After news broke in August that Occidental’s track and field and cross country teams would receive enhanced status as the school’s “signature sports,” Director of Athletics Jaime Hoffman confirmed that the board of trustees may also increase investment in varsity sports overall.
“If this investment translates into greater donor support, greater attraction to prospects, positive image on athletics at the institution, then we might anticipate more,” Hoffman said.
The initiative, according to Hoffman, was the product of a strategic planning committee that met over the past fourteen months. Collectively, alumni, advisers and trustees began to look at athletics as a whole at Occidental, and raised a central question: What does success mean in college sports?
The answer, they determined, was the ultimate value added to the Occidental experience. From there, the committee began to speculate on how sports could contribute to the school’s reputation and its draw to prospective students. Finally, they decided to try a pilot program with track and field and cross country, seeing what benefits could come from increased attention from the administration.
So far, the team’s response has been largely positive.
“In a way, it’s like, ‘Yay! We finally got the attention we’ve worked so hard for,'” Sprinter Onyekachi Nwabueze (sophomore) said.
The planning committee considered several factors in deciding which sports to highlight. While the track and field and cross country programs’ rich history and ability to reach four different teams certainly helped, gender equity was a major factor. Unlike football or baseball, track and field and cross country have the benefit of fielding both a men’s and women’s team.
While the concept of a “signature sport” is a fresh term, it signals improvements familiar to up-and-coming teams. Namely, there will be increased funding, with special focus on hiring a larger staff. One notable example is Tyler Yamaguchi‘s promotion to a full-time assistant coach.
“I feel very privileged,” Yamaguchi said of the decision. “I love Oxy. I love everyone that I coach.”
With Yamaguchi now able to commit even more to the team, according to Hoffman, Occidental may be better able to compete with larger schools, who often employ four coaches to cover the four different teams.
Robert Bartlett, head coach for tack and field and cross country, was similarly pleased. After working with Yamaguchi for seven years, he said, the choice to promote him was both obvious and long overdue.
Moving forward, Bartlett hopes to hire more recruiting personnel, if possible. Nonetheless, he called the administration’s endeavor with his team a “positive experiment” so far.
“We’re extremely fortunate to be the first program recognized by the administration,” he said.