There are many levels of play across the NCAA spectrum. Three divisions. A veritable cornucopia of conferences and sports. Programs across the country that strive to win and see success athletically.
What many don’t consider, however, is how difficult it is to lead the young men and women involved in the various areas of NCAA sport to a success that doesn’t stay on the playing field, the court, the pool or the golf course when the competition is over. In the case of the University of Findlay, an NCAA Division II college, this particular idea of success is something that is important beyond even the game. It’s the character that everyone involved with UF athletics has and works hard to instill in its team members. It’s the idea of leading a meaningful life when the game ends.
Brandi Laurita, UF’s director of athletics and Jim Givens, UF’s associate athletic director for development and business, know better than anyone that equipment and facilities—the “big, shiny penny” types of things that are tangible enticers to incoming freshmen and the things that the general public sees first and foremost—are things that will always be of value to the program on its surface. But the good-looking orange and black uniforms are always there. The uniforms don’t need to be encouraged to do their jobs on and apart from the field of play.
But the students who put them on do.
These student-athletes need guidance. They need a home away from home. And, understandably, while it’s often challenging, the Oiler athletic staff puts in a lot of time making sure its athletes are cared for. “If you watch our teams walk onto the bus and how they look and the respect that they have for one another, for our coaches and for others,” Givens said, “that’s something that we really work hard at. And it’s often hard to make happen.”
“Athletics is the front porch of the institution,” Laurita added. “We’re visible, if someone makes a bad choice, that’s in the news, if we have success, that’s a headline. We have between 600 and 650 student athletes from 22 NCAA intercollegiate sports and they are our priority. We’re trying to do everything we can, not just on campus, but in the community and during travel, to promote a positive image for the University.”
Making sure the students are respectful and prosper as human beings as they move through the program is paramount at UF. “Our goal is that our student-athletes are not just growing athletically when they’re here,” Laurita said. “We want them growing socially, emotionally, spiritually and academically, as well, so that they’re leaving here as not just better athletes, but better people,” Laurita said. “We focus on them as individuals.”
“Team, school, self,” Givens said. “We’re preaching that all the time. Wherever they go. As long as student-athletes believe that before and when they are done with athletics, we have succeeded. That’s what makes our job meaningful and fun.”
UF staff works diligently to ensure academic success for student-athletes, providing them with important information regarding special services offered by the institution. More importantly, UF staff creates their own set of academic guidelines giving each of their student-athletes an opportunity to succeed, including team study tables, weekly individual academic meetings, Oiler Success Center intervention, and scheduling practice and contests so missed class time is minimal, among other things.
A common occurrence for the general public is to think that certain college sports, or even all college sports, generate a large amount of revenue for their respective university. “The perception,” Laurita said, “is that since we have had success, these teams are bringing in large amounts of money for their sport. Regardless of the level, that is not always the case for most institutions, and definitely not in our case. We’re hoping, for instance, that when our basketball games sell out, we don’t lose money.” When the Oilers made their first ever NCAA DII football playoff appearance and victory last season, they had to travel by plane 726 miles to Massachusetts. The cost to send the team was astronomical and not entirely compensated for.
But as long as that “Team, school, self” mantra is at the forefront, it’s the people who continue to matter most at UF. A large part of the unique athletic success that Findlay enjoys is due to the staff that settles in. “Once they’re here, they’re here” Laurita said. “We are very fortunate that when people come to the University of Findlay, it becomes home. We have staff that have been here for 20-plus years. Three men’s basketball coaches in the last 100 years. That’s something special.” Laurita, herself, is on year 11 and Givens is on year 20 of his career at UF.
And what does this all come to? “There’s something special about the University of Findlay,” Givens answered. “Places are places. Campuses are campuses. You’re only successful with people. Good people. And that’s what we have here.”