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Athletics Director Addresses State of Dartmouth Football

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By Mark Washburn

Dartmouth's acting director of athletics and recreation, Bob Ceplikas, released a letter this week regarding the state of the Dartmouth Football program.  The letter was mailed August 10 to all Friends of Dartmouth Football, former players and parents. The text is provided below and the letter is also available as a pdf.  Any questions or comments may be emailed to

August 10, 2009

Dear Alumni, Parents, and Friends of Dartmouth Football:

As I begin my tenure as Acting Athletics Director, I wanted to reach out to fill you in on the steps we are taking to ensure that Dartmouth Football regains its stature as a highly competitive, championship caliber team. President Jim Yong Kim, Dean Tom Crady, Coach Buddy Teevens ’79 and I are all firmly committed to this goal.

Facilities. In the past 10 years, thanks to the extraordinary generosity of many alumni — most notably Doug Floren ’63 — the College has made an unprecedented investment of $85 million upgrading athletic facilities, including several that have vaulted Dartmouth from the bottom to the top of the Ivy League in football facilities. These landmark improvements include the Blackman Practice Fields, the renovation of Leverone Fieldhouse, the FieldTurf surface in Memorial Field, and most recently, Floren Varsity House, which includes the League’s largest varsity strength training center, a 130-seat “smart classroom,” meeting rooms, a study lounge, offices for football and three other sports, and a spacious football locker room. These remarkable improvements not only provide superior training spaces for our student-athletes, but have already begun to have a significant impact on recruiting.

Admissions. The Ivy League stringently regulates the admission of recruited athletes using parameters that are linked to the academic profile of each school’s student body, as measured by standardized test scores and classroom performance. During the 1990s, the academic profile of Dartmouth’s entering classes rose near the top of the League, which resulted in recruiting parameters that reduced our access to players that some of the other Ivies were able to recruit. These constraints had a significant impact on recruiting and on our team’s performance for a number of years. Over the last decade, the academic profiles of the entering classes in the League have gradually moved closer together, and Dartmouth once again has access to most of the same recruits as others in the League — similar to the situation when we recruited the players that went 10-0 in 1996. I am also pleased to report that our relationship with the Admissions Office is excellent, as Buddy and I have found them to be extremely supportive and responsive to our needs.

Financial Aid. Although the Ivy League’s financial aid “arms race” has presented challenges from some Ivy schools over the last 12 years, Dartmouth’s recent series of financial aid initiatives – especially those announced last year — have provided a crucial boost to our recruiting efforts. In addition, our Financial Aid Office provides our recruits’ families with more timely projections of aid eligibility than ever before, and in any instance where a recruit receives a more favorable projection from an Ivy competitor, our Financial Aid colleagues have responded swiftly and competitively to eliminate the differential.

Staffing. For this coming season, Buddy has named a new Defensive Coordinator in Sammy McCorkle and has hired a new Offensive Line Coach, Keith Clark, who brings with him a wealth of Ivy League experience and success. To bolster our strength and conditioning program, we have added a staff member who played major college football at Vanderbilt and has infused the weight room with intensity and enthusiasm. Finally, we are in the process of hiring a Director of Football Operations who will relieve Buddy of some administrative tasks and will coordinate his alumni communications and Friends of Football fundraising efforts.

External Review. This past spring, we engaged Rick Taylor to conduct an external review of the entire football program. Rick was an assistant coach at Dartmouth in the 1970s, went on to be head coach at Boston University, and then was a highly-respected Athletic Director at BU, Cincinnati, and Northwestern. Rick made two visits to the campus and met with Buddy, his assistants, current players, senior athletics administrators, support personnel, Dean Crady, Dean of Admissions Maria Laskaris ‘84, Vice-President for Development Carrie Pelzel ‘54a, and alumni representatives, including former Dartmouth AD Seaver Peters ’54 and former Big Green coach and longtime Syracuse AD Jake Crouthamel ‘60. Rick also consulted with the current Ivy athletic directors and researched our competitors’ programs. Rick’s thorough report concluded that we are closer to success than our recent record suggests — especially with the improved facilities and admissions landscape — but also made some recommendations on which we are now acting, many pertaining to the areas discussed in this letter.

