By J. Coyden Palmer
Chicago State Athletic Director Christopher Zorich resigned from his position last week the Crusader has learned. Zorich, a former Chicago Bears defensive tackle, came to CSU in May of 2018 after signing a reported three-year contract for $135,000 per year. Previously he was the athletic director at Prairie State College in far south suburban Chicago Heights.
Zorich’s abrupt departure leads to more questions and problems for CSU, which historically has struggled to compete in athletics on the Division I level both on the field and financially. Zorich was supposed to be the recognizable face that would bring credibility to the school’s athletic program and bring in much needed revenue. Instead he has left the school after a short and rocky honeymoon period with little to show.
But several sources at CSU tell the Crusader Zorich grew frustrated with the lack of support from CSU administrators and a “culture of ignorance” on how athletics at a Division I institution should operate. Privately, Zorich complained about the University’s lack of providing him with the money to hire additional athletic trainers. CSU has one athletic trainer that must care for all the athletes at the University. When teams go on road games, CSU does not have a trainer that can travel with the team. Zorich, by contrast played football at Notre Dame. Sources also tell the Crusader CSU President Zaldwaynaka Scott was not enamored with Zorich either. President Scott often wondered why Zorich was not doing more to raise money for the cash-strapped institution, which was on the brink of closing in 2016 as a result of a state budget impasse.
CSU is currently last in the Western Athletic Conference in terms of budgeting for athletics and according to a USA Today story last year, CSU was 226 out of 230 Division I schools in terms of financial revenue for the athletic department. What is more alarming is CSU’s athletic department was allocated $4,248,483 in 2017, had a total revenue of $5,249,043 but had expenses of $5,057,856, according to the report.
CSU officials did not publicly announce Zorich’s departure until contacted by the Crusader on Monday July 29. At that time, Sabrina Land, CSU’s director of marketing and media relations emailed the following statement:
“Effective Friday, July 26,2019, Christopher Zorich is no longer employed with the University. In the interim Jimell Bryd-Reno will manage the day to day operations of CSU’s Intercollegiate Athletics department and has been named the Interim Athletics Director. We appreciate the work Mr. Zorich has done for the University and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”
However one big rumor swirling around the campus in which CSU officials would neither confirm nor deny is that has student-athletes and coaches concerned about the University’s commitment to Division I athletics soon, is of an upcoming audit. The Crusader has learned through sources at other institutions in the WAC and sources at CSU that the University has hired an outside auditor to do an assessment of CSU athletics, who will then recommend if the school should remain in Division I. The auditor will be paid around $50,000. The auditor served 17 years at a Big 12 Conference school as an athletic director.
Symptomatic of CSU’s athletic department’s woes, the University has yet to fill the vacancy of two vital positions within the athletic department; that of Sports Information Director and a Compliance Officer. Now seven months after the tragic and sudden death of longtime and beloved SID Corey Miggins, who passed away in January from flu complications, the public is literally in the dark about CSU athletics. With that position vacant, media outlets and members that could help promote CSU’s sports programs, have no access to the team’s schedules, current rosters or other vital information, thus giving a tactical advantage to other Division I schools that are recruiting against CSU. By comparison locally, Loyola, UIC, DePaul, Northwestern, even schools that are not Division I like Governors State and Prairie State College have a current SID.
The lack of a compliance officer could be even more dangerous for CSU as without someone in that position, teams have a risk or playing ineligible players or violating NCAA rules, which could land the school in hot water. As of the Crusader’s deadline, the athletic department was also operating without an academic coordinator for student-athletes. All these issues hurt CSU’s recruiting efforts.
Ironically for Zorich, his short tenure may still be successful in his absence as his two most high-profile hires in women’s basketball coach Misty Opat and men’s basketball coach Lance Irvin, could prove to be the best moves the department has made in years. Both won games in their first year after being given little to work with in terms of talent and being hired just weeks before the basketball season began. But both have had a busy, and arguably very successful recruiting year, with Opat signing six freshmen to go along with two transfers and Irvin bringing in nearly a dozen new players to the men’s team.
CSU officials did not respond to questions about an upcoming audit before the Crusader deadline.