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WVU non-revenue sports are winners

by Shawn Yonker

SPORTS WRITER

With the West Virginia University football team beginning spring practice and the basketball team having just finished its season, now may be the perfect time to take a look at WVU's non revenue producing sports. What kind of success have they seen recently, and what are some of the possible reasons for that success?

After all, there is more to a college sports program than draw plays and jump shots.

The WVU women's gymnastics team currently is ranked 16th in the country and chasing a third consecutive nationals appearance, while sophomore Dinorh Boyd is ranked ninth in the all-around, and Kristen Macrie is 23rd. Jamie Hill stands at 14th on bars, and Jackson (6) and Boyd (10) are both ranked in the vault. Four Mountaineers are ranked in the top 15 on the floor exercise including Kristen Macrie (3), TeShawne Jackson (4), Amanda Holovanic (6) and Boyd (7).

Women's track sent five competitors to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville for last weekend's NCAA Indoor championships. Returning for the distance medal relay where they placed second and earned All-American honors a year ago were sophomore Ailene Smith and senior Merissa Sexsmith.

They were joined this season by freshman Clara Smith and Megan Metcalf. Senior Stacian Brown competed in the 60-meter hurdles.

The wrestling team sent junior 157-pounder Joe Carr (21-6) and junior heavyweight Ryan Kehler (28-6) to the NCAA Tournament at in Iowa City, Iowa. Both were eliminated in the first round.

The rifle team just completed another trip to the NCAA championships where Liz Smith came in fifth in the air rifle.

This recent string of accomplishments begs the question: What contributes to the success and continued improvement of these and other non revenue producing sports at WVU and how can they continue to grow in the future?

First it is important to understand what is classified as a non revenue producing sport.

West Virginia University currently has 21 Division I sports teams. According to WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong, the revenues from football and men's basketball ticket sales are a major source of the athletic department's revenue. Contributions to the Mountaineers Athletic club primarily find scholarships for approximately 350 student athletes, and the remainder of the revenue comes from conference affiliation.

Therefore, 19 of WVU's 21 sports can be considered non revenue producing sports including baseball, women's basketball, men's and women's cross country, gymnastics, rifle, men's and women's soccer, volleyball, men's and women's tennis, men's and women's swimming, wrestling, men's and women's indoor and outdoor track and women's crew.

"Our philosophy is a total sports program," Pastilong said. "That is evidenced in the fact that a majority of our sports are competing well and associated with a major conference."

In fact, Pastilong credits the joining of the Big East conference with not only improving the status and opportunity of the basketball and football teams, but also increasing the profile and success of other sports.

"It is the most significant thing that has occurred in our athletic departments history," Pastilong said. "It is imperative that you are associated with a major conference in today's intercollegiate athletics."

Besides giving the basketball team a national stage like Madison Square Garden for the Big East tournament and the football team a chance to be a part of the Bowl Championship Series picture, the Big East is also one of the country's most respected conferences in women's basketball, cross country, soccer and baseball.

While conference affiliation is a big part of WVU ís athletic success and its future, the athletic department has also exhibited a dedication to improving athletic facilities all over campus.

From 1997 to 1999, the athletic department conducted a $10 million facilities construction and renovation project. New facilities include the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility, Cary Gym and the Mountaineer

Soccer Complex (complete with lights). Many existing facilities also received much needed attention. Renovations included lights at Hawley Field and resurfacing of the Mountaineer Track and Tennis Courts.

Pastilong said he is proud of the improvements that have been made, but there are also more on the way. Hawley Field and the Soccer Complex will both receive locker rooms and increased seating, and the possibility of indoor tennis courts will also be addressed some time in the near future.

"As we take on these projects we are always looking for philanthropists that might have a particular interest in those sports," Pastilong said.

The tremendous amount of support the athletic department receives from alumni and other financial donors is another large part of its success.In fact, Pastilong said the $1.6 million Cary Gym has made the WVU gymnastics program more attractive to potential recruits as well as improved the practice environment for current team members, but it would not have been possible without the help of Bray and Diane Cary of Charlotte for whom it is named. Cary, the founder of Creative Sports and current vice president of broadcasting and technology for NASCAR, is a graduate of WVU's Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism. His wife Diane, also a WVU graduate, is on the Alumni association Board of Directors. The Carys have endowed eight scholarships that are given annually to WVU student-athletes.

The final ingredient to the success of Division I sports at WVU is coaching. Almost every coach at WVU has been honored as national or conference coach of the year in their respective sports. Men's soccer coach Paul Marco is the most recent, being named Big East coach of the year last season.

"As we select our coaches we want to make sure that they have the ability to recruit high quality student athletes so that they in turn have the resources to compete on a national level," Pastilong said.

Pastilong's most recent hire is, of course, Mountaineer football coach Rich Rodriguez, but filling that position was just the beginning for Pastilong this year. Women's basketball coach Alexis Basil resigned this month and Pastling has already begun his short list. In addition, track and cross country coach Martin Pushkin and women's tennis coach Martha Thorn will both retire at the end of their respective seasons. Between them they have nearly 50 years of experience and their shoes will be tough to fill.

Athletes and coaches come and go, but according to Pastilong, the goal of the sports department for the future is clear.

"We want to do everything possible so that our 21 sports teams have the resources that students can have good coaching and practice at good facilities and support like strength and conditioning and medical care," Pastilong said. "We want to increase our success in these sports and, overall, I really believe that our best successes will be ahead of us."

Sports writer Shawn Yonker can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at sports@exponent-telegram.com.

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