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bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

SIU head coach Barry Hinson stares at the floor late in overtime against Illinois State during the second half of the MVC Mens Basketball Tournament semifinal at the Scottrade Center on March 3 in St. Louis. Illinois State went on to win 76-68 in overtime.

A New Kind of Football: Title IX complaint led to Salukis' 17th sport

CARBONDALE — Adding another sport was the last thing Southern Illinois University's athletic department wanted to do in 2017.

Facing another budget deficit in 2016-17 — the department had a $3.05 million deficit in 2015 and $3.16 million in 2014, according to figures from SIU that were published in USA Today — the department ran out of options. It had cut costs after not filling positions, consolidating responsibilities among staff, and reducing travel, but also battled sinking ticket sales in its revenue sports.

SIU decided to cut men's and women's tennis in late 2016, saving 12.5 scholarships and approximately $660,000 in a $21 million budget. It also reduced men's swimming and diving's scholarships by 3.9 to 6.0 per year.

The move, however, exasperated a gap in their participation levels for male and female students that was already in violation of Title IX. Title IX, part of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally-funded education program or activity. In this case, it requires public colleges to offer as many athletic opportunities for men and women, relative to their enrollment. Programs typically have to be within about five percent between their roster spots available for men and women, relative to their respective enrollments.

Without men's and women's tennis and less scholarships for the men's swimming and diving team, SIU believed it would pass any challenges to its Title IX policies, but when former tennis coach Judy Auld and one of her former players filed a complaint in 2016, it did not.

"At the time the decision was made on tennis, there was a feeling that this was something that could be done without running afoul of Title IX," SIU President Randy Dunn said. "In the subsequent complaint that was brought, that was not going to pass muster, and we found that out after the fact, and that led into the discussion about what the remediation action was going to be to settle that complaint."

An independent Title IX study by Helen Grant Consulting, that SIU paid for, found violations in the level of participation rates and the pursuit of program expansion. There was a 7-percent difference between the participation rates of male and female students and their enrollment levels in 2015-16, representing 65 opportunities. The Salukis were also found in violation of a rule that tests if a program showed interest in expanding opportunities for minorities, because they hadn't added a women's sport since adding swimming and diving in 1989.

To increase their amount of athletic opportunities for women, the report suggested the school reduce the size of the rosters for some male sports and increase them for some of their women's sports. SIU's football team, for example, had 110 players in 2015 and 102 last year. This year, the Salukis will be capped at 100 players.

Adding women's soccer, which SIU announced in 2017, was part of an agreement the school made with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights in late 2016 to appease the Title IX complaint filed by Auld and one of her former players. 

"We realized from our Title IX study that our rosters were out of line," SIU athletic director Tommy Bell said. "I kind of knew it when I got here, but then we brought in the expert to get a Title IX study done, and she indicated the rosters were not there, as well as some other things that we needed to correct that we would — in the event of a full investigation — we may be found deficient, so we made a number of those corrections. There were some really good suggestions that we picked up on, but as the budget kept going, we had pressure to reduce programming, and so we chose to reduce programming. But we knew our rosters were large."

Dunn and Bell adamantly denied any notion that they dropped tennis and reduced the scholarships for the men's swimming and diving team in order to add women's soccer later. SIU announced it was dropping tennis and reducing the scholarships in January 2017. Women's soccer wasn't added, officially, until much later in the year, and both said it could be a benefit to both the athletic department and the university.

There were six players on the men's tennis team in its final season and eight on the women's team. The new women's soccer team could have between 25-30 players, giving the athletic department enough available roster spots to appease its Title IX requirements while also giving the school more paying students. NCAA Division I programs can offer 14 scholarships for women's soccer programs, and few players in the Missouri Valley Conference get full rides, Drake coach Lindsey Horner said. 

The Southern File Photo  

Fans and alumni fill the stands at a football game at Saluki Stadium.

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Women's soccer puts more pressure on struggling athletic department

CARBONDALE — Sagging enrollment and historic drops in ticket sales for Southern Illinois University-Carbondale's two revenue sports could put enormous pressure on its new women's soccer program to produce revenue in 2019.

SIUC's enrollment dropped below 16,000 students in the fall of 2017, the fifth time in the last six years it went down. More than 50 percent of the athletic department's funding comes from student fees, which was one reason it faced a $4.3 million deficit in 2015-16, according to financial numbers reported to the NCAA. The athletic department also faced a budget deficit of $3.05 million in 2015 and $3.16 million in 2014.

