowment income numbers for the track teams are “inconsistent and misleading.”
  • Accurate numbers? BackTrack noted Rowe, Little and athletics department members said the 2018-2019 reports were accurate.
  • Confusing audits: BackTrack claims the athletics department has “not provided reasonable assurance” this information is correct.
  • Endowment sports breakdown: Endowments are broken into several categories: football, men’s and women’s basketball and other sports, which consist of the remaining sports teams.
  • Conclusion: Endowment breakdown does not prove the money was used correctly if the financials are combined with other sports.

“Further to this, we learned from the Interim AD and Deputy AD that restricted funds associated with other Olympic sports have been flowing into the Women’s Cross Country and Track & Field Teams, which again leads to the possibility of a systematic breakdown of the use of restricted funds in the Athletics Department,” the letter noted.

Per the letter’s demands, the audit must be reviewed by an “independent auditing group overseen by an independent faculty committee.”

The committee will review the past few years of endowments specifically the procedures, policies and how the endowments were distributed.

“The Athletics Department must restore credibility,” the letter stated. “The College must institute appropriate procedures and controls to ensure accurate data quality, traceability of data, and modeling for any future business use.”

This development comes two days after the Faculty Assembly, representatives from all the academic departments at the university voted to create an Athletics Task Force made up of faculty, students, administration, Board of Visitors and the community.

Their purpose? To create a new athletics strategic plan with its final report and recommendation due on or by March 1.

RELATED STORY: W&M Faculty Assembly votes to create athletics task force; motion to reinstate sports programs fails

Here’s a recap of the W&M sports cut saga:

On Sept. 3, Rowe, Provost Peggy Agouris and then Athletics Director Samantha Huge announced in an open letter seven varsity sports programs would be cut effective in the 2021-2022 academic year because of the coronavirus pandemic and to comply with Title IX: men’s swimming, gymnastics and outdoor and indoor track teams and the women’s swimming, volleyball and gymnastics teams.

Weeks following that decision, students, faculty and alumni discovered the open letter was partially plagiarized from Stanford University’s open letter announcing their decision to cut sports programs.

Faculty members worked on filing a motion for a vote of no confidence in Huge and demanded her resignation. An attorney representing the three women’s teams threatened a Title IX lawsuit. On Oct. 6, Huge resigned and the administration selected Martin, Rowe’s chief of staff, as Huge’s temporary replacement.

TIMELINE: From the announcement to cut the seven varsity sports teams Huge’s resignation.

Nearly two weeks later on Oct. 19, On Oct. 19, William & Mary reinstated the women’s teams, citing Title IX compliance.

It remains unclear if the administration plans to reinstate the remaining four teams: men’s swimming, gymnastics and outdoor and indoor track teams any time soon.

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Julia Marsiglianohttp://wydaily.com
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to julia@localvoicemedia.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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