ARPTalk 123 – Kooistra’s “Hail, Mary”

 

In footfall, a “‘Hail, Mary,’ pass” is a desperation play. Usually, they fail; therefore, the near miraculous efforts of Jim McMahon, Doug Flutie, Brett Favre, Case McCoy, Roger Staubach, Kurt Warner, Aaron Rogers and a handful of others are celebrated in football’s lore.

When Paul Kooistra was hired as the President of Erskine College & Seminary, was he hired to throw together an ill-conceived and half-baked football program? As I remember it, he was hired to return Erskine to her roots as a Christian Liberal Arts college, to recover her reputation for academic integrity and excellence, and to return to recruiting students who were a mission-fit for an evangelical Christian Liberal Arts college — not recruiting a football team. Instead, what do we get? We get football presented as the Messiah for all financial woes! We get a “Hail, Mary” pass of desperation!?!

As I remember, Kooistra was hired because of his PCA background. He had taught at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He had been the president of Covenant Theological Seminary, the PCA’s seminary. He was touted to be “one of us.” He was looked on as one who could return Erskine College to her Christian moorings. It was boasted that he would adopt and implement the Statement of the Philosophy of Christian Higher Education of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. He was said to be one who would bring a host of new donors. It was claimed that he was able to heal the strained relationship between Erskine and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (and has he done anything in assisting healing that relationship?). It was envisioned that, since he had launched the revitalization of Covenant Theological Seminary, he would know how to rebuild Erskine Seminary. It was said that he would bring to Due West a host of new professors who would turn the college into “the premier Christian Liberal Arts college in the Southeast” and Erskine Seminary into “the old Princeton of the South.” No one expected Kooistra to advance a football program, and attempt to launch a program that would increase the percentage of athletes at Erskine College to 80% and oversee what looks like the near demise of the seminary.

At this point, Kooistra has failed in recruitment. “The dirty little secret” at the college is that students are not recruited academically but bought athletically. Last year, Kooistra informed the board that his goal was to increase the number of non-athletes. However, since his goal is to increase students to 700 and add a football program of at least 130 student-football athletes in three years, that will expand the number of athletes to about 80% of the student body. Kooistra’s goal for non-athletes is unachievable. It has failed.

The unintended consequence of Kooistra’s emphasis on football and other athletics is that Due West has been turned into an athletic camp, and the SAT is falling toward the 1000 mark — not a mark that anticipates high academic achievements. Non-athletic students at the college are nearly as hard to find as a frog’s tooth. The imbalance is dramatic.

When Kooistra was vetted for president, it was noted that he knew how to raise funds. Well, it seems the magic is gone. Certainly, last’s years Annual Fund was reached and exceeded, but how was it done? Was it done with new donors, or did alums and Associate Reformed Presbyterians increase their giving as a gesture of goodwill (with two presbyteries even giving $55,000; and I bet they will not give a dime for football)? Even a successful Annual Fund did not balance the budget — total giving was down last year. The budget was balanced by the board declaring exigency and allowing restricted funds to be declared “unrestricted” and shown as revenue. Not surprising, expenses are expected to exceed revenue this year. Even with a 5% draw on the endowment in the budget, do not expect to see the books balance apart from an unexpected inflow of new money or another raid on the endowment. Where is the host of new donors that Kooistra was to attract?

With Kooistra’s arrival in Due West, it was rumored that he would be able to attract notable and wealthy individuals to the board. Well (and it is fair to ask), “Who has he attracted to the board?” Indeed, has he been able to attract well known evangelicals who are deep-pocketed, known for their philanthropy, and connected to others such as they are? Ironically, with the resignations of Dr. Steve Suits and Mr. Ken Conner, he has succeeded in going in the opposite direction. This year, I am told that he made no significant contribution to the search for new board members.

Is Kooistra throwing football out as a “‘Hail, Mary,’ Pass?” A plan that will exhaust Erskine’s resources in an audacious “go for broke” scheme?

And what will this plan look like? As the readers of ARPTalk are aware, the Editor has a way of obtaining information. The following pulls the curtain back on the scheme that will be presented to the board. Below are the parts of Kooistra’s proposed plan for football.

First year, 2016-2017:

The plan expects no new student-athletes and no revenue the first year. However, a Head Coach, two Assistant Coaches, and miscellaneous expenses will add $220,400 to a struggling budget.

Second year, 2017-2018:

The plan expects to see 70 players recruited and who will be “red shirted.” For the privilege of being a“red shirted” football player, each student is expected to pay $19,500 in tuition for a “red shirt” year in which to practice. Do not expect quality athletes to be recruited. Do not expect quality students to be recruited. Amazingly, the Erskine administrators expect these 70 marginal/potential athletes to pay $1,365,000 dollars to practice.

