SHU Makes ‘The Daily Beast’s’ List of Best Colleges for Athletes

News Story: September 1, 2011

In a comprehensive review of 197 NCAA Division I, II and III colleges nationwide, Division I-AA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) school Sacred Heart University was ranked 18th as a best college for athletes.

The study was conducted in the summer of 2011 by staff at The Daily Beast, the three-year-old digital news offspring of revered print brand Newsweek, and published the last week in August. It is the second annual study of its kind and was driven by interest from alumni, students, parents of college-eligible children and the schools themselves in college rankings. The athletic programs category was one of more than a dozen areas examined and rankings were based on a mathematical formula and where a school falls relative to a category average.

In the athletic program category, four criteria were examined:

  • Athletes as a percentage of total undergraduate enrollment
  • Financial aid per athlete
  • Total operating expenses
  • The ratio of athletic spending to instructional expense

In that order, SHU measured up as follows: 21.3% of enrolled undergraduates are athletes; $10,534 is provided in financial aid per athlete; $18,681,467 is spent on overall athletic operations; and $0.43 is spent on athletics per instructional dollar.

The top 25 schools were noted, with the University of Tulsa at the top end in company that included the University of Notre Dame, Boston College, Colgate University and Syracuse University.

Senior Liz Tsipouras of
the Softball Team

C. Donald Cook, Sacred Heart University’s executive director of Athletics for the past 19 years and a 47-year athletic program veteran with long-time posts at both Fairfield University (23 years) and University of Hartford (six years), was flattered by the honor. He pointed to several elements that may have helped gain attention for SHU.

 “We have made a long-range commitment to our program. We also have 31 sports and over 700 participating athletes -- a high percentage of our students. Those factors most likely caught the attention of the surveyor.”

SHU athletes also perform well academically. “We have had 14 consecutive semesters wherein our athlete GPA’s are over 3.0,” said Cook.

Coaches are an exemplary part of the success equation as well. “We have a dedicated coaching staff, with an average tenure exceeding 10 years,” explained Cook. “They know what they are doing. And many that we hired some 16 years ago are still with us.”

In addition, awards from college athletic governing bodies contribute to SHU’s high profile. “Our University has won four consecutive Brenda Weare Northeast Conference Commissioner’s Cups, for men and women. Those awards are based on a point system and how our teams performed competitively against other schools’ teams in regular season play. Our women alone have won five consecutive awards,” he said proudly.

Something the Beast rankings may not have considered is the interaction of the athlete with his or her surrounding community, said Cook, who coached his first college game, in baseball, in April 1966.

Sophomore lacrosse players Seth Richard, center, and Cody Marquis, right, hand out turkeys for Thanksgiving at the
Bridgeport Rescue Mission.

“Our athletes are committed to community service and have had an enormous impact on the local community, and that’s an important part of their experience here and their growth as individuals,” he said. “For example, we send 10 to 15 student-athletes every weekday to the Dunbar School in Bridgeport – a school that may soon close – to work with students as mentors. It has made such a difference to the stability of that school.”

SHU’s outreach efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2010, the NCAA acknowledged the Athletics Department’s community service commitment by awarding Sacred Heart the NCAA Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) Award for Excellence for community outreach to the inner city of Bridgeport, symbolizing a balanced sense of purpose and perspective. “It’s not all about competitive sports,” Cook said. “This past year, the Northeast Conference awarded Sacred Heart its first Northeast Conference Building Communities Award, based on the number of student volunteer hours and community service. Our success is really an interactive mix of volume, performance on the field, community service and academics.”