New Bearcats Faculty Athletics Representative finding balance, synergy

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Three weeks ago the Bearcats named Dean and Professor of Marketing David Szymanski the new Faculty Athletics Representative (FAR). The position serves as the faculty academics liaison overseeing the athletics element of the university and also takes a spot on the important Athletics Advisory Council. The FAR is dedicated to bridging the gap between the two sides. In the specific, early portions of the job entailed reviewing all the student-athletes transcripts and making sure everyone is on the proper path academically.

szymandd.jpgThat means many hours spent with Compliance Director Maggie McKinley pouring over paperwork. But beyond the logistics of the process right now his job represents a bigger picture issue thrust to the forefront of the college landscape these days.

Recent severe sanctions against Penn State came against the backdrop of Jerry Sandusky's child molestation claims. The NCAA addressed the deeper reasoning they struck down with such force came because of a general lack perspective from the athletics program in relation to the rest of the university. The power of football overwhelmed the basic principles of higher education.

Due to the ripple effect emanating from State College the FAR position has never been so prominent or important. For Szymanski, he understands the grander scheme

"It is part checks and balances and part doing the right thing making things are going in the right direction and being proactive at the same time making sure you don't have anything that is going on," he said. "You obviously work toward making sure you focus on doing all the right things. Fortunately here at UC we really haven't had any recent history of anything going on."

No, the Bearcats record is relatively clean and with a line of checks including the FAR, advisory council, role of President Greg Williams and beyond. If Szymanski were to ever feel an issue was trending in the wrong direction, there would be little problem making sure it never grew beyond the trending phase.

"I'll be meeting with the president on a regular basis to talk about things," he said. "You'd have the opportunity to pick up the phone and talk to the right people and inform them immediately. That's how it should be done and can be done."

A common theme over the years nationally is the narrative that the academic side and athletic side are built to butt heads. The academics would complain about the money and facilities poured into athletics and athletics side would bemoan strict guidelines places upon players.

The national narrative hasn't applied at UC where the school's record both in the classroom and on the field show one team paddling in the same direction. Szymanski made a point to reiterate the value during one of his first advisory council meetings.

His point: Look up how many faculty members played college athletics.

"What you find out is there are more faculty who were athletes," he said. "Part of it is an appreciation, part is a communication. Athletics certainly helps to enhance the institution and build the community spirit, building loyal alumni and marketing the institution. We monetize the amount of exposure you get nationally in terms of media it's pretty significant. It helps to make a destination school for a lot of students and not just a lot of athletes."

Three weeks into his time on the job, these student-athletes only supplemented his belief in the system in place at UC. Any thoughts of a negative relationship between the two sides were unsubstantiated.

What Szymanski hopes to cultivate and already appears in place at UC is everyone living on the same page.

"True communication and making people understand what the athletics do for the institution and what the institution can do for athletics really is a partnership," he said. "It's not an either-or proposition. As going through this review process it's amazing how many great students we have who are on the athletic teams. Some people will talk about it on the national level as either-or, I think it is being a student and an athlete and I think the same discipline it takes to be a student-athlete really are the criteria for success in any profession you might pursue. I don't see them as mutually exclusive, I see them as very synergistic."

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