"Everybody took a 10 percent budget cut across the boards in their athletic budgets," SIU athletic director Tommy Bell said. "A lot of our coaches have gone out and raised private money in giving clubs, with direct solicitation to their fans and donors. I use women's softball as a great example for us. They had their 19th annual fundraising event a few weeks ago. Lots of people came out, it was a really great night for them. They've put some substantial changes in their program and have been able to afford things."

Bell also singled out the baseball team, which runs a successful fundraiser in Chicago in addition to its annual fish fry and silent auction around Good Friday. The baseball team also has a dugout club, much like the women's basketball team's High Five Club, the men's golf team's Clubhouse Crew and the Gridiron Club for the football team.

The enrollment drop was just one piece of a three-pronged assault on SIU's athletic budget. Ticket sales for the football team and the men's basketball team fell to their lowest numbers in over a decade in 2017-18.

The football team drew an average of 6,762 fans to 15,000-seat Saluki Stadium, one of the nicest facilities in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. It was the lowest average attendance for football since 2001, when the Salukis still competed at McAndrew Stadium.

Fans also missed out on a lot of the men's basketball team's pursuit of second place in the MVC this season. The average attendance for the 20-12 Salukis, who took on Illinois State in the MVC Tournament semifinals Saturday, was under 4,000 for the first time in 20 years. The average attendance, 3,967 fans per game, was the lowest since 1998, when SIU Arena saw an average of 3,345 fans come out to see the men's team.

Donations to the athletic department also fell for the third straight year in 2016, according to Bell, although he said he expected bigger numbers in fiscal year 2017 and 2018.

"We are doing extremely well this year in our scholarship fund," Bell said. "We set an all-time record in December in our scholarship fund support, so our goal is to increase our scholarship fund support, because we take 100 percent of our SASF monies, and we actually put it toward our scholarship bill. We're growing there. We're not growing fast enough because the majority of our income is a student-based fee. It's a student fee-based budget."

And that is where SIU President Randy Dunn, Chancellor Carlo Montemagno and Bell come in. All three could have a big part in raising SIUC's enrollment, and how much the school's athletic department depends on it.

"Whether it gets to the sweet spot, or 18,300, there has to be a level for the university that exists, the organic and physical infrastructure, there must be a growth of enrollment, for athletics is suffering enough to try to maintain that infrastrtucture that exists," Dunn said. "We also know that, ultimately, that's part of the challenge. They've seen a consistent drop in a big revenue form in athletics, that being the student athletic fee, so they're taking it on the chin, as far as anybody else, as this enrollment continues to slide. It has to be addressed."

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Illinois Governor’s Race | Democrats
Pritzker maintains front-runner status in Democratic Primary

CHICAGO — As the fight to become the Democratic nominee for Illinois governor enters its final weeks, the looming question remains the same as it's been for months: Can anyone stop J.B. Pritzker?

The billionaire Chicago businessman has spent millions on his campaign, becoming a seemingly constant presence on television and collecting endorsements from many in the party establishment. Polls consistently have shown him as the front runner.

His closest rivals, state Sen. Daniel Biss and businessman Chris Kennedy, each argue they're the candidate that would bring true change to the Democratic party and the state. They're working to derail Pritzker come March 20, with Kennedy reporting a recent bump in fundraising and Biss stressing his status as "the middle-class candidate."

Six Democrats vying for nomination

Six Democrats are running to become the party's nominee for Illinois governor. Here's a look at the candidates, in the order they will appear on the March 20 primary ballot:

Three others are seeking the nomination: educator and farmer Bob Daiber, anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman and physician Robert Marshall. In the Republican primary, Gov. Bruce Rauner faces a late challenge from conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives, whose campaign fund is a tiny fraction of what the wealthy former private equity investor has at his disposal.

Rauner already has spent money to damage Pritzker, airing audio from FBI wiretaps in which the Democrat is heard talking to now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich about a political appointment. In a particularly damaging one, Pritzker describes Secretary of State Jesse White as the "least offensive" African-American lawmaker Blagojevich might consider appointing.

His Democratic rivals argue the previously unreleased audio, obtained by the Chicago Tribune, would haunt a Pritzker bid and make him unelectable in November.

Pritzker has apologized for the remarks. The heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune says Rauner is attacking him precisely because he's the Democrat best positioned financially and politically to deny the governor a second term.

