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Royer Speaks on Athletics Construction and Reform

By Helana Kadyszewski


In a recent speech to the MIT Club of Boston, Director of Athletics Candace L. Royer talked about the ongoing work on the Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center and the reorganization of the department of athletics, physical education, and recreation.

Royer said she is hopeful that the new facility, scheduled to open later this year, will greatly raise awareness of MIT athletics. “MIT sports is one of the best kept secrets I know of,” she told the attendees. “I can’t tell you how many times someone has said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know MIT even had an athletics program.’ I bet in a year or two I won’t have to deal with that.”

Royer said that the 125,000-square-foot Zesiger Center will offer both teams and recreational users many new opportunities.

“For the first time, our varsity swimming and diving teams will be able to practice on campus,” she said. “With 28 lanes, even during their practices, we will have open lanes for recreational swimmers.”

The Center, which has been under construction since October 2000, will include an Olympic-size 50-meter pool, seating for 450 spectators, a training pool, and an 11,000-square-foot fitness center. A 5,000-square-foot court facility will provide space for volleyball, aerobics, recreational basketball, and squash. The Center will also include a 3,700-square-foot sports medicine area, administrative offices, and locker rooms.

At the talk, Royer unveiled a preliminary rendition of a wall mural to be painted by artist and physicist Matthew Ritchie. Ritchie’s mural, a cryptic representation of the Big Bang, is designed to remind users of the facility of the important link between body and mind.

Royer also noted MIT’s record of Academic All-Americans and showed footage of Jennifer Harris Trosper ’90’s induction to the Academic All-America Hall of Fame. Trosper was the first MIT graduate to be inducted.

Royer discusses plans

Royer also described the latest draft of the Athletics Department’s strategic plan. The plan was suggested in 2000 by then-chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow ’72, as a way to help re-balance the department’s resources and provide a better service to the MIT community.

Royer said the current draft looks to be an ideal remedy for the athletics program’s recent financial and managerial struggles. “We are very pleased with the amount of feedback we’ve had during the planning process,” she said. “We have been alerted to the primary concerns of our student-athletes and to the strengths and weaknesses of the department.”

The latest revision of the strategic plan can be found online at the department’s new Web site: <>.

Programs to be reorganized

Royer noted that the Athletics Department has recently been accused of trying to do “too much for too many” and failing for this reason. Along with the dissolution of the junior varsity athletics program, students and staff have expressed dissatisfaction with the quality and distribution of facility, equipment, and personnel resources among the department’s programs.

Today, the department contains five major program components: the physical education program, the 41 intercollegiate varsity programs, 38 club sports, nearly 20 intramural programs, and a host of informal recreation activities. A growing demand from graduate students, staff, and faculty has required the department to reassess its level of support for non-varsity programs.

“A large part of the problem is that we have not had or communicated a clear prioritization of our resources, and that is where we get into the problems of over-used and under-maintained field and court spaces among other problems,” said MIT women’s basketball and soccer coach Melissa Hart.

In an effort to re-balance department’s resources, the department has proposed new guidelines for prioritizing resources. Under these guidelines, considerations will be organized around a hierarchy of three functional priorities: education, competition, and recreation. Educational priorities, which include the physical education program and intercollegiate programs, will be given first consideration. Competitive programs such as intramural sports would be given second consideration. Because of their low organizational requirements, recreational programs such as personal fitness, club activities, and other informal recreation remain the third priority.

In addition to detailing this hierarchy, the strategic plan calls for the development of a formal structure for evaluating, establishing, and eliminating both intercollegiate and club sports. Furthermore, the department plans to hire a director of recreational sports to work with both Royer, who oversees intercollegiate athletics, and the director of physical education.

Education program reforms

Royer, discussing the plans for a new physical education program, said “The winds of change are blowing strong,” Students can expect the program to become the “benchmark of a more holistic approach to fitness,” she said.

The physical education program, to be renamed the “Health, Fitness, and Life Program,” will add nutrition, stress management, mental health, and leadership education courses to its curriculum. The department has also been pursuing potential partnerships with other departments on campus. “MIT Medical, the biomechanical engineering and materials science departments, and the Center for Sports Innovation are all possible partners,” Royer said. There has also been some discussion of instituting a required health-related fitness course for undergraduates.

Facilities, budget to improve

The strategic planning committee has also laid out plans for improving the facilities and operations of the department and for boosting the department’s budget. The committee is working to develop more effective partnerships with the Department of Facilities and the MIT Safety Office, so as to manage maintenance and upgrades of facilities better, as well as to prohibit unauthorized access to them.

Royer said she and the committee are taking no chances with the Zesiger Center. “We wanted a trained and professional staff who could come to MIT and hit the ground running, ” she said.

Health Fitness Corporation of Minneapolis has been hired to manage the Zesiger Center for its first three years. The department will monitor the company’s operations and decide whether or not the company will stay beyond the three years. “We simply do not, right now, have the numbers in terms of faculty and staff to run the complex and achieve the immediate high quality of service we’ve been talking about,” said Royer.

Having the company run the Center will also maximize the revenue generated by the facility, she said.

“The construction of the Zesiger Center was postponed by a shortage of funding.,” Royer said. “In the last year we’ve seen a huge infusion of funds, a trend we hope will continue.”

Communication a focus

Royer also said that providing a feedback mechanism for facilities’ users and responding to concerns would be an important focus of the department. The Sports Information Department is working with a new information technology specialist, Carol Elder, to facilitate improved communication. Royer said that she hopes that better information technology will allow groups to organize online sign-ups, reserve courts, access updated information and schedules, and communicate any demands or criticisms directly to the department.