MavBlog took some time to talk with Kevin recently.
MavBlog: When you came to MSU in the summer of 2002, you were taking a job after a successful four-year run as an assistant Director of Athletics at the University of Northern Iowa. Looking back, can you recall what your expectations were upon coming to Mankato?
KB: As I recall, when I first started, I was really excited about the opportunity to finally run my own program and the great potential I saw for our teams at Minnesota State. As I said during the interview process for this position, I believed MSU Athletics was sitting on the “launching pad” and was simply looking for someone to put the countdown sequence into motion. I felt very fortunate to be at the controls.
MavBlog: MSU Athletics has steadily risen up the Directors' Cup standings in the last ten years. Beginning with a 22nd-place ranking in your first year, the Mavericks ascension has been steady and impressive - 20th in 2003-04, tenth in 2004-05, 8th in 2005-06, 4th in 2006-07, 3rd in 2007-08 and 2nd in 2008-09. What has been the key to MSU continually moving up the ladder on a national basis?
KB: I think our rise in the Director’s Cup standings has been due to a combination of things. First, I think it begins with President Davenport’s vision for a program committed to excellence and broad-based success. To his credit, President Davenport has helped provide a lot of the resources to make that possible. Next, it takes an outstanding coaching staff to identify, recruit, and retain great student-athletes. Another major factor has been the dramatic improvement of our women’s programs. We have really invested in our women’s teams and as result, we are experiencing strong finishes on a more consistent basis and they have made some major contributions to our overall success in recent years.
MavBlog: At the time you joined MSU the Mavericks were members of the North Central Conference and the Western College Hockey Association was rolling along, boasting a half century of stability. There are several questions regarding these conference affiliation developments. How soon did you see the breakup of the NCC coming and how has the subsequent reaffiliation to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference gone?
KB: Not long after I started at MSU, I think it was becoming pretty evident that the North Central Conference was in trouble with regards to its long-term viability, with several schools wanting to leave the league to pursue Division I status. As things began to wind down in the NCC, we evaluated our options and decided that remaining in Division II was the best option available at the time. Since that decision, I think it has been a fairly smooth transition for us into the Northern Sun. The NSIC has offered a nice home for our programs and we have competed very effectively there in recent years.
MavBlog: The WCHA will stay intact for this year and the next, but then things change drastically with several teams leaving and others coming aboard. What challenges does the men's hockey program face in the coming years as a result of this?
KB: Recently, the name of the game in college athletics has been “CHANGE”. At a broader level, there have been some major developments mostly driven by money and television related to basketball and football contracts that have dramatically changed the landscape for many of the major Division I conferences.
Television and money were also driving forces in changing college hockey, as major donor money made the start-up of Penn State hockey a reality and the programming needs of the Big Ten Network hastened the formation of member-driven affiliation in that sport. From there, it unwound pretty quickly with the start-up of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, which then put the rest of the members of the WCHA and CCHA into play in terms of finding future homes for their programs.
As noted, there are major changes ahead for college ice hockey beginning with the 2013-14 season. As remaining members of the WCHA, we will now be more closely aligned with other schools of similar resources, which should immediately make us more competitive. Because of that, I believe we will be better positioned to compete for conference titles and postseason playoffs and thereby also contending for NCAA championship bid opportunities.
The changes will also impact us financially. The new alignment is more geographically diverse, so we will see some additional expenses there. Our recruiting will also change a bit, so I anticipate some added costs there. On the revenue side, the loss of revenue related to the Final Five will be significant. And while we won’t have some of our “marquee” opponents like Minnesota, UM-Duluth, North Dakota, and St. Cloud in here as conference opponents, we are optimistic about establishing scheduling relationships that will create a non-conference schedule that is very appealing to our fan base and that will be good for us at the gate.
MavBlog: Every athletics department in the nation is facing rising costs from everything from tuition, equipment, travel and salaries. At the same time, there are factors such as diminishing allocations and the shaky economy. How is your department working to address these challenges?