"He's not spending money against any of my opponents," Pritkzer said during a recent WBEZ/Politico debate. "Why is that? Because he knows that he can't win in a general election against me."

It's still unknown whether any additional wiretap audio of Pritzker and Blagojevich exists. The Tribune hasn't disclosed how it obtained the audio or whether there's more, and Pritzker has said he doesn't know.

Pritzker, who was one of Hillary Clinton's biggest supporters for president, says he got into the race because he saw what was happening under President Donald Trump, whom he calls a racist and misogynist. He describes Rauner as Trump's "local silent partner."

As the race has appeared to tighten in recent weeks, Pritzker also has directed attacks at his fellow Democrats.

He blasted Kennedy for praising Rauner and for supporting multiple tuition increases when he was chairman of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. And he said Biss' record, which includes sponsoring legislation to cut public-worker pensions, hasn't been good for the middle class.

Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy and nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, calls Rauner "one of the worst governors in Illinois history."

But he's stood by his comment that the Republican should be commended for criticizing a flawed property tax system and "pay to play" culture in Cook County and Illinois. He described Pritzker's remarks on the wiretap audio featured in Rauner's ads as the "language of racists."

Kennedy says his campaign represents a break from the status quo.

"If you want radical change in Illinois .... come and work on my campaign," he told an audience at the University of Chicago on Thursday.

Biss says he made a mistake when he supported the pension legislation, which the Supreme Court threw out, and says that process and his other experiences in the Legislature mean he'll be a better governor. He says the question facing voters is whether it's good enough to just defeat Rauner.

"We can look at a situation with Bruce Rauner in the governor's mansion and Donald Trump in the White House and say inexperienced wealthy businessmen who buy their way into office must be the solution, or we can look at that and say it's time for a middle-class progressive," Biss said.

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Ives' challenge draws Rauner's focus

SPRINGFIELD — Some Illinois conservatives are fed up with their own party's governor.

The insurgent primary campaign of Republican state Rep. Jeanne Ives against GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner signals the right's weariness of a governor they say is all talk. And they complain the little action he's taken is a "betrayal" to Republican tenets. He's signed public financing of abortions, approved restricting police interactions with immigrants and supported an education-funding overhaul they say is a bailout for Chicago Public Schools.

The 61-year-old Rauner must topple Ives, a three-term House member, in the March 20 primary before he could take on one of six Democratic hopefuls, including presumed front-runner J.B. Pritzker, who is even wealthier than Rauner, a private-equity investor who has poured $50 million of his own money into the race.

"Gov. Rauner is unelectable in November," Ives, who lives in Wheaton, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Republicans need to take the fight to the Democrats and we can't do it with Gov. Rauner in charge, because he's not in charge. He has betrayed, literally, the core values of the Republican platform, from the public funding of abortions to creating a sanctuary state to crony bailouts."

A newcomer to political office when he took over as governor in 2015, Rauner, a Winnetka resident, promised fiscal discipline and no social-issue priorities. He stood on a "turnaround agenda" that called for 40 conservative, pro-business initiatives such as creating anti-union "right to work" zones, freezing local property taxes, limiting payouts for injuries under workers' compensation, allowing local governments to crimp union collective bargaining, and making major changes to the way liability lawsuits are tried.

But Rauner ran into a buzz-saw in Chicago Democrat Michael Madigan, House speaker for all but two of the past 35 years, who has derided the governor's plans as "an extreme, right-wing agenda." Madigan refused to budge on any of the Republican's proposals. Rauner demanded his changes before he would agree to an annual budget and what inevitably would be an income-tax increase promoted by Democrats who control the General Assembly. The stalemate lasted two years when there was no spending plan but plenty of spending, either required by court order, spot expenditures approved legislatively, or money spent by Rauner's administration without appropriation authority.

The result was billions of dollars in debt that each side blamed on the other. The showdown finally broke last summer when Democrats gathered enough Republican support to snub Rauner and override his veto of an increase in the income-tax rate from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent.

"This is a change election in Illinois because the fiscal state of Illinois is so bad, we need a leader who will resist all tax increases, control our spending and take on the corruption we see every day," the 53-year-old Ives said.

Rauner's advisers did not make him available for an interview.

Rauner has focused his campaign recently on removing Madigan, with mentions of term limits and a property-tax freeze as a way to change the political culture.

