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How to Integrate Intercollegiate Athletics into the Intentionally Christ-centered Institution

softball close catchToday’s ever changing trends in recruitment, retention, and branding often lead administrators to discuss how to develop programs that can accelerate institutional growth. Many of these discussions eventually arrive at out-of-the-classroom opportunities for prospective and current students. A natural step for many institutions is to add or grow an existing intercollegiate athletics program. Simply stated, intercollegiate athletics is a way to recruit students.

As Executive Director of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA), I am dedicated to helping administrators avoid the crucial mistakes that can plague an institution as they proceed down this path.

So how should an institution proceed with such an impactful decision? While intercollegiate athletics is a way to recruit students, more important considerations must be kept in mind.

Intercollegiate Athletics is a way to Recruit Students, but there are Other Considerations

Obviously, the process should start with and be maintained by prayer. However, once that inherent step has been activated, the true compass for any decision-making group should be to ask, “Will the addition of athletics better serve the mission of this institution?”

Too often, tangents to the real mission overwhelm the Cabinet or the Board of Directors with discussions led by those with agendas not truly central to the mission. This need not be the case if those entrusted to lead do so with the mission held high.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Intercollegiate athletics is neither the savior nor the enemy within Christian Higher Education. For each campus, it will be whatever the leaders allow it to be.

It’s critical, then, to hire a mission-fit athletics director and head coaches, and then celebrate sport, competition, and community-rallying points (aka games & matches).

If you take a risk at this critical step and hire away from the mission at any level of athletic leadership,  you will watch those risks manifest themselves in poor recruiting, poor integration of athletics into your overall community, and the birth of an athletic rivalry that resembles no part of your institutional mission.

Rarely, then, should any institution be stunned or surprised by the good or bad that athletes, coaches, or programs deliver to their campuses.

The following “benefits versus pitfalls” chart should be a guide to every institution that has or is planning to have an intercollegiate athletic program.

For Student Athletes

Benefits Pitfalls
Allows gifts to be used Inflates value or pedestal model
Develops leadership-under-mentor model Requires time commitment (avg. 20 hrs/week)
Provides new fiscal avenues Dilutes current funds after initial increase
Provides new avenue for outreach locally & globally Gives a "black-eye" if mission is missed

For Institutional Advancement / Promotion

Benefits Pitfalls
Every contest places school in media Every contest is an opportunity for poor conduct
Greatly enhances connection to high schoolers Can foster athletics "above" other areas
Great rallying point for alumni & donors Can become overused rallying point
 

Conclusion

Discussions about facilities, faculty/coach model versus staff/coach model, and level of affiliation (NCCAA, NAIA, or NCAA) are other significant talking points. However, the institution that leads with its overall mission statement will set the table for true success in their utilization of intercollegiate athletics.

Many successful programs even allow their athletic programs to create a secondary mission/brand statement specifically for athletics.  Such statements must be developed under and not above or outside the singular missional calling. Again, while intercollegiate athletics is a way to recruit students, more important goals must be kept in mind.

For more information or assistance to help maximize your athletic programs, visit thenccaa.org.

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Dan Wood is Executive Director of the National Christian College Athletics Association (NCCAA)

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