Dartmouth AD Gives The Lowdown

Memorial Field’s west stands were successfully remodeled and a new press box was constructed during 2015. The softball stadium, opened in 2012, offers the best setting in the league, and a $20 million indoor sports facility is on the way. Dartmouth led the nation’s NCAA Division I programs in graduation success rate for a fourth consecutive year, with 99 percent of student-athletes who began college during 2008 earning a degree.

Challenges, however, do remain. The Ivies’ athletics facilities arms race shows no sign of slowing down. Dartmouth still has woeful teams in sports such as men’s and women’s swimming, men’s track and field, women’s golf, women’s squash and men’s lacrosse. And contending for public recognition in a grouping that includes national names Harvard, Yale and Princeton will never be an easy task.

The Valley News sat down with Sheehy recently to get his thoughts on the state of the department and on various issues that involve it. The text has been edited for clarity and length.

Valley News: How much longer for you in this job?

Harry Sheehy: The honest answers are that I don’t know, but I’m in no hurry to get out because I love what I do. I never came here and said, ‘Once I get football done, I can go off into the sunset.’ I’m 63 and energetic, and I think I’ve got a lot left in the tank.

VN: What do you expect from the football team next year? It graduates 17 starters.

HS: I think the days of us being noncompetitive in football are over. I don’t know what to expect from next year, but I wouldn’t sell the young men in the program short. I think we have a lot of good players who didn’t get a lot of time because they were behind very good players.

VN: Will Ivy League football teams ever be allowed to compete in the national playoffs?

HS: That’s a question for the (league) presidents. I haven’t had this conversation with (Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon), but I had it a lot with (former President Jim Kim) and he was clearly for it and for an 11th game during the season. My sense is that among the (league) presidents now, there’s not a lot of stomach or desire to do that. No one’s taken a vote or told me; that’s just my gut feeling.

VN: Given that Dartmouth teams are performing better than they were five years ago, should you be beating Harvard, Yale and Princeton more often during recruiting battles?

HS: I don’t know that we’ll win more of them, but we have to win the special ones. If you look at (softball shortstop) Katie McEachern, we got her away from one of those schools, as we did (football tailback) Nick Schwieger. I’m sure my folks have gotten tired of hearing me say that we don’t have to beat Harvard, Yale and Princeton for kids; we have to recruit kids who can beat Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

I am sympathetic to our coaches when it comes to recruiting and financial aid. If we’re recruiting a kid and Harvard’s recruiting a different kid, and both kids have scholarship offers from other schools, Harvard’s going to give them a better (financial aid) package. If we’re both recruiting the same kid, we’ll match Harvard’s offer, so it doesn’t hurt us as much. But then the question is: Will that kid come here if he gets into both schools? The real strength of Harvard’s program is to get kids who have been offered scholarships. Our package just isn’t going to match their package because we just don’t have as much money.

VN: What’s your overall feeling about your on-field performance?

HS: We’re winning in certain pockets. I think the fall was really good with winning (Ivy titles) in men’s soccer, football and women’s rugby. In the spring, we’ve got good teams in baseball and softball, and I think we’ll see improvement in both lacrosses and both tennis teams are very good. We’ve got to fix winter. (Editor’s note: the men’s and women’s hockey and basketball teams were a combined 16-33-3 entering the weekend and were 58-56-6 last season.)

VN: I hear muttering around Thompson Arena that “Harry’s a hoops guy and he’s not as committed to ice hockey.” Your response?

HS: I’ve heard a little of that too, and it’s untrue. I want to win at everything and nobody in my seat can afford to think that narrowly, or you won’t be around very long.

We have a project going right now to spruce up the rink and there’s more to come, but we need to do a little more fundraising. I want all our programs to be successful, and I’m willing to go fundraise to help them do that. I can tell you, however, that hockey would not change facilities with basketball.

VN: Is a video scoreboard coming to Thompson Arena eventually?

HS: I think so, eventually. But I want our coaches to tell me what’s really important. If we bring a video board in here, are you going to be 19-4? Is it that important to you and what really makes the difference? There are a lot of kids playing hockey, and we should be able to bring some good ones here. We outdraw Princeton and Harvard, and this is a pretty good place to play hockey.

VN: Could more space beneath the Thompson Arena stands be dug out to allow construction of a weight room, larger offices and locker rooms, etc?

HS: We’ve looked at that and it’s a multi-, multi-million dollar project, so if I were our coaches, I certainly wouldn’t be counting on that any time soon. We have a challenging locker room situation, but that’s probably not going away tomorrow.

VN: Why charge game admission to sports where you’re only drawing a few hundred fans? Why not let people in free and perhaps have larger crowds?

HS: It’s a very delicate balance between trying to make some revenue and having the student-athlete experience be all it can be with playing in front of more people. I’m not totally convinced we’d have a ton more people there if we didn’t charge, but it’s worth looking into.

I think our marketing people are busting their (butts). You can have all the in-game events and food and whatever, and it just doesn’t do much unless you’re winning. We’re also fighting a national trend of dropping attendance in college athletics. Even Duke doesn’t fill its student section for men’s basketball. We fight that even more in the Ivy League because of the diversity of our student bodies and the diversity of their interests.

