Head basketball coach tapped for administrative roles

Kate Costanzo takes new role as assistant athletic director, ombudsperson

Kate Costanzo, women’s basketball head coach for the past nearly 14 years, recently stepped into her new role as assistant director of athletics on May 1, and will also begin taking on the responsibilities of the ombudsperson —  a new position introduced by President Hilary Link’s administration restructuring plan.

“I’ll be doing a lot of listening, a lot of helping point people in the right direction and helping them sort through stuff that they might be facing,” Costanzo said. “The administrative side of athletics (will be) helpful for our athletic department and then the ombuds side (will be) a resource for the whole community. It’s exciting to me.”

In terms of her role in the athletics department, Director of Athletics and Recreation Bill Ross expressed that Costanzo’s role will cover a broad spectrum of work.

“When the ombudsperson position opened up, Kate was, I think, everyone’s obvious first choice, so this was an opportunity for us then to move her into an administrative role in a position that had existed in the past,” Ross said. “So she’ll be taking on some of those responsibilities, but it also opened up some opportunities for us to have someone that will be able to really concentrate on some department wide initiatives.”

Ross explained that Costanzo will continue to serve as the NCAA designee on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion action committee.

In September, Costanzo was nominated for the NCAA Division III LGBTQ Adminstrator/Coach/Staff award.

“We’ve been making some good strides in that area over the last year,” Costanzo said. “So continuing to move forward with that, but to also be a resource for all of our coaches, and helping out in any way that I can administratively. The thing that I’m most excited about is just the ability to be here for the whole department.”

Having previously covered some administrative work as the women’s basketball head coach, Costanzo said she is excited to focus more deeply on the role. Ross remarked that her installment as assistant director could not have come at a more optimal time.

“The NCAA is about to pass legislation for name, image and likeness,” Ross said. “A lot of people think that’s just a division one initiative, where student athletes can actually now get paid for their name, image and likeness — basically becoming professional athletes. That trickles down to the division three as well … so that complicates our compliance picture by a lot. That on top of all the other mandates by the NCAA with our mandated training, compliance anymore is not a one person job.”

Ross explained that Costanzo’s new position as assistant athletics director also benefits the new “entrepreneurial operating system” structure of Link’s administrative realignment in that it creates more concise lines of reporting within the athletics department, making it much more efficient.

Link remarked that Costanzo’s aptitude to grow within the athletics department as well as her personality traits are what led to her selection for the ombudsperson position.

“I had a core group of my senior administrators literally thinking with me about who on campus is very balanced, is not seen as of this camp or that camp … and is a trustworthy person,” Link said. “We looked at all kinds of different people, and we literally went through hundreds and hundreds of ideas. When I got to Kate I thought, ‘I would go talk to Kate about issues I have, because she’s thoughtful, she’s serious, she’s caring.’ When I first approached her, I think she was a bit surprised.”

Costanzo confirmed that it was not something she was expecting, but expressed how excited she is to fulfill the role.

“An ombudsperson is basically a resource for the campus community that is confidential, informal, impartial and independent of any formal process or reporting structure,” Costanzo said. “So I can be of assistance in helping folks solve issues they might have, pointing them to the right resources, those sorts of things.”

Link’s current plan for how the ombuds role will function is based off of Edinboro University’s, where an ombudsperson has long been a staple of the campus. Link said the decision to hire from within the college came from her conversations with the Edinboro ombudsperson, who suggested that someone who knows the institution’s processes can work more efficiently, and already has good rapport with community members.

Link explained that many conversations within the campus community revealed to her that staff, faculty, alumni and students all either explicitly or unknowingly wanted an ombuds office on campus. She specified that while the office would be open to all members of the community, its creation seemed more important to faculty and staff because they have fewer points of contact, whereas students have faculty advisors and will gain class deans in the near future.

“I had a sense that people had some kind of unexpressed frustration or distrust of even things that preceded my administration, and some of them continued on into my administration,” Link said. On the staff and administrative side, I think people felt like, ‘well, there’s (human resources), but I’m not sure if I have a concern about somebody or a concern about a policy,’ or, ‘I’m frustrated that the college did whatever.’ I’m not sure people know where to go with that. So the vision behind creating an ombuds office was to say we want people to feel they have somewhere to go to file a complaint if that’s what they want to do, or raise a concern or ask a question because they’re not sure if something that happened is the right thing that happened.”

According to Link, Costanzo has already taken a course through the International Ombuds Association, and was certified.

“They have codes of conduct, and they have very clear protocols of how an ombudsperson functions, how they report out what they hear,” Link said. What they do is kind of collect trends. So if three different people go to an ombudsperson to raise issues about a certain area, then it becomes something that she raises up to me. But it’s not about, ‘So-and-so came to me and was upset about X person,’ it’s more about what are the systems that are not working on our campus. In order to fix individual issues, we have to make sure that the systems work.”

Both Link and Ross are very hopeful and expectant of positive change arriving with Costanzo’s new roles.

“Those of us who have known Kate, or even have only spent a little bit of time with her know that she is the perfect person for this ombudsperson position and are really looking forward to that,” Ross said. “I’m so happy for her that this opportunity came about.”