By Kyle Wills
Youngstown State University, just like any other college or university across the country, uses athletics to try to attract potential students to its campus. At Baldwin Wallace University and the University of Mount Union, more than half of the students on campus are student-athletes.
Ron Strollo, executive director of intercollegiate athletics for the university, said it’s an important piece of the enrollment initiative at YSU.
The university is planning to cut 26 programs from academics because of budget constraints and declining enrollment. Some have suggested that using money from athletics is the answer.
Strollo said there’s a perception of academics vs. athletics. However, the Athletic Department has been asked to help support the enrollment initiatives.
“That’s why you’ve seen the expansion of some athletics programs and women’s lacrosse, then swimming and with double the roster and cross country. And four or five years ago I added bowling,” Strollo said.
While YSU offers scholarships to its athletes, Strollo said it can only distribute a certain number of full scholarships. The department breaks down those scholarships and offers partial ones, still requiring student-athletes to pay parts of tuition, food and dorm costs.
There are approximately 530 student-athletes at YSU. Three years ago, there were approximately 400. He also said these student-athletes wouldn’t be at the university if it wasn’t offering their specific sport.
“We’re managing more student-athletes, but these are all students that probably wouldn’t be at YSU if it wasn’t for us offering the sport,” he said.
While additions of women’s bowling and lacrosse have helped raise athletic enrollment, he said the Athletic Department is exploring which sports to add next.
“You’re always thinking about adding, not only for enrollment for Title IX purposes, but to try to add to our women’s programs,” Strollo said. “We’re still just settling in when your enrollment goes up by 130 students, we’re still trying to settle in and trying to manage those 130 right now,” Strollo said.
Athletics is still recovering from the effects of COVID-19. It issued layoffs for 22 positions during the pandemic.
“We’re settling back into a normalized budget with that extra group of student-athletes and then we look forward to other possibilities, helping with the enrollment initiative,” Strollo said.
Going into the 2021-2022 athletic season, the Athletic Department partnered with Nike as all athletic teams donned the swoosh on their uniforms. Having a brand like Nike will help attract incoming recruits, Strollo said, thus increasing the number of student-athletes.
“We’ve got a good brand, so a lot of times from a student perspective, student-athletes are reaching out to us,” Strollo said. “There’s recruiting services out there that help you identify prospective students-athletes. There’s relationships between our coaches, administrators [and] high school coaches. High schools try to unearth some of those that have really good talent.”