At a university where roughly 18-20 percent of athletes are Black, Slippery Rock University athletic director Paul Lueken said that he believes the athletics on campus are, overall, fairly diverse.
“Some sports that are offered here are more diverse than others and that’s simply because of the nature of the sport,” Lueken said. “We have the most diversity within football, basketball and track and field. Some sports just don’t have a lot of minority participation, lacrosse being one of them.”
Lueken said that a school like SRU’s primary focus is to distribute the allotted scholarship money allowed by the NCAA for Division II schools in such a way that allows them to form/keep competitive teams.
“Each sport has a limited amount of scholarship money that they are allowed to work with,” Lueken explained. “No sport has even close to the Division II maximums and so we’re going to go out there and try to find the best athletes that fit our profile that we need for student-athletes.”
Division II schools follows a partial-scholarship model, according to the NCAA’s website. Roughly 110,000 student-athletes compete in Division II athletic programs across the country and a small, undisclosed, amount actually receive a grant that covers the entirety of their college expenses. On average, a D-II football program is allowed to give out 36 “full-grants” to players. The grants are then divided up between the players on the team, which result in partial scholarships, according to the NCAA.
Lueken said it is typically up to the individual coach of each sport to determine who gets what scholarship and how much of the allotted money will be spent on them.
“I sign every schoalrship,” Lueken said. “Each sport gets a dollar amount of scholarship money and it is up to the individual coach to distribute that money how they see fit; I don’t dictate that. If there’s a question of whether a kid is going to academically make it, I can talk to admissions; but before the paper even gets to my desk, the athlete has already been vetted through by admissions.”
Lueken said the university has strategic goals they follow to promote diversity among their athletic programs. It’s a goal of not only Slippery Rock, but of the NCAA to be as inclusive and diverse as possible, Lueken explained.
“Again, it’s very sport specific because of the availability of the student athletes out there that we are in the market to recruit,” Lueken said. “There might be and have been great minority athletes in the Pittsburgh area, but if they are Division I level, we won’t get them. We’re making it a goal to recruit more and more athletes within highly populated urban areas to help bring diversity to our athletics, so I think we are making some headway.”
SRU has recently found itself amid controversy due to a flyer promoting Black History Month being found defaced in Rhoads Hall earlier this month. In response to a community discussion held by Rock President William J. Behre on Feb. 18, Lueken said that athletics are a strong way to help bring students on campus together.
“We have student-athletes working together to accomplish a common goal and that’s to be successful for the team,” Lueken said. “I would say that a strong majority of our student-athletes, who are certainly not perfect, view their teammates as teammates. The color of skin does not matter; and to my knowledge, we have never had any race related issues.”
As a whole, SRU falls “in the middle of the pact” when it comes to diversity across campus, with 5.3 percent (403) of undergraduate students being reported as Black, according to College Factual. Lueken believes we can use athletics to help increase those numbers.
“When people come to our games, whether it’s football, basketball, soccer, whatever, they see how well our student-athletes work together,” Lueken said. “We want to attract people to want to come here or to enroll their kids here; and I think we are doing a good job at that.”