When their men’s and women’s teams made an NCAA tournament run in March, it was more than a sign of success for the St. Bonaventure basketball program. It was a perfect example of how athletics can complement the life and values of the greater university community.
That lesson couldn’t have come at more opportune time for Steve Watson. The NCAA tournament appearances came on the heels of the school finishing two years worth of assessment and planning for the athletic department. This week the athletic director began making the rounds to publicize the results – an eight-point strategic plan which connects the success of the athletic department with the success of the university.
Titled “Your Teams – Our Extraordinary Future,” it is the first comprehensive strategic plan for Bona athletics and comes with the full support of the university.
“If you look at the committee which was charged with developing the strategic plan, at least 50 percent of the members are from outside the athletic department,” Watson said. “This is a top priority for the university. It’s backed by the board of trustees and it’s an aggressive plan.”
The centerpiece of the plan identifies 15 facility upgrades and construction that cost $18.8 million. The two projects of priority are a renovation of the women’s basketball locker room and the construction of an athletic fields complex. The women’s basketball project has raised about a third of the needed $300,000 while the school has already received a $1 million gift toward to the $2.84 million needed for the fields complex which would include artificial turf, lighting and seating for softball, lacrosse and soccer.
But the facility component is just part of the overall vision of the strategic plan, which grew out of a charge from the university’s board of trustees to assess the current state of the athletic department. That outside assessment was completed in 2011.
“In many ways it validated things we already knew,” Watson said. “But I was surprised by many of the inequities that we had. You look at sports which are easily comparable, like softball and baseball. There was a difference in facilities but also in things like travel. It was a real eye-opener.”
So, too, was the fact that St. Bonaventure had never hosted an Atlantic 10 Conference championship on campus. The Bonnies were the host school for the A-10 swimming and diving championships for a number of years, but that was at the Flickinger Aquatic Center in downtown Buffalo.
What do improved facilities bring? They bring opportunities to host championships and opportunities for area high schools to play games and host sectional competitions. The new fields, for example, will also be available for club and intramural use allowing for more participation by a greater number of students.
Still, the student-athlete population at St. Bonaventure is significant. It makes up 14 percent of the student body, meaning 1 in 7 students at Bona play Division I athletics. That’s significant when it comes to recruiting and retaining students on campus.
The facilities upgrade is part of the overall commitment to Division I and to the Atlantic 10 Conference. Part of the eight points of the strategic plan include exceeding NCAA standards for academic performance and positioning all teams to consistently finish in the top half of the A-10. That’s no short order. And to achieve that, Watson pointed to four key points for success — raising money, addressing staffing issues both in programs and in athletic administration, improving financial aid offerings and upgrading facilities.
“We’ve talked with all our coaches and they have total buy-in,” he said. “We’ve had teams achieve success in the conference. Now we want to give them what they need to be consistently successful.”
The target for completion of the women’s basketball locker room is for next season. The fields project will be driven in large part by fundraising efforts. Ideally it also would be for next season, but more likely will be for some time in 2014.