Blending Past with Present
Change is never easy, and that’s especially true for college athletic programs jumping to a higher division. Competition gets stiffer, crowds are bigger and facilities must be upgraded to accommodate the growth.
Sometimes that creates a whole new identity.Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva, Oklahoma, is in the final year of its transition to NCAA Division II from the NAIA. Ryan Kaiser, associate director of athletics, describes the cultural shift as one that’s brought a lot of excitement to campus, but the road has been a long one. After preparing and adjusting to life in Division II for more than three years, the Rangers are close to taking the full plunge.
Programs making this type of move are permitted to compete against Division II teams, but they’re subjected to a three-year probationary period before they are postseason eligible. The Rangers become full members beginning in September 2015.
“That’s been the carrot or light at the end of the tunnel in this process,” Kaiser said.
Among the improvements are modifications to the university’s facilities, where campus officials hope to create an environment better suited for its future ambitions. At the same time, they want to recognize the Rangers’ rich history, which includes national championships and individual standouts.
There was a way to achieve this, and the university reached out to BigSigns.com to make its idea become a reality. One of its most recent projects was decorating the weight room walls with images paying homage to the university’s athletic program.
“We wanted to put our brand on it and worked with football staff and athletic administration to come up with a concept of what we wanted to do,” Kaiser said. “We basically looked through all our athletic stuff and wanted to blend the past with the present, adding old faces with some new faces as we make the transition.”
That’s where it all started, with staff and administration working together on a theme for the upgraded facilities. Kaiser said coaches were encouraged to provide input on what they wanted to see in their respective areas, but the program wanted the “past and present” theme to echo across campus. Northwestern Oklahoma State had a lot of success in the NAIA, and the university didn’t want to brush that aside.
Kaiser said BigSigns.com did a remarkable job taking the ideas and bringing them to life, with graphics and skins that now adorn several of the university’s walls. The project didn’t come with many challenges but it still required significant care and precision to make sure everything went according to plan. When you’re dealing with banners, graphics or other signs, that means measurements must be spot on.
“When you’re trying to measure an entire room you can’t be off by a whole lot,” Kaiser said. “Some of the challenges were figuring out how to divide up a room. In the fieldhouse, there are walls that come out and we have to figure out how to navigate around that area.”
Northwestern Oklahoma State didn’t have much trouble financing the project, which typically becomes an issue for athletic programs embarking on major renovations. Kaiser said the school sits in the middle of an oil rich region of Oklahoma, and some of those profits have found their way to the university in the form of gifts.
Projects still pending include a $2.6 million press box and at the end of the football season new athletic turf will be installed at the stadium. The plan is to have everything completed in time for the program’s full transition in Division II next fall.
Those pieces of the project that have been finished are already impressing student-athletes. Kaiser said the biggest impact is recruiting, with prospective athletes now able to visit upgraded facilities that are a lot more impressive than outdated weight rooms and locker rooms.
These types of projects are never easy, but Kaiser said the support and contributions the department received from the community and those in the athletic program helped move things along smoothly.
That’s undoubtedly important in renovations, but Kaiser cautions other schools underdoing similar projects to ask questions and develop an overall theme, especially when it comes to graphics and signage that will be seen by everyone in the athletic program.
“There are so many different types of projects out there and each one is unique,” he said. “Develop a comprehensive theme. We wanted to honor those who came before us, but we also wanted to recognize that we’re headed in a new direction and there is light at the end of the tunnel.”