A closer look at the lost athletic department of Santa Clara University
November 10, 2016
In December 2014, former Athletic Director Dan Coonan was the victim of an email hack. In a fake email sent to the entire student body, Coonan claimed he was, “sad to announce that all sports at Santa Clara University have been discontinued indefinitely.”
At the time I laughed, and I can assure you that many other students found humor with the harmless prank because of its relevance—Santa Clara athletics are in disarray.
For too long, Santa Clara sports have been a punchline rather than a source of pride.
The lack of competitive athletics has hindered a greater presence of school spirit, and it is palpable. School spirit is linked to the pride, support and passion of the student body when it comes to their school’s academics, social life and athletics.
In regards to athletics, Santa Clara falls woefully short.
Santa Clara has not had a D-1 football team since the 1950’s. So on Saturdays rather than dedicating their day to the school and its football team as many universities do, students distance themselves from the school for the weekend.
In addition, Santa Clara belongs to the West Coast Conference, which is full of predominantly private and religiously affiliated schools that lack the resources and commitment required for athletics to thrive. The WCC is a national afterthought, along with most of its members.
The absence of a football team has left basketball as the program left to carry the load as the primary source of school spirit. They have struggled mightily in their endeavors.
In the most updated RPI ranking released by the NCAA, which is the ranking that receives the most consideration from the NCAA tournament selection committee, Santa Clara ranked 249th out of 351 eligible teams. Meaning, theoretically, Santa Clara would need to move up by 181 places in rankings to obtain the final spot in the tournament. The failure of the basketball program is not a new occurrence.
Santa Clara has not made the NCAA tournament in 10 years or finished better than fourth in the abysmal WCC.
According to the WCC preseason poll, the trend is projected to continue as the Broncos are predicted to finish fifth in the conference this upcoming year.
As a result of the team’s struggles, support from the school has suffered. In the 2011-2012 season, one of the two winning seasons Santa Clara has had in the last six years, they averaged 2,483 in attendance at home games.
Last year, the average attendance at home games was just 1,764 at the Leavey Center, which has a capacity of 4,500.
The only time the Leavey Center draws crowds close to capacity is when our “rival” Gonzaga University comes to town. In which case, fans witness Gonzaga walk all over the Broncos.
The Bulldogs lead Santa Clara 56- 31 in the head-to-head series and have won an astounding 20 out of their last 22 against the Broncos. You can’t call it a rivalry when only one team shows up to play.
In a 2014 letter from President Father Engh, Santa Clara announced a strategic expansion plan, which included a goal to, “Recruit, train and graduate student-athletes of the highest ability and sportsmanship whose success will enhance the university’s reputation among students, prospective students, alumni and friends.”
This plan sounds great, but executing this vision is a whole other story. Obviously, the current track Santa Clara is on does not attain this goal. So what needs to change?
It started at the end of last year, when Santa Clara fired Men’s Basketball Head Coach Kerry Keating after nine seasons. Santa Clara allowed Keating to coach for too long; he’s the first Santa Clara basketball coach to finish his career with an overall losing record.
Keating was hired to build off of his recruiting success during his time on UCLA’s staff, but was unable to bring talent to one of the most desirable locations in the WCC.
Santa Clara replaced Keating with Arizona State coach Herb Sendek, who’s had his own trouble recruiting at a big Pac-12 program. But at least Sendek has a much more proven resume.
Santa Clara also hired a new athletic director to replace the aforementioned Coonan—Renee Baumgartner. Baumgartner was the deputy athletic director at basketball powerhouse Syracuse.
Both hires are steps in the right direction, but Santa Clara must continue to show their commitment to bolstering athletic programs if they want to see ripples in the Broncos community.
It has been the school’s unwillingness to commit resources that have held their programs back.
Saint Mary’s College and Gonzaga have both had continued success in the WCC, but not because of any distinctive differences in university life or education, but because these universities are more committed to the success of their athletic programs.
The lack of commitment from the administration hasn’t plagued just the basketball team, but allowed losing to spread to nearly every sport on campus.
Other notable postseason draughts include: men’s baseball since 1997, women’s basketball since 2005, men’s tennis since their only appearance in 2012, men’s golf since 2006 and women’s tennis and golf have never made team postseason appearances. It is simply failure across the board.
Sports are a source of pride and affiliation and connect current students and alumni. Santa Clara is clearly stuck somewhere in the middle of accepting its current role as a bottom dweller and making more of an effort.
Ben Epstein is a senior finance major.
Opinion articles represent the views of the individual authors only and not the views of The Santa Clara or Santa Clara University.