This Tuesday, W&M Athletics held a fascinating Town Hall. Fans were permitted to submit questions, and those in attendance were able to inquire directly to W&M Athletics Director Samantha Huge herself.
It’s actually a pretty awesome idea, which provided some much appreciated transparency into the inner workings of the sports department at W&M.
Overall, we give Samantha Huge huge props for being transparent and open, and for allowing fans to ask questions — especially unscripted ones. So let’s get to it; we know just about none of you have the time to watch the entire 1 hour 30 minute video, so we’ve gone ahead and watched it not once, but TWICE, summarizing the most important points (these are not full-length Huge quotes, but snippets), while also providing our analysis. Roll Tribe Roll.
Question: After two years at the helm of W&M, what is one thing are you most proud of?
Huge: “Federal Graduation Rate. William & Mary leads the nation for federal graduation rate.”
WMSB Commentary: The 2017 William & Mary student-athlete Federal Graduation Rate (89.1%) is the highest graduation rate among public universities for the 14th year in row and is 20 points above the NCAA Division I student-athlete average of 67.1%.
89.1% is truly an incredible number, one that speaks to the caliber of student athletes that William & Mary produces.
Question: How do you define success for William & Mary Athletics?
Huge: “We have projected out how the outcomes should be, and that is an approach to holistic excellence. Athletics matches the excellence of this world class institution that is William and Mary. We do this through improved student athlete experience, increased institutional exposure, increased philanthropy, and brand elevation.
We need to be proud of this institution. Athletics helps with that. It is going to elevate William & Mary.”
WMSB Commentary: 100% agree with the notion that athletics will help elevate William & Mary. Think about how many bigger, yet “less impressive” schools, are better known nationally just because they have a big football or basketball program (that is consistently on the news and shown on national television).
It’s not just an argument for athletics, it’s an argument for the school’s academic profile as well. Increased national visibility results in more student applications, which means a wider, more successful pool of applicants — ultimately raising the academic profile of the school in the long run. Just ask George Mason what their 2004 Final Four run did for their school.
William & Mary is one of the nation’s best kept secrets, but it shouldn’t be a secret anymore. Athletics will help increase the visibility of William & Mary, as will winning across the major sports.
Question: Talk about the coaches you have hired this past year and how they fit into W&M’s bold pursuit of excellence.
Huge: “As a staff member, my first question is always: ‘Why do you do this, what is your why?’ If they can’t articulate that what motivates them to do this — that they are first an educator and their role is to teach, inspire, and mentor the young people in their charge — the conversation is over. Often times, I talk about winning too much and not enough about the person. In the end, their job is to take a 17 or 18 year old and shepherd them through the most important times of their lives.
[An example would be] Tim Doyle (W&M Volleyball Coach): interviewing Tim and asking him about what the first 1-3 years looks like (third coach in 4 years). He said, ‘First and foremost, these seniors will have an unbelievable experience in their senior year, because I am going to love them, encourage them, and we are going to send them out with a great experience. Then, we are going to build a program for the future.'”
WMSB Commentary: This is a theme we’ve heard, for the first time during the W&M Athletics department’s recent trip to Manhattan. Several current coaches were in attendance amongst alums and supporters in Manhattan, including: Mike London, Dane Fischer, Julie Shackford, and Tess Ellis. And especially for London, Fischer, and Shackford — each were asked the above question by Samantha Huge — what is their ‘why?’
It’s good to hear that this goes beyond sport for Huge. It’s something that’s always assumed, but it’s always nice to get confirmation. She’s here for the right reasons, and she makes sure that others in the athletics department are as well.
Question: Why was Tony Shaver fired when he had assembled what might have been his best team ever?
Huge: “This was not a decision that was made for one year, it was made for the long term. Out of respect for Tony, I am not going through all of the details that surround it. There were things and reasons that gave me concern about the program both on and off the court.
I spent two years evaluating Coach Shaver. And I feel very confident in my ability to evaluate basketball. It was a decision that was made for the long term. It wasn’t made for 1-2 seasons. But I fully appreciate that a member of our community is no longer a part of our community.
It is a decision that I will own. It is a decision that is in the best interest of our program.”