The expenses grow: a Head Coach, four Assistant Coaches (that is, two new hires), and miscellaneous expenses are expected to be 804,600.

Third Year, 2018-2019:

An additional 60 players are to be recruited for a total of 130 players. Each student is expected to pay $20,000 in tuition in order to play football in Due West. Additionally, 10 cheerleaders (who will be dedicated for football, only) are to be recruited, and each is expected to pay $20,000 in tuition in order to cheer for what can be expected to be a terrible team. In other words, these student-athletes and student-cheerleaders are expected to pay $2,800,000 in order to play and cheer football in Due West on the Dixie High School football field. Go, Fleet!!!

Whether players are recruited or not, costs increase and personnel expand exponentially. There will be a Head Coach, a total of seven (7) Assistant Coaches, a Strength and Condition Coach, an Equipment Manager, an Athletic Training Coach, an Assistant Athletic Training Coach, a Sports Information Director, an Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance, a new Athletic Director, an Athletic Administrative Assistant, various secretaries, miscellaneous other people, and  “a partridge in a pear tree.” The total expenses are estimated at $1,327,000.

Incredibly, the above estimated costs (by an administration that has no football experience) do not include new dorm space, the cost of a proposed football chaplain, a proposed marching band (and who knows how those students will be recruited and what the costs are), and a reasonable contingency fund for the unexpected. But, in true Erskine form, we are not to worry; the endowment still has money.

Interestingly, nothing is predicted as to the revenue gained by the football program. I guess an expectation of nothing is considered being negative.

I might add, does the administration also plan to hire Keith Jackson to be the Flying Fleet’s announcer and color commentator? Yes, that would be a nice touch!

When I shared this information with a fellow alum, he said, “Chuck Wilson, you’re lying, or you’re drunk as a skunk! What are you drinking?” Well, I do not know what is in the water the folks in Due West are drinking, but I want a hundred gallons of it. I can easily sell it for $100 dollars a shot. I will be able to buy an island in the Caribbean!

In contrast, note this from nearby Toccoa Falls College (TFC) in Toccoa, Georgia. With about 800 students, TFC was largely focused on Christian ministry.  With a business program and a teacher education program, the folks at TFC are now tapping into the thriving niche of the ministry/service area of a nursing program. (http://www.tfc.edu/toccoa-falls-college-announces-new-dean-of-nursing/) One can only wonder: did they consider a football program?

Having failed to attract new donors, having failed to raise new money, and having failed to find new people resources for Erskine, is an implausible football program all that Kooistra is able to offer? This sounds like something coming out of VP Brad Christie’s April 2014 secret meeting. One wonders, has Kooistra been co-opted by VP Brad Christie and CFO and VP Greg Haselden? Also, Kooistra’s promise of a five-year term as president ends with the first year of his lame football scheme being launched. Yes, he will be able to leave Due West after watching a loosing football season in the Presidential Box at the Dixie High School Football field.

Kooisrta PassHowever, remember this football scheme is a “‘Hail, Mary,’ Pass,” and a “‘Hail, Mary’ Pass” is a desperation play. Generally, desperation plays fail. So, will “Koistra’s ‘Hail, Mary’ leave Erskine belly-up dead?

Whoa, Nellie, are you ready for a “Hail, Mary?” Whoa, Nellie are you ready for some football?

Throw, Paul, Throw!

These are my thoughts,

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Charles W. Wilson

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  1. Rick Barnes says:

    Well PC of the Presbyterian Church has a football team. Newberry of the Luthern Church has a football team. Wofford of the Methodist Church has a football team. Furman of the Baptist Church has a football team. Why wouldn’t Erskine of the ARP Church also want to have a football team????? After all more people watch football on the weekend than go to church. As one wise gentleman told me, “Israel had their Baal, but we have our Ball!”
    Rick

     
    • Chuck Wilson says:

      Dear Rick Barnes,

      Thanks for the comment.

      That was priceless!!!! (-:

      I don’t care what they say, you folks in Canada are not humorless!!

      Regards,

      Chuck Wilson
      ARPTalk

       
  2. Andy says:

    While I completely agree with your assessment that the creation of a football team is most likely a complete waste of resources and time for Erskine, the administration, and the alumni who donate to the school, I want to ask one question of you…

    Why do you assume that the athletes that will be recruited to play football (or other sports) at Erskine are, in your words “marginal”? For that matter, you seem to make the assumption that these potential athletes are not “a mission-fit for an evangelical Christian Liberal Arts college”?

    When I was a student at Erskine (during the late 80’s/early 90s), there were a number of athletes on the Basketball team who were recruited and were both good at academics AND were solid, Christian athletes who exhibited their faith on and off the court. These athletes were part of a team that went to the NAIA final four under Coach Robbie Hicklin (pointing to the fact that they WERE quality athletes). Two of the athletes on that team are now ministers in the ARP denomination (pointing to the fact that there was sincerity in their faith in Jesus Christ).

