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June 23, 2010

Dear Rice alumni and friends,

Rice appears frequently in the news these days, most often for the research accomplishments of our faculty and students.  But athletics attracts a great deal of media attention as well, and nothing creates a media frenzy quite like the recent talk and developments around conference realignment.  Although we think it best to pursue such matters without the glare of publicity, I want to assure you that we are committed to protecting Rice's interests and ensuring the continued success of Owls athletics.  I will write to alumni soon to provide an update on general developments at the university, but because of interest expressed by our alumni and Owls fans I want to communicate now and in greater depth about conference realignment.

In any discussion of athletics, including conference realignment, we are guided by our core values.  First and foremost is the integrity that we demand from every part of Rice, perhaps best embodied in our honor system.  Second, at Rice the "student" in student-athlete comes first.  We are proud of our athletes' academic record and of their accomplishments in a diverse array of endeavors both while they are at Rice and in their careers afterwards.  We only admit students who can successfully meet Rice's demanding academic standards and earn a degree, and we support their full range of needs and ambitions.  Third, we expect excellence in athletics just as we do in every department and school at Rice.  We compete to win, and we strive to give our students, alumni and friends the kind of athletic experience that helps build university spirit and loyalty.

Conference USA has been a good home for us for the last five years, and we are committed to remaining part of the conference and to supporting its continued success.  Of course, we must follow closely the consequences of any conference realignments, and in light of such changes we will work to achieve the outcome for Rice that will best support our goals and values.

We've recently witnessed the exodus of Colorado and Nebraska from the Big 12, Boise State's move to the Mountain West, Utah's move to the Pac 10 and the decision by Texas to stay in the Big 12, along with Texas A&M and Oklahoma.  So what does this mean for college sports and Rice in particular?  For now, the frenzy of conference realignment seems to be abating.  However, there are indications that other schools are continuing, some very vocally, to press to move into other conferences.  While the situation may be stabilizing for the moment, many expect further changes in the next few months.  A deep concern for all of us should be the potential for conference realignment to disadvantage a small and academically elite school like Rice and increase the gulf between the "haves" and "have-nots" in college sports.  Rest assured that Athletics Director Rick Greenspan and I are working to prevent that from happening and to augment the resources that we receive through our conference participation.

Whenever I think about Rice athletics, I am reminded of President Kennedy's famous question in his 1962 speech in Rice Stadium about going to the moon: "Why does Rice play Texas?  We choose to go to the moon ... and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."  We are still choosing to do those things that are hard, on and off the field.  Our conference and peer schools know that we intend to compete at the highest level, and we have many examples of our success: two football bowl games in the last four years that yielded a 38-14 win over Western Michigan in the Texas Bowl in 2008, a College World Series baseball championship in 2003 and 15 straight baseball conference championships in either regular or postseason play.  Just last week, star Owl baseball player Anthony Rendon was named national player of the year.  Rice also has a record of success across the spectrum of our 16 league sports, and both our athletes and coaches have participated in the Olympics.  Athletics and recreation facilities have benefited from remarkable levels of investment these last few years, thanks primarily to the generosity of our supporters.  Just as important, our record of NCAA compliance demonstrates that our commitment to sportsmanship and ethics is as strong as our commitment to winning.

In addition, our student-athletes have one of the highest graduation rates in the country and, in every year since joining the conference, the Owls have won the C-USA Institutional Excellence Award, which is awarded to the school whose student-athletes have the highest combined grade point average.  This is an accomplishment we can all be especially proud of, given that Rice is the highest-ranked among C-USA schools in U.S. News & World Report's annual rankings of colleges and universities.  Six Owls earned Academic All-America honors this year, and a record 227 student-athletes made the 2009-2010 C-USA commissioner’s honor roll.

Rice brings huge reputational, academic and competitive value to any collegiate athletic enterprise, enhanced by our location in the fourth largest city in the country.  While we are immensely proud of our student-athletes' successes, we also never lose sight of our core mission of education, research and public service.  And we never forget the importance of our alumni and friends, whose deep commitment to our educational and athletic endeavors is a huge part of our success.  Thank you for your support of Rice University and the Rice Owls.



David W. Leebron