WMSB Commentary: This was a really interesting response by Samantha Huge. She said, “there were reasons that gave me concern about the program both on and off the court.” However, she wouldn’t divulge what said “off the court” concerns actually were. At the same time, she did not speak ill of Coach Shaver on a personal and/or coaching level when asked by a fan why she decided to fire him.
She repeatedly noted that it was a decision that was made for the long term. However, unless she knew that Matt Milon and Justin Pierce were going to transfer regardless of whether Coach Shaver came back or not, it’s hard to believe that firing him this year was the best move for the long term.
I suppose we’ll never know the whole story. But it’s time to finally move on.
Question: Can you give us a preview of William and Mary Athletics’ Strategic Plan process?
Huge: “The Strategic Review was a national landscape review of where we stood as an institution — a data driven approach to excellence. [It showed] what can we do incrementally to get to excellence in athletics. We’re moving towards providing this for the public very soon.”
WMSB Commentary: We here at the WMSB actually did the dirty work, writing an article that highlights some of the key points from the recently released W&M Athletics Strategic Review. To read that synopsis, check it out here!
Question: What are your priorities for W&M Athletics over next 5 years?
Huge: “Number 1 priority is to get us to a place where we can sustain our success. To get our house in order. For example, you can’t sit in your home and hope and wish the roof is going to be okay. You need to take care of the house you are in. The heartbeat of W&M Athletics is Kaplan Arena. Every single student athlete that comes through our program is somehow touched by Kaplan Arena.”
WMSB Commentary: This is another topic where we completely agree with Samantha Huge. Kaplan Arena is the only place that touches every single student athlete that plays a sport at W&M.
From the weight room, to locker rooms, to the court, to sports medicine — Kaplan has it all. However, Kaplan is in dire need of a face lift, and that is obviously one of the biggest priorities for the athletics department right now.
Samantha Huge said that a special announcement would be coming in the Fall with more information on the Kaplan Arena renovations. We would like to see renovations that are made not only to improve the “depths,” or the lower section of Kaplan where the student athletes reside, but the “bowl” area (where fans sit) as well to improve the game day experience.
Question: About a year ago W&M unveiled a new logo. What was the thinking behind it and why is a strong brand so important?
Huge: “Our brand equity is in the university. If we are truly a national institution and we want to be an international institution, then the brand equity is with the university. The Tribe is our ethos, it is who we are, we are never going to lose that, but we are William & Mary first.”
WMSB Commentary: Also in her response, she mentioned a story where W&M Football was traveling to an Elon game and were staying in Chapel Hill. UNC was playing Notre Dame that weekend, and in the elevator, a Notre Dame fan asked what” Tribe” stood for; Coach Laycock responded that it meant William & Mary, after which the Notre Dame fan went on to say how good of a school W&M is.
That story goes to show that there is something wrong with branding at W&M. Nationally, people do NOT associate the Tribe moniker with W&M. As Huge said, our brand equity is with the university. Many more people know what W&M stands for, rather than what the “Tribe” is. We are strong proponents of the new branding effort put on by the athletics department, and think it’s a great way to spread the W&M brand nationally.
Question: How much money was raised on One Tribe One Day for Men’s Basketball and how does it compare to last eyars numbers?
Huge: “This year: $35,500. Down $17,300 from last year. I don’t think it is a cause for alarm, just an indication for where peoples’ hearts are. Men’s Basketball wasn’t a sport we really focused on fundraising for on One Tribe One Day.”
WMSB Commentary: We’re not really surprised by this, but it is nonetheless interesting to hear the numbers. On One Tribe One Day, we at the W&M Sports Blog donated to Tribe Basketball, despite the firing of Tony Shaver. Slightly more alarming to us is the fact that $35,500 (and even $52,800 if you include the $17,300) seems like a low number for Basketball to receive.
Question: How are you keeping your eye on where we are with gender equity?
Huge: “It is always a challenge to make sure we are complying with Title IX. We have set a course and are engaged with the General Counsel’s office — an outside expert to help us get to a plan where we achieve gender equity and we are moving in that direction. It is something that is front of mind.”
WMSB Commentary: We obviously are all for Title 9 and for complying with gender equity, and we think Samantha Huge is absolutely truthful when she says “it is something that is at the front of my mind.”
