Last week I traveled to New Mexico with our football team. We were accompanied by more than 400 students from the Marching Chips; our cheer team; dance team; and sports medicine, communications, multimedia, and photography, and more. I was proud to see our university represented on the national stage by hundreds of exceptional ambassadors.
As I’ve traveled with our athletic teams over the past year, I’ve reflected frequently on how these high-profile events positively impact our university community.
Certainly, there are many highly visible benefits for our student-athletes: scholarships, a heightened sense of engagement and belonging, the support of their coaches and teammates, and much more. They are champions on the field and in the classroom: Our student-athletes have achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher for more than 40 consecutive semesters. They develop incredible professional skills in practice and competition, becoming better problem-solvers, communicators, and leaders.
Athletics provides exceptional hands-on learning opportunities for thousands of additional students. For example, 10-15 athletics interns work each week on social media, marketing, and promotion. At any home sporting event, as many as 30 broadcasting and journalism students gain valuable experience covering the game.
I’ve watched them in action in the production room at McGuirk Arena, creating the ESPN broadcasts, and I am always impressed with their level of preparation and professionalism. And, at every home basketball game, more than 50 students are working behind the scenes to run the event. They assist with ticket sales and distribution, in-venue event management and more.
In addition, many of our teams have partnered with faculty for scholarly research. This includes a study on the effect of precooling on football skills, a sweat study involving every sports program, nutritional counseling and a GPS tracking study to cross-reference injury data and practice design. Our soccer team has been working on a research project with our exercise science program, using computer technology to track endurance and the effects of training.
I am extremely proud of the openness and collaborative spirit I find between our coaching staff and our faculty. These partnerships drive innovation and improve outcomes for our student-athletes.
I would be remiss not to mention the ways athletic events, including this bowl game, our Dec. 7 appearance at Ford Field and our women’s basketball team’s 2018 trip to the Sweet 16 have raised the profile of Central Michigan University this year. They have played an important role in the success of our recent recruitment and enrollment efforts.
Our mission — our reason for existence — is to educate students and prepare them to lead in their careers and communities. But first, we have to attract those students. As we compete with other colleges and universities to recruit, enroll and retain future CMU Chippewas, athletic events provide amazing opportunities for exposure. When our student-athletes compete in large national events, individuals from around the university mobilize to spotlight CMU. Staff from communications, marketing, admissions, student affairs, development, alumni relations, and others team up to enhance our efforts in recruitment, enrollment, and fundraising.
Take the MAC championship game as an example: Hundreds of future students and their families met CMU admissions representatives on the concourse at Ford Field, and thousands more saw targeted advertisements for CMU around Detroit, our most critical recruitment market. In the past several months, we have seen a spike in online searches for Central Michigan University. Even for students who will not play sports in college, the existence of a great athletics program is a draw for many.
North Dakota State President Dean Bresciani summed it up nicely: “As important as scholarly success is, it rarely if ever on its own captures the attention and enthusiasm of the public,” he wrote. “Reciprocally, a competitive athletic program brings widespread…even national attention, which in turn tends to suggest the academic merits of the institution.”
Athletics is often a divisive issue in higher education and has been for many years. Consider the article in the New York Times entitled “How Big-Time Sports Ate College Life” or an interview with Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins, in which he explains his constant efforts to justify the money spent on athletics. I know we will continue to discuss and debate these issues for many years.
Earlier this semester, I spoke to an honors symposium course focused on intercollegiate athletics programs — their role and purpose as well as the issues, challenges, and opportunities they present. We discussed the importance of providing students a wide variety of experiences beyond the classroom — experiences that are unique and binding and that exemplify a sense of community and pride while creating lasting memories.
I asked them to name the top universities from around the nation. The universities they named were very good and they all shared several things in common, including a strong and visible athletic program. Similarly, there were several outstanding universities that they did not mention and, yes, these schools had less-recognizable athletic programs. It is clear that intercollegiate athletics is an enormously important part of American culture.
Specifically, let me say this: CMU’s intercollegiate athletic program is vital to our university as it represents our culture, our values, our goals, and ambition. Through our exciting sports, we introduce Central Michigan University to future students and families. Athletics provides a foundation to unite us as a community and to show our school pride – not only on a statewide level but also throughout the upper mid-west and around the nation.
When we wear maroon and gold and cheer together for our student-athletes, we also are cheering on our university, all our students and our alumni. Whether we’re seated side by side at Kelly/Shorts Stadium, packed into the stands at McGuirk Arena, attending games across the country or simply gathered for a watch party, our love of CMU unites and inspires us.
Fire Up Chips!