KB: Budget and finance are issues that are never going to go away and are a factor for every intercollegiate athletic program in the country—from the largest to the smallest. Each and every year, a growing proportion of our budget will need to come from self-generated revenues. To that end, we are currently negotiating an opportunity to outsource the sales of our marketing inventory and corporate partnerships, as we see this as the best possible strategy to fully leverage the complete potential of those opportunities.
MavBlog: Tell us about the student-athletes at MSU relative to programming you've invoked outside of the field of play. How have you and your staff worked to ensure that they have an all-encompassing experience during their time as Mavericks.
KB: The quality of the experience is often dictated by the recruiting process and by having our coaches committed to identifying prospective student-athletes that our equipped to not only compete effectively, but to also hold their own in the classroom. Minnesota State athletics is branded by the tag line “Building Champions”, which outwardly communicates the expectations we have that our student-athletes will achieve at a high level both in sport and in life by excelling competitively, in the classroom, and in the community. Hopefully, the experiences of our student-athletes transcend competition and helps prepare them to become future leaders, both professionally and in their community.
MavBlog: Can you point to a couple of moments during your time as the Director of Athletics that you can point to where you've felt your proudest?
KB: There have been a lot of bright spots along the way, but the run to the 2009 national championship in women’s basketball will always hold a special place. It was an amazing season fueled by a highly committed group of young women who personified passion, desire, and teamwork, which was ultimately capped by an unbelievably gritty and inspired performance in the championship game.
On a broader basis, I am also very proud of the academic record of our student-athletes. Each semester we consistently have nearly 200 student-athletes or more on the Dean’s List with a 3.50 GPA, which is quite an accomplishment. I also take a lot of pride in being able to balance our commitment to gender equity with broad-based success across all of our programs. To maintain proportionately in participative opportunities, while also consistently placing in the Top 10 of the Director’s Cup requires everyone’s cooperation in working together to achieve common goals.
MavBlog: In October of 2007 you had to deal with the death of a young female cross country student-athlete, Caty Delwiche, who tragically passed away after being struck by a car while out on a training run. Can you describe what that was like?
KB: Caty’s passing was the single most difficult thing I have ever dealt with professionally. I remember getting the call from Coach Blue and being overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment, while also struggling with how to provide leadership during this difficult time. I don’t think there is anything that can prepare you for dealing with this kind of tragedy and you can only hope that your best is good enough in trying to determine how to guide others through their pain, suffering, and loss.
It’s amazing the impact that Caty has had on me. Ironically, she was a freshman and being early in the school year, I had not yet had the opportunity to meet her before the accident. And despite the lack of an established personal relationship, she continues to have a profound effect on my life. I think about her often when I pass the memorial site on Warren Street or when I see the commemorative plaque in Highland. Caty Delwiche was quite a remarkable young woman and exemplified all of the best virtues in life. As a parent of two young daughters and as Director of Athletics, I think all you can hope for is the same from your own children and the other student-athletes who will follow in the legacy she leaves behind.
MavBlog: During your time here the department has hosted several regional NCAA events, along with the NCAA Division II wrestling national championship tournament in 2004 and the NCAA Division II indoor track & field championships in 2008. The school is preparing the host the national track & field meet again in March. What's your philosophy regarding hosting these events?
KB: We have been blessed with some truly great facilities and as good stewards of the resources we have been provided, I think that hosting these championship events provides an outstanding platform to not only showcase our programs, but the University and Greater Mankato, as well. Our fans and business partners also invest a lot in our programs and the economic impact of these events also provides an excellent way to acknowledge and give back to all those who help to support Maverick athletics.
MavBlog: What are your hopes for your teams in 2011-12?
KB: As is always the case, you hope for the best in terms of the student-athlete experience. It’s not always about winning and losing, as there are some many valuable “life lessons” that are part of sport, along with the bond that develops amongst players and teammates and ideally those personal relationships extend long after their careers as Maverick student-athletes end. I do, however, think we have some individual programs that have an excellent chance to be very successful and to compete very effectively during the regular season schedule and into the postseason. As a department, we would like to get back into position to win the NSIC All-Sports trophy and return to a Top 10 finish in the Learfield Sports Director’s Cup competition.