Athletic Donations: A Call for Fair Play

Editor’s note: We offered anonymity because the author feared reprisal from the athletics department if they expressed these views publicly. Given the Tech’s shortage of reporters, this topic would likely never come to light otherwise.

To the Editor of the California Tech,

I write to you in hopes of shining light on an issue that has been a fork in the road for many Caltech athletic teams. I am requesting to stay anonymous due to a fear of the likely repercussions on my athletic career by the administration if I exposed my name. However, please understand that this, by no means, undercuts the severity of this issue. In fact, I hope this highlights the problematic administration we have in place at the athletics department as of now.

Let us take a look at alumni donations to our athletics programs. On the Caltech Athletics website (, the “Donate” header only has one subheader: “Reimagining Scott Brown Gymnasium.” Thus, one might infer that this project was funded by the generous donations of alumni and parents of Caltech. However, this brings up the glaring issue of our underfunded athletics programs. Division III Athletics at Caltech are not the top priority, nor should they be. Caltech is a university that fosters intellectual ability over athletic ability. Student-athletes and coaches are well aware of the fact that we are students before we are athletes. This attitude actually fosters a welcoming environment for students to try out new sports, and allows students to use their respective sports as a way to destress from their academics and keep healthy.

But this does not mean that student-athletes at Caltech are any less dedicated or deserving of funding, which seems to be ignored by the head athletics director, Betsy Mitchell. We are not asking for over-the-top merchandise like some top Division III schools (some teams in Pomona-Pitzer annually are given matching sneakers and socks). In fact, we are not asking for any money from the department at all. We are simply asking the head athletics director to allow donations to individual teams.

Not many are aware of the fact that Mitchell does not allow donations to specific teams. Instead, she asks that they donate to all of Caltech Athletics, or one or more of their “enhancement funds.” This means that these donations will likely not make it to any team; rather, they will be used for funding the renovation of Brown Gym or other facilities. If they do make it to sports teams, they are divided up equally among all teams, as Mitchell has told my parents and several alumni. This discourages many potential donors from donating to Caltech athletics, causing the negative feedback loop that keeps the funding for student-athletes low.

Switching gears quickly to the Supreme Court of the United States, we will take a look at the court case _Citizens United v. Federal Elections Committee from 2010. _This court case significantly altered campaign finance law in the United States, particularly regarding the role of corporations and unions in political spending. The majority opinion held that previous restrictions on independent expenditures from corporations and unions violated the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. The Court equated spending money with speech, arguing that prohibiting corporations from spending money on political advertising was akin to restricting their speech. Although our case at hand has little to do with politics and corporations, we can apply a similar line of reasoning.

Using the Court’s interpretation of spending money as speech, it could be argued that the donations barrier infringes on prospective donors’ freedom of speech. Allowing donors to choose where their money goes respects their rights to express their preferences and support causes or teams that are meaningful to them. If the lack of interest in the overall athletics department is the reason for the prohibition of specific donations, perhaps it is time to turn inward and investigate why alumni and other potential donors are hesitant to donate to the athletics department.

The _Citizens v. FEC _case faced criticism on the increased influence of wealthy corporations and special interest groups in politics, which had the potential to drown out the voices of average citizens. However, this criticism is not applicable to our situation. In fact, we are dealing with the opposite end of the argument’s spectrum. Student-athletes are not receiving the support they need due to lack of funding, which would be easily fixed if donations were given to individual teams. A very small example is that teams cannot afford to give athletes any gear to keep, be it team t-shirts or practice jerseys. The bigger problem lies in the inadequate facilities and lack of food. Men’s and women’s fall season athletes were forced to change in the racquetball courts, with glass doors covered by brown paper, regardless of the fact that there were free lockers in Braun. Every year, athletes sit through a talk about the importance of nutrition. Yet, athletes who train throughout the school breaks (summer preseason, winter training, spring break training) have little to no access and money for food. Athletes are given around 14 dollars per day for food when they stay on campus during these school breaks. There are also no open dining halls on campus, forcing athletes to eat off campus or cook. Personally, I am very aware of the fact that I dropped around five pounds over a week when I came back to train during break in my freshman year. In an already stressful environment, it sometimes seems as though the athletics department strives to make our lives even more stressful, in ways that are borderline unhealthy. The Caltech Athletic Department claims that they strive for athletic excellence. Yet, every team suffers from their inability to retain athletes, resulting in Caltech teams to be much smaller in numbers compared to most SCIAC teams. Perhaps the best (and easiest) way to foster excellence and loyalty in athletes is to provide more support and encourage a cycle of giving back through donations.

In allowing contributions to specific teams, alumni and parents can directly support the sports they were involved in or have a personal interest in, fostering a stronger connection to the Institution. In the long run, this could encourage donors to continue to donate to other causes in the athletic department as well, increasing overall funds. On the moral side of the argument, let us bring up the question of integrity. The current model of donations is extremely opaque. It is very unlikely that a donor will be willing to give money to a department that gives very little detail about where the money is going. Targeted donations enhance transparency and accountability in how funds are used. Donors, as well as student-athletes, can see the direct impact of the contributions, leading to increased trust and ongoing support, creating a positive feedback loop.

One of the biggest arguments that we have heard from Mitchell is that of equality. We beg to differ. Targeted donations more effectively meets teams’ specific needs, as donors are usually involved with the specific sport, and are aware of the costs they may bear. This is especially important due to the different sizes of teams. For example, using our current donation model, Men’s Tennis and Swim and Dive would be given the same amount of money from a donation. This seems fair in theory, until we consider the fact that the men’s tennis team consists of 12 people, while the swim and dive team consists of 21 men and 18 women. Is this what fairness and equality looks like?

Funding has been a glaring issue in Caltech athletics. We have a clear solution to this problem. Now, here is a cry to implement this solution. Dear Betsy Mitchell, randomly yelling “Go Beavers!” in the middle of practice doesn’t raise team morale. This will.


An anonymous student-athlete