Athletics facilities scandal
The Athletics facilities scandal was a 2004 Spectator investigation revealing that Provost Jonathan Cole had misled the athletics department into believing that they were receiving space in the Northwest Science Building when in fact no space had been reserved for them. In addition, the report revealed that on at least two occasions, the department missed opportunities to construct dedicated facilities when the administration chose to pursue alternate plans for the sites because athletics had failed to raise enough money.
During his 13 year tenure as Athletic Director, John Reeves failed to expand the athletics department's footprint on the Morningside Heights campus. Reeves had planned facilities for three different undeveloped sites on and around campus in that time: a five-to-six story gymnasium built atop Levien Gymnasium; an aquatics center on Amsterdam Ave. and 121st St.; and a portion of any development of the last remaining undeveloped portion of the Grove between Levien and Pupin on the corner of 120th Street and Broadway.
When Reeves came to Columbia in 1991, among the most pressing needs he needed to address were acquiring new space and renovating existing space. In 1993, Columbia spent $250,000 creating a Master Plan for athletics. By 1996 Reeves had already accomplished a number of tasks, including the construction of a tri-level fitness center in Dodge Fitness Center. From there Reeves moved on to the next phase in his plan, acquiring funding for a tower on top of Levien to provide additional space for his cramped department. However, Reeves was never able to secure the necessary funds and the project was shelved in 1998. Today the space above Levien is the site of the Northwest Science Building.
Reeves' second major facilities expansion plan called for the construction of a new aquatics center on 121st street to replace Uris Pool. Once again Reeves had plans drawn up and sought donations. Once again Reeves was unable to secure the money, and spurred in part by this fact, the administration opted to use the site for a new building for the School of Social Work instead. As a result, Columbia remains the only school in the Ivy League without a dedicated swimming facility.
Failure to Fundraise?
The primary reason the athletics department failed in its attempt to expand was its inability to raise funds, directly implicating Reeves. However, it has been suggested that the administration never gave Reeves access to the wealthiest potential donors. Spectator Columnist Phillip Wallace noted that at the very same time that Reeves was unable to raise money, Robert Kraft CC '61, a former football player and owner of the NFLs New England Patriots, had donated millions for the Kraft Center, Roone Arledge, president of ABC Sports and News, donated $6 million for an auditorium, and Alfred Lerner, owner of the Cleveland Browns, donated $25 million for a new student center. These facts suggest that the administration failed to prioritize obtaining money for athletics, even during a $2.8 billion capital campaign.
Jonathan Cole and the Northwest Science Building Scandal
When Reeves accepted the AD position, he demanded that he report directly to the central administration, specifically the provost. At the time Reeves may have thought that this would ensure him a natural ally and advocate since Jonathan Cole, the provost, was a Columbia alumnus and had played varsity baseball in college. This proved to be a costly mistake.
Having failed to secure a dedicated facility, Reeves hoped to secure two or three floors in a science building being planned for the northwest corner of the campus. Up until his resignation in May 2003, Cole had left the athletics department under the impression that this would be part of the plan. However, at some point between December 2000 and May 2003, Cole instead gave preliminary approval for a building devoted only to science and cutting out Athletics. Without informing Reeves, this was the plan that Cole passed on to his successor, Alan Brinkley, and the new university president, Lee Bollinger. Such was Reeves' trust in Cole, that he never once mentioned his expectation of receiving space to Brinkley, or to Bollinger, to whom Reeves directly reported after September 2003.
Reeves was blindsided when he finally found out; the first time he learned that his department had been cut out of the plans for the Northwest Corner Building was when he read the buiulding in the Spectator in March 2004. He immediately e-mailed Brinkley to query about the apparent change in plans. This was the first time that Brinkley learned that the athletics department not only desired space in the new building, but had been expecting it.
The episode revealed the incredible and embarrassing chasm in communications between the central administration and the athletics department at a school already notorious for its athletic shortcomings. While Cole is to blame for his role, perhaps he was unable to reconcile his responsibilities as head of the Columbia faculties and director of its academic mission with stewarding the athletics department in the administration.
The episode was particularly embarrassing for Bollinger, who on arriving from his previous position as president of the University of Michigan had vowed to improve Columbia's athletics and moved the department directly under his oversight.
The failure to develop new space for the athletics department on Morningside is a setback not only for athletics programs, but for the student body as a whole. Columbia remains dead last in both the quality and amount of space available for athletic activity in the Ivy League, with athletes and non-athletes sharing the same cramped facilities.
With the construction of the Northwest Science Building, there is no longer any opportunity to expand on campus as the administration has announced that it is the final development on the campus footprint. The only option for expansion in the vicinity of campus is on the new Manhattanville campus, but with no plans for athletics buildings in a first phase that remains years away from groundbreaking, any development there is likely more than a decade away from becoming reality.
The school's commitment to athletics under Bollinger's tenure has since shown a significant improvement. Reeves' successor, M. Diane Murphy, has had great success in greatly improving facilities at Baker Field, including the installation of new modern turf in Wien Stadium, the creation of the Columbia Field Hockey Venue, and extensive renovations to Columbia Soccer Stadium. Thanks to fundraising through the Campaign for Excellence, the school will also be building a new athletic field house at Baker. Nevertheless, Baker remains 100 blocks away from campus, and lost opportunities in the 90s means that even though Murphy has proved very adept at raising money, she's foreclosed from expanding on Morningside.
- John Reeves Ushers in an Awaited Turnaround in Columbia Athletics, The Record, Vol. 22 Iss. 11, Decemeber 6, 1996
- John Reeves Casts Off, CCT, July 2004
- Pressed for Space, Athletics Never Got Close, Columbia Spectator, April 30, 2004 (Note: Article included blueprints and artist's renderings in print edition)
- Columbia Owes Athletes An Apology, Columbia Spectator, May 3, 2004