After making the difficult decision to cut the golf and tennis teams, and the exciting decision to and lacrosse and swimming teams, AU is ready to continue moving its athletic program forward.
Throughout the institution’s history, AU has enjoyed a tremendous amount of athletic success. Some of this success has been recently enjoyed. The softball team racked up five consecutive conference championships before their stretch came to an end last season.
Other successes stem farther back, like the football team winning 13 conference championships, nine of which came in the Hoosier College Conference between the years of 1948 and 1970.
More recently, some of the athletic programs have struggled to succeed in their on-field product, something that AU is committed to making happen.
While the character of athletes is important to AU’s definition of success, the on-field product is also vital in the pursuit of excellence.
“The competitiveness of each team is valued by AU,” explained Athletic Director Marcie Taylor. “Athletics has the potential to greatly impact school spirit and the pride one feels for AU.”
Dr. Doyle Lucas, the faculty athletic representative, agreed. He explained that the level of engagement by AU students attending athletic events is down from where it once was.
This could likely be attributed to the student body being able to access other forms of entertainment, including the ability to live stream games from other schools and new sports taking away some fans.
“Football used to be all we had on Saturday afternoons in the fall. Now we have two soccer teams and students have access to the internet, providing the ability to watch hundreds of other games. Those factors have definitely impacted student attendance.” Lucas explained how to re-energize students and draw them back to the games. “The key is to win games and people will come.”
President Pistole emphasized the impact of success on AU. “Success begets success. As we demonstrate success, that attracts attention. As we have success, it helps our recruiting.” He did explain that this cannot happen overnight.
So how does AU achieve excellence across the board in athletics? A huge piece in recruiting and athletic success is the access to high-level facilities.
The Kardatzke Wellness Center (KWC) is a phenomenal facility, especially at the Division III level, but many of the fields are not up-to-par. “The Kardatzke Wellness Center provides an exceptional focal point for recruitment,” explained Taylor.
“That said, the outdoor facilities like Macholtz Stadium, the soccer and softball fields, and various aspects of the baseball field lag behind the facility improvements made in recent years by numerous HCAC institutions,” he said. “Up-to-date faciltites matter in today’s competitive recruiting environment and quality facilities affirm an overall commitment to excellence.”
Taylor explained that a master plan is currently in the works to revise the athletic facilities. The plan contains a vision for improvements to each of the outdoor venues, but there is not currently enoug funding to support the plan.
Lucas would love to see the facilities upgraded, especially those that haven’t been already.
“If we are going to do excellence in all things, part of that includes the image we convey with our facilities.” He added that some of them, like the indoor track and O.C. Lewis Gymnasium are already great facilities, but others have some catching up to do.
Resources also play an important role in drawing recruits and achieving success.
Taylor explained that AU is in the bottom third of HCAC institutions in regards to resources. “As a result of the strategic enrollment process and decision made by President Pistole and the Cabinet, steady progress has been made over the past twelve months. Budget dollars comitted to teams as a result of roster expansion is having a positive impact.”
Lucas touched on the expanded rosters and development of reserve teams. “We use athletics as a recruiting device for the institution,” he said. “The creation of developmental squads and expansion of rosters gives everybody a chance to stay involved and to develop. I think that’s important to our program.”
Properly allocating the budget is crucial for the athletic program. The athletics budget is slightly above 3% of the instittuional budget. This athletics budget includes all of the sports operations budgets, coaching salaries and stipends, student employment wages, KWC student worker wages, the Sports Information Department, Athletic Training expenses and the salary of one certified athletic trainer. The general athletics operations budget accounts for printing, NCAA and HCAC dues, student athlete insurance coverage premiums, among other things.
In order for success to happen within the athletics program, Lucas believes that sports coaches must stay for a longer period of time. He added that they must be “coaches that agree with and support the philosophy of the institution and recruit from an athletic and missional standpoint.”
Lucas believes athletic excellence is attainable for AU. “I would hope we translate the notion of ‘excellence in all things’ into athletics,” he said. “Does that mean we will go undefeated and win conference every year? No, it’s a competitive sport.”
He continued, “Excellence wise, we just need to be more competitive in sports. That’s my goal for us. I would like to see us competing to qualify for the final tournament in all our sports every year. Again, will we make it every year? No, but I’d like to see us get there.”
With a committed focus to revitalizing the athletic program, teams need to make proper use of the current facilities and help make progress toward the future improvements that can allow the athletic program to thrive.
While the instituiton does hope for sustained athletic excellence, the focus remains on developing athletes that will grow into service leaders and make an impact on the world.
“Sport is a means by which the whole person can be developed,” Taylor said. “We want our student-athletes to take their education seriously and to be individuals who value integrity, respect, discipline and the challenge of growing their faith.”