VN: How much does it matter to you if Dartmouth draws local residents as fans?

HS: It means a lot to me because I’d like parents to bring their kids to see our players as role models in the community.

VN: Online offerings regarding college sport games seem to change almost by the day. What are Dartmouth’s strategies and goals in that area?

HS: This area has developed so rapidly and the quality has developed so rapidly that no one knows what the landscape will look like even a year or two down the road. There’s the constant wrestling match between charging to watch games online or streaming them for free. There’s sentiment (in the department) for our games to be free at some point, but it depends on what provider we have and what we’re doing with that provider.

VN: How do you feel about Dartmouth games being on television?

HS: I told the (Ivy) presidents that I would just stream everything for free. But Harvard and Yale will always be on TV, so I need to be able to have our website in September read, “Dartmouth to Appear on National Television Four Times.” I just have to have that. If I take that away, we’ve lost a recruiting battle for the three or four kids we might get from Harvard and Yale. My big gripe is how long the games take when they’re on television. It’s brutal.

VN: Are things improving with your smaller athletic programs?

HS: Men’s squash just beat Harvard for the first time since 1945. Swimming, I think we can get better there. With our facilities and our admissions support, we’re not going to finish first or second in the Ivies every year, but we shouldn’t be eighth and both teams have finished eighth two years in a row. Those kids deserve better, and we need to give it to them. (Editor’s note: Jim Wilson, in his 23rd year as head men’s swimming coach and his 10th as women’s coach, will retire after the current season.)

Equestrian won the Ivies two years ago and finished second last year. We’re hoping to enlarge the locker room facilities by the (Blackman practice fields) so that each field team has its own room year-round. And we’re in conversations about fundraising to get lights on the field hockey field. Once (coach Amy Fowler) has those two pieces, then I think top four in the Ivies is very realistic.

VN: The Black Lives Matter movement is a hot topic these days. What’s your sense of how African-American student athletes enjoy their time at the college?

HS: We haven’t done a lot with that, and we need to. My sense is things are basically OK, but … navigating this campus is very different than the public high schools that some of these young men and women come from. If diversity of ethnicity and thought matters, then we have to put things in place to help them succeed.

If we do it right, this place is transformational for kids in terms of where they might have otherwise ended up. That’s a big part of why I come to work every day, because we still have that role in kids’ lives.

I was afraid BLM was going to stage a protest on the field during the Princeton football game, when we were trying to win our first Ivy title since 1996. I went to some of the black players and asked if they were willing to walk away from BLM or sit down in solidarity. They said nothing would happen, because the students understood how much that game meant. If we hadn’t been in exams and in (title) contention, however, something different could have happened.

VN: I hear fewer tales of Dartmouth student-athlete misconduct off the field. Do you get the same sense?

HS: The first stage is you punish people who break the rules. You unemotionally tell them they’re going to sit out three games, or whatever. The second stage is who you want to recruit. The final stage is to smooth their rough edges once they get here.

We’ve seen a 50 percent drop in binge drinking among our athletes in recent years. We know that through the Basics Motivational Interviewing that every athlete does. Not one athlete got in trouble during homecoming this year. In past years it would be eight, nine or 10 and the same thing during Green Key weekend in the spring. I don’t have to spend as much time discussing discipline with the dean’s office every Monday morning. I haven’t had to do that at all yet this (school) year.

VN: Women’s volleyball recently had a breakthrough campaign during coach Erin Lindsey’s fifth year, narrowly missing the Ivy title. Did it take longer than you had anticipated?

HS: Yes, but it’s a five-year job in some of these programs. There were culture problems in that program when she got here. It was a much more social group of kids than I would have liked, in terms of what was important to them. Volleyball has (sorority) rush in the middle of its season, and it impacts us every season.

VN: Women’s basketball was 14-14 last winter, but is 5-11 so far this season. What’s happened?

HS: It hasn’t shocked me at all. I knew there was more work to be done there, and we flat-out need better players. We really only have two kids (Lakin Roland, Fanni Szabo) who can score, and people figure that out. When I hired (coach Belle Koclanes), I thought it would be a four-plus-year job, and it’s clearly going to be that. We’ll see how recruiting goes this year, because she hasn’t gotten her breakthrough player yet.

With a relatively young coaching staff, you almost take their first recruiting class and toss it out, because they’re still figuring things out. But the class that steps foot on campus next fall? That’s going to be absolutely critical.

VN: What was your reaction to Szabo losing her starting position earlier this season because she missed a few games to play internationally for her native Hungary?

HS: I think that was a young coach’s decision. The frustrating thing for Belle was that Fanni played a total of six minutes in that tournament, and she was pressing when she left us. I don’t think Belle saw her team winning only two of its first 10 games, and she’s so competitive. The real key is: Do we get better from here on out?

Tris Wykes can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3227.

Source : http://www.vnews.com/Archives/2016/01/1stpersonsheehy-ctw-vn-010316

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