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After Fourteen Years, Doris Reflects on Fairfield Athletics
When Gene Doris took over as Fairfield’s athletic director 14 years ago, the landscape of the University’s athletics was much different. There were only 12 varsity sports, little funding for any sport except for basketball and few facilities.
“When I got here the facilities were at a minimum,” said Doris. “There was just Alumni Hall, locker rooms for the basketball teams and one for others and Lessing Field, which had no bleachers, lights or irrigation. There was no office space for coaches, except basketball.”
Doris himself had only a small office in Alumni Hall. Now he holds court in the state-of-the-art Walsh Athletic Center, which features offices for all the coaches, a variety of locker rooms, a well-equipped training room and many more amenities. He has also helped turn Lessing Field into one of the top grass soccer fields in the region and added two artificial turf fields.
Throughout Doris’s time at Fairfield, the Stags’ lower-level sports have had unprecedented success. The men’s and women’s soccer teams, the men’s lacrosse team, the women’s volleyball team and both basketball teams have made trips to the NCAA tournament.
“When I came to Fairfield it had a great reputation as an institution,” said Doris. “It was easier to build a sports program when you don’t have to convince people to come here.”
While Doris has helped move the Stags athletic program in the right direction, he has had to deal with multiple difficult decisions.
In the 1980s he created the football program and later eliminated the program, along with hockey in 2003. He also orchestrated the move from Alumni Hall to the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, a move that has had mixed success.
“[The Arena] is not making money at the present,” said Doris. “But the potential to is still there. The business plan is still the same, but the reality is that if you don’t win, you don’t draw.”
Doris said that he looks at basketball in the state of Connecticut from the perspective that UConn is the top dog and everyone is else is just trying to keep up.
“It is like the Yankees and the Mets. UConn is the Yankees and there is an expectation in the state that they will win, so you need to win to draw in fans,” said Doris. “There is a distinct separation between the high majors and everyone else. There are some programs in the Bowl Championship Subdivision that spend as much as all of Fairfield University.”
Fairfield spent $2,379,113 in 2007 on athletics, which is more than any other school in the MAAC, but the 171st highest budget out of 339 Division I schools.
Doris said that he expects more upgrades to be made to the on-campus facilities in the coming years, but does not expect any renovations to Alumni Hall. Because of coding, it would be more economically feasible to build a new gym. Doris would also like to see a stadium built for the school’s growing soccer and lacrosse programs, similar to the 15,000 seat stadium that Loyola is building for 2010.
While nearby Sacred Heart has found some success in hockey and football, Doris does not believe it is necessary for Fairfield to field those sports.
At this point Doris does not see hockey or football returning to Fairfield, due to regulations set by the NCAA, which limits the amount of schools that can fund football at the level that they would need to.
Fairfield is classified as a Division-III school overall, because it does not field a football team. It is joined in that classifaction by many other schools that do field Division I programs in basketball, such as Georgetown and St. John’s.
“The NCAA drove out Division III teams,” said Doris. “It is a financial problem.”
According to Doris, originally it worked out, but people screwed it up by offering scholarships, forcing others to keep up.”
He left the door open for the return of hockey, but said that it would take a donor to contribute the two million dollar operating budget.
For now, Doris plans to continue to focus on expanding the sports program in the sports that the school does play.
“We want to be good across the board,” said Doris. “The reality may be that in some sports fourth in the conference is as good as it gets. There are a finite amount of resources and everyone can’t be number one. But the focus is always to win.”
After fourteen years, Doris reflects on Fairfield athletics
By Tom Cleary, The Mirror