Question: I appreciate you saying you couldn’t go into a lot of detail fo the firing of Tony. However, You said “out of respect for Tony and his family,” and it leaves the impression that there is something nefarious or not good. Is that not the case?
Huge: “There was nothing nefarious. I will not go into the details. Not an indictment on Tony as a human being in any way.”
Question: Did you have any idea how many players would vacate off the basketball team?
Huge: “Yes I did.”
WMSB Commentary: This one was really interesting — perhaps the most interesting of the night. Huge only replied with 3 words when asked if she had any idea how many players would vacate the basketball team following the firing of Tony Shaver: “Yes I did.” Hmmm….. Does that mean some players were going to transfer regardless? Did she judge that the risk was worth the price? This unfortunately leaves us with more questions than answers.
Question: Why don’t we add Men’s Lacrosse which would be a natural fit for William & Mary?
Huge: “Well if you read the William & Mary Sports Blog, they have laid out why we should. Again, it all comes down to resources. I think, we have the sport offerings we have now. As we look at the future, we are constantly going to be evaluating the management of our sport portfolio.
We have to evaluate and adapt and adjust to the times, the climate, what is happening nationally. But there are no plans at this point to add back Men’s Lacrosse but it was certainly a good case for it. But no, not in the plans right now.”
WMSB Commentary: By far our favorite part of the Town Hall, where the Blog got a big shout out by Samantha Huge. Also, props to the person who asked the question, who must be a blog follower! If you haven’t already checked it out, definitely check out our article on why W&M should/should not have a Men’s Lacrosse team.
Huge’s response was very interesting. She said, “as we look at the future, we are constantly going to be evaluating the management of our sport portfolio.” This leaves the door open for a potential Men’s Lacrosse team down the road. She didn’t openly reject the idea, but she also didn’t say it would never happen. She seemed open to the idea, and even said, “There are no plans at this point to add Men’s Lacrosse, BUT it was certainly a good case for it.” Read into that what you will.
Question: What actions has the athletics department taken to make sure Marcus Thornton’s jersey is retired?
Huge: “Well, Marcus will have to come back for us to do that I believe. I think that is something we want to happen. We want to honor him. But to be frank, I don’t have a plan at this point, but I definitely want that to happen.”
WMSB Commentary: This response made it seem like Marcus doesn’t want to come back to campus — which we don’t think is the case. Maybe he’s just too busy to come back to W&M right now. Is there something more there? Probably not. We don’t know, but we’ll leave it up to speculation.
Question: What goals have you given for the new Football and Basketball coaches as to what you would like to see happen for the next 5-10 years?
Huge: “We are claiming 35 CAA team championships before 2025. 5 of which must come from some combination of football, Men’s basketball, and Women’s basketball. I didn’t choose which sports people want to pay to show up for. But I am not doing my job if I didn’t capitalize on those sports.”
WMSB Commentary: It’s interesting that she was very exact with this number — it’s obviously been well thought out. 35 CAA Championships across all sports. We like that there is a particular focus on the major sports of Football and Men’s/Women’s basketball (those that can garner the most national attention). Huge specifically noted that 5 championships must come from those teams over the next 6 years; here’s to hoping it happens!
Question: Are you evaluating the CAA and other options for conferences or other teams that might join the CAA?
Huge: “We absolutely believe the CAA is the right conference for us to be competing in right now. But as I said before, we need to be highly successful where we are. We need to be able to be nimble. I think it is a constant evaluation that we are doing as leadership and I can assure you that is something that is on our minds.”
WMSB Commentary: Another great question here. What we liked is that Huge said that she believes the CAA is the right conference for us “right now.” She never mentioned that it is the right conference for us down the road. A-10 anyone? Yes, please. In order for W&M to make a jump to another conference, the Tribe will need to be successful across the board in all sports, but ESPECIALLY in Men’s and Women’s Basketball and Football. Once those successes come, the doors will likely open to other conferences.
Overall, this was a great event that helped shed some light on various topics. Huge noted that events like these will continue to occur throughout the year. So be sure to check back in moving forward for more insights.
And can we move that Kaplan Arena renovation announcement up?
LET’S GO TRIBE.