This morning at 11am, Ball State will announce Mark Sandy as the newest Director of Athletics for BSU, as we broke last night (not to toot our own horn or anything). The last two athletic directors hired by BSU have been a study in dichotomy, one becoming the driving force of Cardinal athletics bringing themselves into the 21st century and the other the butt of more than a few jokes. Bill Scholl was the former, Tom Collins the latter, in case you were struggling with that evaluation. Try and keep up.
So with the university batting .500 in its two most recent AD hires and this being the first significant hire made by Dr. Paul Ferguson, new BSU president, it’s safe to say that high levels of success, while expected, are far from guaranteed. Replacing Bill Scholl, who was universally well-liked and personable from student athletes to high dollar donors, is also not the easiest thing in the world. To increase Cardinal successes on the field or court, one of the most important bullet point in the job description, isn’t the easiest thing either. Then throw in the aggravating circumstance of the operating budget and fan support of a MAC program and it’s a tall order. So it’s safe to say that hiring Mark Sandy, current athletic director of Eastern Kentucky University, is an absolutely critical decision and one that brings with it a whole host of issues for Sandy.
On the revenue program side of things, there’s a football program that aside from a rough 2014 is at a level that is satisfactory but the jump to the next level and retaining Pete Lembo will be a massive undertaking. There’s a men’s basketball program that was able to hire an assistant coach from a “name brand” program in James Whitford for the complex reconstruction job that has begun its bumpy road. Women’s basketball is a MAC contender year in and year out. That doesn’t take in to account all the other sports again that may not generate a ton of headlines but are notable programs. Softball, field hockey, volleyball, etc. are all programs that need to be tended to as well and supported en masse for Ball State to be significantly more competitive for the Reese and Jacoby Awards. (Note: The Reese Award is given to the most successful men’s athletic program and the Jacoby Award to the most successful women’s athletic program. In 2014 BSU finished 5th for the Reese Award and last for the Jacoby Award)
From his EKU bio regarding his successes as Colonel AD….
EKU Athletics Under Mark Sandy
• Women’s soccer begins play
• EKU Athletics Hall of Fame initiated
• Jacob Korir finishes seventh at NCAA Cross Country Championships
• Men’s basketball advances to NCAA tournament
• Football ranked first in OVC and Commonwealth of Kentucky in NCAA APR (academic progress rate) report
• Football advances to NCAA FCS playoffs for the first time in 10 years
• Women’s tennis wins first ever OVC championship and advances to NCAA tournament
• Football reaches NCAA FCS playoffs for second straight season
• Men’s tennis advances to first ever NCAA tournament
• 100 Years Celebration for football and men’s basketball
• EKU captures OVC Female Athlete of the Year and Steve Hamilton Sportsmanship awards
• Cross Country teams win fifth straight OVC titles
• EKU wins first ever OVC Commissioner’s Cup (began in 2009)
• EKU Athletics Hall of Fame Room completed
• EKU captures OVC Institutional Sportsmanship Award
• Men’s basketball won a program record 25 games, including a first round game in the CIT postseason tournament
• Women’s golf advances to first ever NCAA regional championship
• EKU wins second OVC Commissioner’s Cup in last three years
• Men’s cross country finishes 15th at NCAA championships
So take a quick cruise above and you’ll notice that there is a consistent and steady improvement across the board. There are facilities improvements, program creation, and all-sport conference success. There’s significant successes in creating a higher profile in the monster programs of basketball and football. And perhaps the thing that no one will mention, much like Ball State competing for eyeballs and interest from IU, Purdue, and Notre Dame fans, Sandy was able to do all of the above with the University of Kentucky’s deathstar athletic program right down the road.
I’m not a fan of the term “homerun hire” because largely every rose has its share of thorns. Poison taught me that. But this is about as close to that as you’re going to find for the Mid-American Conference and Ball State. We’ll be back after the presser at 11 for some other Sandy related goodies.