You have been hearing a great deal lately about our university being in the midst of an important transition. We are enhancing our approach to academics, continuing to evolve our student services and campus life and fundamentally restructuring our business model.
One of the transitions under way is in NAU athletics, and I want to share my vision with you about what this university aspires to accomplish in the next few years.
When I recently agreed with the Arizona Board of Regents on an extension of my contract to 2015, I did so primarily to ensure that NAU emerges from this period of transition in a strong position academically, financially and in athletics. I am committed to making sure that all three areas are addressed.
Two pivotal jobs at NAU, athletic director and men’s basketball coach, are soon to be filled. I view this as a valuable opportunity to reinvigorate our program and expand our community participation. We are taking action to make our high-profile teams more competitive, and I am prepared to put the people in place and commit the resources necessary to make that happen.
NAU already has taken major steps to upgrade its athletics infrastructure. More than $25 million in improvements brought the Walkup Skydome fully into the 21st century as a modern multipurpose facility that will serve the university and the local community for years to come. The new Health and Learning Center includes locker rooms and extensive upgrades to Lumberjack Stadium to benefit fans and athletes. And we are exploring financial opportunities and partnerships to convert our fieldhouse into a multiuse arena.
But people remain the most critical resource of all, and you will soon see NAU bring in an athletic director and men’s basketball coach who will be the foundation of our resurgence in athletics.
These changes come at a time when the Big Sky Conference is expanding its membership and intensifying its public outreach as well as rebranding the entire conference. As the Big Sky moves to a 13-team football conference in July—11 teams in all sports—NAU will be poised to assert itself as a competitive force. We aspire to have all our teams be among the top contenders in the Big Sky.
The conference, and NAU in particular, also have a reputation for valuing academic excellence among its athletes, and this value is unwavering. A focus on improving our performance on the field will not come at the cost of academic achievement.
I hope that the entire NAU community will welcome the new additions to our athletics staff when a decision is made soon and join me in enthusiastically supporting this university’s drive to be consistently competitive.
After all, community support is an important element in achieving success with our athletics programs. With strong attendance, games become community-building events. And when games become sought-after occasions, there are even more tangible and financial gains.
It’s no surprise that Northern Arizona University athletics have the potential to increase the economic vitality of our community through ticket sales, restaurant and hotel visits and all the accompanying activities. When our teams are competitive, that potential increases, especially when it comes to drawing out-of-town alumni and fans to campus and enticing others from the region into becoming active NAU fans.
Lumberjack pride is an important part of the NAU experience that all of us can share.