Scheduling. In recent years, our non-league schedule has been daunting, as we near the end of three agreements that were negotiated more than 15 years ago when those opponents were not as strong as they are today. In hindsight, it was probably a mistake to lock into such long-term arrangements, as it has made it difficult for our team to develop confidence and to generate early-season momentum. As a result, we have been actively pursuing a more diverse non-league schedule going forward. With UNH, which offers a full complement of football scholarships and has developed into a national power in Division 1-AA, we have negotiated a four-year deferral of the last two games of our agreement following our game this fall. Regarding Colgate, we have decided not to extend our current agreement beyond 2011. This leaves Holy Cross as the only non-league opponent we will continue to play consistently, as we feel it makes sense geographically and philosophically, and as a traditional rival. Securing alternative opponents is a significant challenge, as they not only need to have matching open dates (which narrows the options dramatically), the most attractive opponents generally want to play where they have strong alumni bases and/or fertile recruiting potential, neither of which we offer. For example, Georgetown, a logical match-up competitively and philosophically, is happy to host us, but has no interest in coming to Hanover, as they have many offers from schools in more populous areas. Since the chance to play in the D.C. area is so appealing — within reach of many Big Green alumni and potential recruits — we have agreed to play at Georgetown in 2015 without a return visit. However, we seek to minimize one-way agreements, to avoid seasons in which our team has very few home games. So far, we have replaced UNH for 2010 and 2011 with Sacred Heart University, a Division 1-AA school in Connecticut, and we have agreed to play Butler University in 2012 at home and 2013 in Indiana, where we hope to rally alumni in the Midwest. We will continue to work hard at this challenge.

Funding. Rick Taylor’s research showed that our football operating budget is in the same ballpark as our Ivy competitors, but our program has fewer financial resources overall because we are at the bottom of the League in annual giving to Friends of Football. While we’ve been receiving about $300,000 in annual Friends donations, our Ivy competitors have been raising $500,000-$750,000 annually, providing much more funding for priorities like team travel, recruiting, video equipment, and scouting services. Regardless of the economic circumstances, it is imperative that we increase annual Friends giving substantially to provide our program with a level playing field. With the support of Vice-President Pelzel, Buddy and I plan to formulate a Friends Advisory Board of generous givers to advise us on fundraising strategies and other issues, and who are willing to encourage former teammates and others to step up their annual support. We also plan to provide all our donors with an annual report on Friends expenditures, and to publish an “Honor Roll of Donors” in the Friends newsletter and in home game programs, delineated by giving category. And I will personally do my best to dispel the persistent myth that increased Friends giving prompts the College to reduce institutional support, since I know from first-hand experience that this has not occurred once in my 19 years in Dartmouth Athletics.

Leadership. Obviously, the other crucial requirement for success is a talented head coach, and we are confident that Buddy Teevens is the right person to lead the resurgence of our program. As he said upon his return in 2005, it would not be a “quick fix.” But Buddy has profoundly changed the culture on our team, reducing attrition, raising players’ academic aspirations and performance, renewing their involvement in the entire Dartmouth Experience, and most important, infusing a deeper sense of dedication and commitment to Dartmouth Football. Anyone who knows our players well can tell you they are very disappointed in their recent record, but they are not discouraged, and they are united in their belief in Buddy and in their determination to succeed. It is also clear that Buddy’s recruiting classes have been getting progressively stronger, as evidenced by the talented freshmen and sophomores who beat out juniors and seniors for playing time on last year’s team. At times, their lack of experience on the field and in the weight room was also evident, but that will change with time.

In summary, we are all in agreement that our team’s record over the past 11 years has been unacceptable. I hope I have adequately conveyed our resolve — both institutionally and departmentally — to ensure that Dartmouth Football soon reclaims a level of success worthy of our proud tradition, and adds to our League-leading collection of championship banners. It won’t happen overnight, but we are determined to get there. When you receive the annual Friends of Football solicitation in several weeks, I sincerely hope you will join in the effort to achieve this goal, as we cannot do it without you. In the meantime, if you have questions or feedback, please email me at Best wishes for the rest of the summer, and Go Big Green!

Sincerely yours,
Robert A. Ceplikas ’78
Acting Director of Athletics & Recreation