Michael wants to build on athletic program base

Bob Galuski, Editor-in-Chief

With roots firmly planted in central Illinois, Thomas Michael, the second of three candidates for athletic director, hopes to continue the legacy already started at Eastern.

Michael, who is the senior associate athletic director at the University of Illinois, pointed out Tuesday that Eastern’s program “isn’t broken.”

“Barbara Burke and her staff have set up a solid program,” Michael said.

Burke, the former athletic director, left for Tulane University earlier in the year.

Michael follows up Rick Hartzell, who was on campus Monday, as part of the interview process.

When it comes to aspects of the director position such as fundraising, Michael said the answer is clear: develop relationships.

“We have quality donors,” he said. “But we need them to do more.”

Michael said he is excited to be walking into a program with its “boots on the ground,” and being able to build upon that base by building relationships with people and selling them on the university and athletic program’s mission and vision.

Along with working with donors, Michael said it was important to work with the student body in order to increase attendance at games, meets and matches.

Despite a decrease during the past years in attendance at Panther Athletic events, Michael said this was a trend happening nationally, and was not specific to Eastern.

Even though this is a national trend, Michael said this should not deter Eastern from trying to market its athletic events.

“Just because Michigan State doesn’t have a lot of fans, doesn’t mean we need to either,” he said.

One way to help bring in the fan base is by making sure student athletes are integrating into the student body.

Building relationships, friendships and engaging with other students will help bring them out to support the program, Michael said.

It’s all about integrating with the rest of campus.

When it comes to the coaching staff, Michael said he prefers to think of it not as the coaches working for him, but him working for the coaches.

“I want to put them in the best position possible,” he said.

Michael also brought up the fact that basketball was vital to helping Eastern receive and maintain exposure.

In the hopes of having the basketball teams win in order to gain exposure, Michael also said he was not in any rush to leave the Ohio Valley Conference, despite sacrificing close by schools, or “natural rivals.”

“The OVC is good for Eastern,” Michael said. “If we can clean up our house and kick tail consistently in everything, then maybe we have that discussion.”

However, he said it would not make a lot of sense to jump into a new conference just on a whim.

Jim Sarra, the third and final candidate, will have his own open interview session at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Ike Kennard Club Room of Lantz Arena.

Sarra is currently the deputy director of athletics at the University of Texas San Antonio.

Bob Galuski can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].