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September 24, 2020 • Athletic AdministrationBaseball

Bloomsburg U Athletics’ 40-Year Plan

College athletics is a dog-eat-dog environment.  

The recruiting game features an ongoing arms race from facilities and amenities to scholarships and promises of a career upon graduation. How can an institution differentiate itself and offer something unique and groundbreaking? It takes creativity, a willingness to separate oneself in the recruiting game, and an ability to provide an experience beyond sports. Bloomsburg University’s head baseball coach Mike Collins developed a program to do just that – to maximize the four years a student is a Husky athlete and to prepare that same individual for their next 40 years. The program has exhibited success – featuring on-field improvement, a conference championship, and engagement beyond the classroom – and will now be implemented with each one of the Bloomsburg University Husky athletic teams.

Recruiting and retention, as demonstrated with the baseball program through the 40-year plan, will improve for all the Husky programs with a goal of winning on the field as well.

Bloomsburg Athletics operates under a P.A.S.S. principle. The decision-making outline stands for Pride, Accountability, Student-athlete experience, and Success on and off the field.  As Pride is instilled, there is a developing affinity from alumni, student-athletes, friends, fans, and community in representing the Bloomsburg University Huskies. Accountability ensures solid departmental operations (fiscal, equity, compliance) and student-athlete responsibilities (academic and athletic).  The Student-athlete experience is paramount to and a guiding principle in creating a student-centered program with growth and development as key components in the education and the welfare of student-athletes. Combining Pride, Accountability, and a positive Student-athlete experience will create Success on and off the field. Athletic success can be measured by athletic performance, student recruitment, and retention, FUNdraising, and friend-raising.

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Photo: Bloomsburg University Athletics

Coupling the P.A.S.S. program with the 40-year plan allows each team to implement a broad athletic initiative that is designed to create profound experiences that impact Huskies for life. The focus is on student-athletes, but the plan enriches the entire University community by promoting positivity and collaboration while utilizing one of its greatest assets – the student-athletes. The 40-year plan involves community leadership programming, professional engagement opportunities, life-skills training, and a staff of professionals coming together to support Huskies outside of their athletic endeavors. A program like this does not happen overnight and requires a full buy-in from all associated with student retention.  Coaches must be prepared to rely on campus-wide collaboration to develop socially conscious professionals who are fully prepared to become positive contributors to their communities.

With the 40-year plan, it mirrors the P.A.S.S. program.  Pride is driven home daily and now takes on a new focus as well.  The 40-year plan should provide a source of pride for everyone, particularly the student-athletes. Being a Husky student-athlete is about success in your sport, but it is also about being a contributor to the entire campus and community while preparing for a professional future. Student-athletes who participate in the 40-year plan elevate their Husky profile and learn more than their academic discipline and more than honing their athletic prowess, they experience leadership, mentorship, networking, and career skills. 

There is accountability by the student-athletes who participate in out-of-the-classroom and field activity.  The majority of the 40-year planning activity (75% or more) should take place in non-traditional or off-season seasons for all the teams. This type of programming also needs to occur on non-Countable Athletic Related Activity (CARA) days.  For the utmost success, coordinated events should be spread throughout the entire semester and programmed for each semester.  If your department uses an electronic tool for team engagement, such as ARMS, the events can be entered into the team calendar as a mandated activity as part of Life Skill and/or Community Service, based on the programming.

To effectuate the student-athlete experience, programs must not just be scheduled. The activity needs to be enthusiastically endorsed and team captains or Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) members need to promote how important the activities are to the team’s success and growth.  As Coach Collins states, “How we do anything, is how we do everything.”  Attendance at events is not enough and team leaders can be the conduit between successful programs and events for the sake of events. 

The success of the 40-year plan is dependent upon the campus and alumni community and athletic team collaboration. Communication of the plan is paramount to programming success. There has to be a high degree of community between all parties involved in the programming. Once the event occurs, coaches need to complete an after-action-review and incorporate any notes to improve on the success of the activity for the following year. With events that are successful, more groups will have an interest in collaborating translating into an increase in participation.  

What is the right number of events for each program per year? To begin, a team should collaborate and offer three programs per semester for six during the course of an academic year. Depending on your campus structure, many of the offices are already conducting educational programming. Bloomsburg teams coordinate with a host of on-campus offices to create collaborative educational, alumni, and awareness sessions. Some of the campus offices include Alumni and Professional Engagement, Women’s Center, Dean of Student’s Office, LGBTQ Resource Center, Office of Community Leadership and Engagement, DAWN Office, Healthy Husky, Multicultural Affairs, Hand-In-Hand, Agape, Special Olympics, and Military resource services. Activities for growth opportunities and scheduling could include sexual assault bystander awareness, hazing prevention, multicultural awareness training, social justice training, education on individuals with disabilities, personal finance workshops, nutritional sessions, mental health education, suicide prevention and training, community service, and LGBTQ ally training. 

Every facet of the 40-year plan can be used to develop student-athletes for their post-athletic and academic career. The plan offers opportunities for student-athletes to network with alumni and prospective employers while providing experiences that make the student more attractive to employers. Resume creation and mock job interviews are programs that can be supported by former program student-athletes who are in the professional workforce now, providing them tools for success and preparing each of the job market.

For complete success, coaches need to mentor other coaches on engaging the university, alumni, parents, and community in developing their plans. Similar to student-athletes selling the concept to teammates, coaches can become the greatest allies in designing a 40-year plan. Many times, when developing programming that includes alumni, the result includes increasing the time given, the talent provided, and sometimes leads to increase treasure (fundraising opportunities). It is important for the athletic department to work with the coaches to create and maintain a list of contacts and opportunities for projects, alumni engagement, educational sessions, and community engagement events.

The programs do not need to remain within one team as well. If teams invite campus partners and other teams to attend, the events and collaboration can continue to grow. Spreading the messages during athletic staff meetings and other coaches about successful collaborations will allow for expansion and greater idea-sharing. 

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After the programming is organized and scheduled, it is important to work with your sports information office or with the campus marketing and communication office to create a formal promotion of the full plan. The success of the program, and to help it grow with future alumni attending and collaborations, needs to be properly celebrated and publicized. The broader the exposure through social media, web site coverage, television or video footage, and alumni magazines are excellent vehicles to support a program’s success. Using photos and video to promote student-athletes engaging in this type of programming it further elevates the Pride each has in the Bloomsburg athletic department. Another opportunity to celebrate is to have teams create “Appreciation Days” or “Awareness Days” for in-season home dates highlighting important causes the programming created while working with the collaborative partners demonstrating what they have learned together.

Summary

Collaborative educational and networking opportunities in a targeted and organized manner is what separates us in recruiting and helps with student-athlete retention. This new approach, effectively known as the Bloomsburg 40-year plan, aligns with a student-athlete’s desire for on-field athletic success! Our goal is to develop the whole person and instill within each student-athlete a sense of Pride, Accountability, Student-Athlete experience, and Success On-and-Off the field. Programming designed during the four years a student is a Husky athlete will prepare that individual for their next 40 years.  Winning in sport is one element of the demonstrated success of the 40-year plan. When student-athletes are considering Bloomsburg University athletics, outlining the 40-year plan benefits the recruiting process, supports student retention, and ensures upon graduation that the student has the necessary tools and networks for success.  

About the Author

Dr. Michael McFarland is in his ninth year as the director of athletics at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. McFarland oversees a 22-team athletic department that features 21 NCAA Division II programs and an NCAA Division I wrestling team. The 40-year plan was developed by Head Baseball Coach Mike Collins and McFarland expanded it to the remaining teams within Bloomsburg athletics based on the success.