Bill Scholl has been Vice President and Director of Athletics at Marquette since 2014. Scholl visits AthleticDirectorU to discuss matters regarding sport success, internal evaluation, eSports and a number of other relevant topics in this edition of Athletic Director in Residence.
Do you believe there’s a flywheel effect achieved when a high-profile revenue sport, like men’s basketball, is excelling on the national level? Does the success of said sport allow an athletic director to allocate their time more efficiently and focus on forward-looking projects and initiatives?
There’s certainly a halo effect when men’s basketball is firing on all cylinders, a contagious energy and good feeling that permeates throughout the athletics department and the campus. Everyone associated with the program understands just how hard people in and around the team worked to put themselves in a position to succeed, and so it’s only natural that it acts as a motivating force for others to do the same in their own roles.
Both our men’s and women’s teams are experiencing great success, and the similarities in their rise are uncanny. Both are led by first time head coaches, both young and both hired within several weeks of each other. While you may not be able to point to concrete data that says one program’s performance has a direct impact on the other’s, there’s no question that their individual successes have rubbed off on one another in ways that may not be perceptible to the naked eye.
As to whether the success of our most visible sports allows me to focus my energies elsewhere, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Yes, I travel with our men’s team to most of their away games, and we use their contests to raise money for the program, so I’m naturally going to spend more time with the team then other sports. But the fact is that we have more than 300 student-athletes, but only 15 of them play men’s basketball. You have to be able to compartmentalize each program irrespective of their performance during a given season. What matters it that you are assessing where they are, where they’re going to be in the future, but it should never change your time commitment to each regardless of how competitive that program may or may not be.
How do you “take the temperature” of the internal climate of your department throughout an academic year? How do you ensure that your employees remain motivated and focused irrespective of what’s happening around them?
It starts with who you hire. You have to bring in professionals that are not going to be affected by the performance of the teams they may be coaching or supervising, regardless of whether there’s positive or negative momentum. What matters is that each person is focused on growth and continuous improvement, constantly looking for ways to better themselves, their individual sports programs and the department as a whole. That’s not to say that you just discount the emotions that come with wins and losses, but if you let those emotions influence your decisions on what needs to happen next, that’s almost never going to end well. Focus on the process, not the results.
A big part of trying to stay even-keeled emotionally is by creating a work environment that doesn’t add unnecessary pressure to a business where there’s already plenty of it to go around. At Marquette, we employ a ROWE – Results Oriented Work Environment. We aren’t going to watch the clock to make sure you’re at your desk during the day, we expect you to get your work done, but how and when you do it is largely your prerogative. We’re always looking for good reasons to give people permission to play hooky; autonomy is such a huge factor when it comes to motivation and so we do everything we can to allow those within our program to have plenty of it. It also has a huge effect on retention. We have a great quality of life here, and that matters to keeping people around.
Marquette is one of the only ‘Power 6’ departments already executing “varsity” esports. How would you respond to those across our industry who wonder what “varsity” really means for a “sport” that’s not NCAA sponsored? How do you foresee esports student-athletes becoming a true part of the entire Golden Eagles student body?
While esports isn’t yet under the purview of the NCAA, there’s already active competition within the BIG EAST. The reason why we decided to house our team within the athletics department is because when we evaluated what an esports program looks like, and what it would take to be successful, we realized that there wasn’t a better place on campus for it to live than athletics. They’re a team of students, competing in a conference, with a coach, and hopefully one day, viewed by large audiences… sure sounds a lot like a sports program. That’s also why we’ve dedicated ourselves to treating those that participate just like all of our other student-athletes, which include: facilities, gear, coaching and scholarships. We’re taking the same approach with esports as when we added lacrosse almost a decade ago.
The debate as to whether it should be under athletics is legitimate, and every school that will add esports will have to decide where that fits into their university structure. The other Big East members decided that on their campus, esports shouldn’t be housed in intercollegiate athletics. They argue that it’s not really a sport, or that the commitments and structure aren’t the same as what other student-athletes have to deal with. But if you look at the DII and DIII programs, many of them are locating esports within their athletic programs. For those institutions in particular, it’s very much an enrollment play, especially for STEM students. For many institutions, Title IX is also a consideration.
We all hear and read about the glitz and glam of playing home games in a new arena, but what are some advantages that aren’t commonly referenced?
While the Bradley Center wasn’t all that old and served us well for many years, the new Fiserv Forum has proven to be a meaningful upgrade in so many ways. It started from the get-go, when the Bucks allowed us to be involved in the design of the building, where we had input on layout of the space and design work, particularly as it related to our team space. Unlike previous arena, which was built with the expectation that Milwaukee would one day get an NHL franchise, Fiserv was designed for basketball, making the sight lines significantly better. We also don’t have to compete with a minor league hockey franchise for scheduling any longer.
The amenities are in a different stratosphere then previously, and the digital signage allows us to totally flip the colors and corporate partners between us and the Bucks. When inside the bowl, you’d never know the facility was home to an NBA team while watching a Marquette game. Our student athletes have totally fallen in love with it, and our fans will tell you that their experience is simply remarkable. The building is a terrific asset for our current student-athletes, our fans and, of course, in the recruiting battles.