Under President Pistole, “Excellence in all things” has become a commonly heard phrase across campus. With the addition of new sports, the removal of others, expanded roster sizes and a dramatically increased emphasis on character, AU’s athletic program is undergoing many changes in order to be excellent in all facets.
As an NCAA Division III program, AU faces a different challenge than state schools like Indiana University and Purdue University: how to attract student-athletes without the benefit of scholarships. Pistole’s philosophy for the AU athletic program, as well as in academics and extracurricular activities, is to be “distinctive and compelling.”
In order to create this distinctive and compelling product to attract new student-athletes, the athletic program is attempting to better allocate their resources in a way that allows coaches, graduate assistants, trainers, and players to have access to everything they need. By doing this, the players and coaches should be better able to help recruit and retain student-athletes.
A big part of this reallocation is related to AU recently announcing campus-wide cuts. The 2016-2017 year is the last year that men’s and women’s golf and men’s and women’s tennis will be offered to AU students. In order to stabilize athletic finances, both teams were cut.
“The decision was made to focus our resources on programs that have strong potential for future enrollment growth,” explained AU Athletic Director Marcie Taylor, “and the ability to build AU’s athletic reputation.”
Cutting golf and tennis was an incredibly tough decision for Pistole, who was a varsity tennis player during his time at AU, but a move that needed to be made. “What I’ve learned in my leadership career is that any decision I as a leader make, I have to look at the entire school, and see how that decision will impact not only the individuals directly involved, but what does it mean for the whole school from a position of looking forward.” Pistole added that he does hope to bring both the golf and tennis teams back to AU in the future.
Although golf and tennis were cut from the athletic program, two rapidly growing sports will now be offered. Swimming is currently in its first competitive season as an NCAA sport at Anderson, and lacrosse will be offered in the 2018 school year. Baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, softball and volleyball have also had their roster sizes expanded. “The decision to add swimming and lacrosse, and to expand the roster sizes came about through the Strategic Enrollment Planning process,” Taylor said. “Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport nationally at both the high school and collegiate level and has potential roster sizes of 25 to 35 student athletes.”
Multiple schools across the HCAC have noticed the trend, as AU is the fifth school in the conference to add swimming and will be the sixth to add lacrosse.
The ebb and flow of participation in certain college sports is a very natural process. As time goes on, sports become popular that once had little to no popularity while other sports dwindle in participation.
Dr. Doyle Lucas is in his 39th year at Anderson. Lucas in serving his 16th year as Faculty Athletic Representative. He explained, “During my days as a student, sports like tennis and golf were easier draws. More kids had played golf and tennis, so they came to their church school and they played that sport.”
With the level of engagement down in golf and tennis coupled with an increased demand for lacrosse and swimming, change was made. While this change may seem drastic, it is normal for an institution to add sports based off of demand.
Lucas added that one of the biggest changes to the athletic program during his time at AU is the addition of the soccer program, a sport that draws many student-athletes, families and fans to the institution. At this day and age, it is difficult to imagine Anderson University without soccer, but that one day not long ago was a reality. With the rapid growth of swimming and lacrosse across campuses nationwide, that could one day be true for the AU swimming and lacrosse programs.
In stabilizing the athletic program, a major concern is what type of people AU student-athletes are. Both Pistole and Lucas stressed the importance of character throughout the athletic program. Pistole explained that the university is looking for athletes of good athletic ability and strong character, allowing them to be salt and light on campus.
Athletes are often viewed as role models, whether they are aware of this or not. “I think student-athletes as role models have that opportunity – and I would say responsibility – to demonstrate character, and hopefully, while not required from a Christian perspective,” Pistole said.
This is a major reason why AU looks for far more than just wins and losses when defining success. In recruiting poential student-athletes, the hope is that men and women of character will come and make a difference in other people’s lives.
“We are not just an athletic factory churning through people, but we are hopefully making a difference in people’s lives,” Pistole added.
While athletes are viewed as role models, the same can be said of AU coaches. With two new sports added, it was very important to consider what characteristics are desirable for the program. Again, character plays a key role in the hiring process.
When hiring coaches, “key factors taken into account when hiring are coaching experience, faith commitment, familiarity with the recruting process, and a passion for mentoring men and women in the development of skills, a competitive spirit, character and faith,” explained Taylor.
Pistole alluded to the fact that in a divison without scholarships, more than wins and losses must be taken into account. “Coaches have a significant influence on young men and women’s lives. Wins and losses are good, but that can’t be the exclusive focus.”
With new programs added, others removed, and a clear picture of what is desired from the players and coaches involved in the athletic program, Anderson can begin moving from the stabilization phase of program changes and into the revitalization phase. After making some tough calls and difficult decisions, the future is bright for the Anderson University athletic program.