Ives ridiculed Rauner's all-out Madigan crusade in a face-to-face appearance before the Chicago Tribune editorial board last month, insisting that it's fruitless to wish away a political obstacle. She has publicized Rauner's now-infamous comment last fall that, "I'm not in charge," but is trying to take control from Madigan. She boasted that she has found ways to work with Madigan to achieve her goals. That resulted in advertisements from the Rauner camp declaring Ives "Mike Madigan's favorite Republican and Illinois' worst nightmare."

Ives is at a tremendous funding disadvantage, although her Tribune performance gained her conservative plaudits — and more than $2 million from businessman Dick Uihlein, a previous Rauner contributor. Ives launched the campaign's most contentious ad shortly after, a parody of one Rauner used to denigrate Madigan. Ives' version featured actors portraying a transgender woman, a woman who had a publicly financed abortion, and a sanctuary-state supporter thanking Rauner for backing their causes.

Ives, herself once a Rauner fan, wants to put a "1 percent hard cap on property taxes" as a percentage of home value in answer to Illinois' position as having the nation's highest property taxes. She pledges to repeal the income-tax increase and make spending cuts necessary to sustain it. She promises to repeal laws Rauner signed on abortion and immigrants. One expands Medicaid and state-employee health insurance coverage to abortions and the other prohibits police detention of immigrants and limits their interaction with them absent a criminal warrant. Ives calls that a "sanctuary state" law, although "sanctuary" typically refers to laws or ordinances that protect immigrants of any status, including those in this country without documentation.

Rauner promises to "roll back" the tax hike as well, but after promising to slice it to 3 percent within two years, he unveiled a budget plan last month that would reduce it by one-quarter of 1 percent only after a pension-program revamp which could save $1 billion annually but likely would be caught up in courts for years.

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Simon poll
Simon Poll shows Rauner's job approval percentage lower than Trump

The top three political leaders in the state and nation all got low job ratings from Illinois voters in a poll recently released by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, according to a news release from the institute.

The Simon Poll was based on a statewide sample of 1,001 registered voters conducted February 19-25. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percent.

The voters were asked whether they approved or disapproved of the job President Donald Trump, Gov. Bruce Rauner and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan were doing in their respective offices. In each case, the leader received significantly more negative than positive evaluations.

President Trump’s job approval was 36 percent positive and 62 percent negative. These totals included 54 percent who strongly disapproved, 8 percent who somewhat disapproved, 18 percent who strongly approved and 18 percent who somewhat approved of his performance in office. In shorthand terms, he was 26 percent “underwater.”

Gov. Rauner’s total positive rate was 31 percent who either somewhat approved (23 percent) or strongly approved (7 percent). His total negative rating was 63 percent with 39 percent who strongly disapproved and 24 percent who disapproved. This put him at 32 percent underwater.

“It is notable that Governor Rauner’s job approval in Illinois is somewhat more negative than President Trump’s. This is the opposite of the more usual finding of other polls in other states”, said John Jackson of the Paul Simon Institute, one of the directors of the poll, in the release.

Speaker Madigan fared somewhat worse than Gov. Rauner at a 21 percent approval rate with 18 percent who somewhat approve and 3 percent who strongly approve. He is at 68 percent total disapprove with 49 percent strongly disapprove and 19 percent who somewhat disapprove.

The respondents were next asked, “Has President Donald Trump’s record in office made you more or less likely to vote this year for a Republican for Illinois executive offices including: Governor and Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, or Attorney General?”

Overall, 27 percent said more likely; 55 percent said less likely, and 11 percent said neither. There were 17 percent who said much more likely and 10 percent who said somewhat more likely while 13 percent said somewhat less likely and 43 percent who said much less likely.

This was followed by a similar question of whether President Trump’s record in office made you more or less likely to vote for a Republican for U.S. Congress from Illinois this year. A total of 30 percent chose more likely with 20 percent who said much more and 10 percent said somewhat more likely. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents chose less likely with 47 percent saying much less likely and 11 percent somewhat less likely. Nine percent said neither.

Another question asked if Trump’s record made them more or less likely to vote for a Republican for the Illinois General Assembly this year, and 29 percent chose more likely; 56 percent chose less likely and 10 percent chose neither. Forty-three percent said much less likely, 13 percent said somewhat less likely, 10 percent said somewhat more likely and 18% selected much more likely.

“The Republicans should not expect a boost in Illinois for their congressional and state legislative candidates this year from Trump’s coattails while the Democrats will try to use opposition to Trump’s record as a motivator for a higher turnout for their candidates,” said John Shaw, director of the Paul Simon Institute, in the release.