    The same was true of the men’s and women’s soccer teams (that is to say that there were some of good Christian character) as well as the men’s baseball team and women’s softball team. (I cannot speak well to the other sports, but would venture a guess that there would have been at least a smattering there as well).

    It doesn’t seem fair to point to a character failure or spiritual defect in the persons who might be recruited, when you have no idea who may or may not be recruited to play at Erskine (assuming this plan does come to fruition). Look only to those I mention above to see that there are exceptions to your “rule”.

    Again, I am NOT defending the choice to create something that will in all likelihood be a money pit and drain on the school’s finances. I would simply hope that in future posts you will choose to be a little more charitable in your choice of words concerning who Erskine could potentially attract as student athletes.

     
  3. Chuck Wilson says:

    Dear Andy,

    Thanks for the comment.

    BTW, which Andy are you? Do I know you?

    Your question is more than a question; it’s a question and an extended statement.

    Nevertheless, your question is spot on. It is possible to be an athlete (and a very good athlete) and a mission fit (and, may I add, a scholar).

    My point is the level Erskine will be participating in football if the board approves a football program. Erskine will not be able to recruit quality football players. Quality players will go elsewhere. You mentioned the NAIA, but Erskine will not be participating in an NAIA program. Erskine will be participating in an NCAA program. Major differences.

    My point is also the manner in which Erskine has been recruiting athletes in the last 10 years. “Mission fit” has not been a priority. A warm body has been enough.

    Interestingly, even most of the big programs are finding football a drain on resources. See the following article: http://www.ethosreview.org/intellectual-spaces/is-college-football-profitable/. The truth about football is that big-time football is the minor league program for the NFL. Small schools are suffering greatly.

    Once again, thank you for your question. I thank your for the opportunity to elaborate. Of course, my article is a spoof. The nature of a spoof is hyperbole.

    Regards,

    Chuck Wilson
    ARPTalk

     
    • Andy says:

      Chuck –

      Thank you for the fair and honest answer. (And yes, mine was a question/extended statement.) I’m sorry to be JUST replying to you, but I’ve been down with this nasty flu bug that seems to be floating about South Carolina at the moment.

      Anyway, in answer to your first question, we’ve never met face to face, but perhaps one day I’ll have that opportunity. My given name is not Andy, but rather a nickname that everyone has always called me (including those who knew me at Erskine).

      I always enjoy the read on ARPTalk, and am thankful that there is someone keeping those of us in the denomination abreast of what is going on “behind the scenes” at Erskine. While I don’t always see eye to eye with your assessments of the situation, I am at least (in all cases) grateful to get your flow of information from those in the know.

      Here’s what I find most interesting about the football scenario for Erskine (again, assuming it is approved). Erskine currently is competing in other sports in the Conference Carolinas Athletic Conference. After a peek around the CC website, I found that there are presently only TWO schools in the CC that have a football program (out of 12 programs). Those two being Limestone and North Greenville.

      North Greenville and Limestone both play the majority of their games in football as non-members of the South Atlantic Conference. Assuming Erskine WERE to play in the SAC for football, it puts us in competition with teams like Carson-Newman, Catawba College, Lenoir Rhyne University, Lincoln Memorial University, Brevard College (leaving conference in 2017), Mars Hill University, Newberry College, Tusculum College, and Wingate University.

      That conference means A LOT of traveling for the (potential) football team, with schools as far away as Tennessee, and the bulk of them in North Carolina. Considering most football traveling rosters include some 60+ players, and given that there will be overnight accommodations and food for at least playing the TN teams, Erskine is looking at some SERIOUS expense increase for the athletic department. I’m doubtful that either the Board OR Dr. Kooistra realizes the amount of extra expense they’re about to incur. Someone might want to point out just this TRAVEL PROBLEM to them before they bite off more than they can chew. (There is a great deal more to be concerned with, but that’s one small logistical detail that makes a HUGE difference in the bottom line for the budget.)

       
      • Chuck Wilson says:

        Dear Andy,

        Thanks for the comment.

        Andy, thanks for revealing some of the information I have also found. Sometimes, I think folks think I makeup stuff. It doesn’t take long to check out the facts. Thank you for your diligence.

        The costs are going to be enormous for tiny Erskine. What you have mention is only the beginning of the unexpected costs. If Erskine goes for football, the end result will be self-cannibalization.

        Not too far in the future, in an empty field were Erskine College and Due West once were, there will be a plaque. On the plaque will be three names: Kooistra, Christie, and Haselden. The inscription will read: “These men brought football to Erskine.”

        Forgive the sarcasm.

        Once again, thanks for the research.

        Regards,

        Chuck Wilson
        ARPTalk

         

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