Rob Miller is the athletic director and head baseball coach for the Saint Mary Spires. In this Q5, Miller talks about how the growth of athletics has helped the university as a whole.
1. With college athletics continuing to grow, Saint Mary has added various sports recently, including swimming that will start this upcoming year. How has the addition of new sports impacted the university?
In 2010, I think we had 250 student-athletes. We are expecting in the range of about 460 this fall. So obviously we’ve pretty much doubled in the size of our athletic department. Which in turn means a better situation for the school. We are a tuition-driven school where every dollar counts and we are doing what we are supposed to do to bring it all in.
2. Are there plans in the pipeline for more sports to be added in the future?
Absolutely. We’re looking at adding tennis in the fall of 2019, but we don’t know for sure yet. We also are starting esports right now. Is it a sport or not? I don’t know, but it’s going to be housed under athletics so we might as well call it a sport. That is getting started right now. After tennis, we’ve looked at golf, but that is kind of an expensive sport. Tennis is in the future, but I am not sure yet about the long range. We’ve looked at bowling, but the bowling alley in Lansing is no longer a bowling alley and we could use the one in Leavenworth, but that is the one that the high school uses and Lansing and the public. Other stuff like rifle shooting just hasn’t been looked at that closely.
3. The NAIA has been ahead of the NCAA with various aspects including the first to invite historically black universities and to sponsor men’s and women’s championships. Do you see the NAIA beating the NCAA with another milestone for college athletics?
I am going to say yes and no. The NAIA has done a pretty decent job with the Champions of Character program. I know Division II has a new thing that is sort of the same where it teaches values and how it is more than just winning games. I think they’ve caught on to what small college athletics is all about. I think they do a pretty good job of keeping control of institutional aid for scholarships and things like that. They push the whole idea of why you are in college and that is to get a degree. It’s to learn what life is all about, learn your calling and get the degree to go out there and start living your life. I think athletes in the NCAA get more caught up in winning at all costs. Now, we have players that don’t understand that until they get here and stay here. Some of our biggest issues are keeping kids around. Most of the NAIA is private institutions, small, some sort of faith-based, and kids think the grass is greener over there because it is cheaper. Well maybe it is because finances are finances, but you never know what you are going to get.
4. If you could have played one of these newer emerging sports when you were in college, what would you pick?
Lacrosse looks intriguing to me. I don’t understand the game, I just know it’s basically a variation of soccer, basketball, hockey, you name it. I just see guys running up and down beating each other with sticks and it looks fun. So I would say that. I think there is huge potential in it. It is big in Denver and St. Louis and the East Coast and here it’s kind of just growing. I think it has the most potential.
5. If you could add any sport right now, regardless if it is sponsored by the NAIA or not, what would it be?
Wow. Yeah, that is a tough one. There are so many schools like Lindenwood that had 50 sports when they were NAIA before becoming Division II. They had everything under the sun. I don’t ever want to go that route. I just don’t know if our structure could take care of it. I don’t really have a preference. I feel like the more diverse we can get with sports, the better off we will be. We are adding swimming this fall and recruiting has been pretty slow so far, but it will be a darn good program once we are established in two or three years. We’re going to have around 20 swimmers. I think that is awesome. Again, we are going to talk about tennis. If we can get 20-ish players, that can pay for itself. Esports is intriguing too. I still don’t understand a lot about it, but it is growing and popular. So, I don’t know, maybe rugby? I have had some people contact me about rugby. It all looks great, but the more we add the more stress it puts on facilities and we are already stressed out and could burst at the seams with the way it already is. It does give an opportunity for more venue growth.