Marfise’s Target: Upgraded Facilities, New Scholarships

Following the fall sports season, the University of Tampa ranked third in the Director’s Cup standings.

This award, given by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, goes to the college or university with the most athletic success.

Thanks to a volleyball national championship and a Final Four appearance by the women’s soccer team, UT racked up 219 points in the Cup standings. Only Grand Valley State (Minn.) and the University of California San Diego placed ahead of Tampa. GVSU has an enrollment of 22,565, and UCSD claims 21,639 students.

Tampa earned 36 points from a 19th place finish by the women’s cross country team. Women’s soccer’s third-place finish gave 83 points, and the National Championship volleyball team earned 100 points.

“We finished third, but we never really had a chance to win it,” said athletic director Larry Marfise. “There hasn’t been a school win the Cup without a football team. Grand Valley State and all those public universities are huge. They should probably be in Division I.”

Of the eight sports that contribute to the Director’s Cup standings, UT lacks three of them: men’s football, men’s water polo and women’s field hockey.

Florida Southern, in 25th place with 129 points, is the closest Sunshine State Conference team in the standings.

Despite the obvious successes on the field, UT athletics often finds itself in a financial bind.

“We’re somewhere between seventh and ninth in the SSC in terms of funding,” said Marfise. “And there are only nine teams in the conference.”

Bringing in enough money to remain active is a problem at schools around the nation but particularly at UT. Many students complain about a lack of a football team but fail to realize the huge financial burden the sport would put on the school.

“The University has been very good to us. Dr. Vaughn has done a tremendous job upgrading the facilities, the residence halls and the campus,” said Marfise.

Through the Sword and Shield Club and other fundraisers, Marfise’s goal is to get alumni support for multiple scholarship endowments. No UT student-athlete is on a full athletic scholarship.

“It’s sad, but it happens. Sometimes the kids just can’t afford to stay here anymore,” said Marfise. “The reason we are here is to graduate 90-100 percent of our student-athletes. I’d be tickled to death if we could do that. National championships are nice, but our goal is to graduate athletes.”

Currently, 65-75 percent of UT student-athletes graduate. Hurting this figure are those students who attend Tampa and then transfer. Even if they graduate from another university, UT cannot count them towards this statistic.

Beyond funding and scholarship, Marfise stressed the importance of getting the UT community involved at games.

“Student-athletes are no different than anyone else at UT. They work hard and they go to class,” said Marfise. “You win games with four-year athletes.”

The athletic department has set a goal of getting 450 students to attend each game.

While the baseball and soccer stadiums are among the best facilities in Division II, other areas of campus, such as the softball field and the pool, are next to be upgraded.

“You currently cannot see the game from the third base side of the softball field,” said Marfise. “We’d like to change that. McNiff [Fitness Center] is nice, but we want to build on that and improve our facilities.”

“We think we’re healthy,” said Marfise of the athletic program. “We’d like to endow some more scholarships, upgrade some more fields and, ultimately, increase green space on campus for students to go throw a Frisbee or toss a football.”

Upgraded facilities aren’t just for athlete use. Intramurals use the soccer and softball fields, and the baseball stadium is used by area teams.

Although two national championships in less than 12 months is a huge accomplishment, Marfise wants more.

The women’s cross country team had the highest GPA in the country, and the athletic director has set a goal to keep all UT student-athletes above a 3.0.

“Division II has an identity crisis,” said Marfise. “There is a perception that athletes go D-II because they couldn’t play D-I. This isn’t true, especially for women, who more often than men pick a school based on the education they can receive.”

Marfise described the athletic programs as being at a “peak.”

Student-athletes are excelling at being both, and the university supports the programs.

“Athletics keep students more grounded in class,” added Marfise. “It keeps them from dancing on tables in Ybor six nights a week.”

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