Athletics should expand reach

Student-athletes ran in the Division III Week 5K on April 8. The race was held on campus following a week of events celebrating athletics at UTD, which also included a breakfast thanking faculty and professors of athletes. Photo by Srikar Baskara | Mercury Staff.

Staff members in the athletic department staff announced on Twitter that they will dress up in costumes as an incentive to raise money for Comets Give, but their efforts were only directed at student-athletes instead of the student body as a whole.

The charity drive, which was held for the first time, was a competition that encouraged different departments at UTD to see who could raise the most. This year, it fell during Division III Week, which included a 5K run on April 8.

Athletic Director Bill Petitt offered to wear a sumo suit while running the race if the athletic department gave 200 donations. Basketball head coach Polly Thomason and assistant coach Natalie Marlowe joined in as well, telling their team they would race in a Christmas tree costume and a pink gorilla costume, respectively.

Petitt ended up off the hook, as the athletic department only had 148 donations at the end of the day. While the goal wasn’t achieved, it was a good effort by the athletic department. Dressing up is a common idea that administrators around the country have taken part in some form in the past. The problem is that their attempts to foster a sense of community using Twitter were only aimed at the athletes and not at the entire student population.

Between being a Division III school and not having a football team, UTD struggles with getting students interested in sporting events. Attendance numbers are low at games and there is a lack of passionate fans. Using social media to increase visibility for the athletic department is a great tool that has proved effective for other programs, but it doesn’t help when the efforts are directed at the athletes. The athletes already know about their sports, so the work to bring attention to the department should be focused on the rest of the student body.

It was a good idea to use these incentives to get people talking in the athletic department about the charity drive. However, it could’ve been taken one step further and used in conjunction with other promotional tactics that appeal to everyone else as well. After encouraging the athletes to join in the fun, it could’ve been expanded to target the entire student population using the costumes as a sales pitch.

More community engagement ideas through social media and better implementation of those ideas can be used to help improve attendance numbers and increase attention to the athletics department. UTD has a social media presence already, but it needs to be built up if they hope to use it to make a lasting difference.

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