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Higher Ed Athletics Podcast: Long Island’s Dr. William Martinov Jr.

Guest Dr. William Martinov Jr., Long Island University
25:13 min listen
In October 2018, Long Island University announced it would consolidate the athletic departments at both of the private institution’s campuses of LIU Brooklyn (D1) and LIU Post (D2) into a single D1 institution beginning at the start of the 2019-2020 academic year, a target date it successfully hit until COVID-19 canceled spring sports. The unification, built with an entirely new athletic identity of new colors and mascot, was part of a larger strategy in building the national profile of LIU. Dr. Martinov Jr. is the athletic director for the re-branded LIU Sharks and joins Travis Smith to discuss the unique transition and offer advice to leading an athletic department through turbulent times.


0:51 – Walk us through the institutional changes that led to the Sharks.
6:39 – How are both campuses handling athletics?
8:41 – Has the athletics merger impacted academic offerings?
10:15 – Does LIU’s athletics unification provide a blueprint for other institutions?
14:19 – How did the unification impact the NCAA classification?
16:19 – How did you approach the transition of the LIU Post Football program to D1?
22:27 – What advice would you give ADs with those tough situations and the leadership style that is expected to take an athletic department through these turbulent times?


Full Transcript


Travis Smith: You’re listening to the Higher Ed Athletics Podcast where I focus on current events and governance in both higher education and intercollegiate athletics by having thought-provoking conversations with industry experts and leaders. Thanks for listening to the Higher Ed Athletics Podcast with Travis Smith. I’m joined today by Dr. William E. Martinov, Jr., the athletic director at Long Island University. Thanks for joining me today.


William Martinov, Jr.: Well, it’s great to be with you, Travis. I hope we can have a great session here to help others in the world of college athletics.


TS: Yeah, you’ve had an interesting institutional chain. Could you tell our listeners the LIU Shark story and how you became the Sharks really?


WM: Sure. And just so you know, as I had been working at the university before the announcement of transition, which was in October of 2018. And I was working in admissions and alumni at the time, aware of this transition of unification between our two campuses. So, Long Island University is a private institution here in the New York area, Long Island, Brooklyn, Westchester, we have multiple campuses, but we’ve had athletics, competitive athletics on our Brooklyn campus, which is our oldest, longest standing campus since the ‘20s. The LIU Brooklyn campus was always Division I. We had some great success with basketball over the years and baseballs and soccers and always Division I right there in the heart of Brooklyn, and a fantastic history and tradition.


And as LIU, Long Island University grew, they created a campus out on… actually halfway out in Long Island in Nassau County, on the old C.W. Post estate which is, if you’re, that rings a bell, that’s the serial entrepreneur back in the 1900s C.W. Post serial. Their estate, the University purchased in the late ‘40s and created a campus out there in the ‘50s and created athletic programs shortly thereafter. And so, about 30 years later, after Brooklyn, a second campus with athletics was created. The history of the athletic set post has gone anywhere from Division III, Division II to Division I back to Division II, but most recently, Division II. So just up until about a year ago, we had LIU Post Division II campus. The Pioneers and as well we had to LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds Division I program for years.


And in October of 2018, there was an announcement to unify both athletic departments into a Division I… into one Division I athletic department, which was to take effect this past September 2019, which it did. That year of 2018-19 was a very intense and involved and engaged year for all of our student athletes and coaches, because that was a time where they were with the understanding that just a short year from that point of the announcement that there’d be one athletic department, which meant that there’d be… where there was duplicated sports, there’d only be one team, you know, men’s basketball, we had two of them, we, you know, we kind of consolidate into one; women’s basketball, so there was a good, probably 15, 20 sports that were duplicated on the Brooklyn and Post campus. And so, that year of ’18, ‘19, we had to help student athletes, you know, in terms of their continuance at the university, and we wanted to make sure we honored all the scholarship offers that were put out there for both the Division I and Division II. And so that year took a lot of work with the staff and coaches and university administration allowed us to start the fall of 2019 as one athletic department.


And as we proceeded towards that, we felt it was necessary that we kind of moved forward with new, and I’ll say new colors, colors that represent both campuses. We have a light blue and a gold, yellow gold, which represent Brooklyn and Post respectively. And a new mascot with the Shark, which our students and alumni helped us select through a voting process and helped it happen over the last spring of 2019 into the summer and by July we had colors and a mascot identified, which rolled right into the fall of 2019.


So, we’re… we’ve been at this as the LIU Sharks one Division I athletic department since September. And as you know, you know, we’re at a challenging time now here in April that we haven’t had… it didn’t have the true opportunity of having a full year yet to be this athletic department. So we’re very excited about this new athletic department and at the same time, a little disappointed we couldn’t get through the whole year for our kids, our student athletes, our coaches and staff and fans and parents, you know, very, very sad for all of them in terms of the experiences that we couldn’t live out.


But anyway, so, disappointed, obviously, for many, but we’re moving forward. We’re looking forward. We know that we’re going to work through this as a university, as a country with this coronavirus, but we have some great things ahead of us. And I think that’s the exciting part is we’re developing a master plan into the future and we’re excited about that. We’re excited for our kids, our student athletes, our, you know, everybody involved, we’re excited. The future is bright once we can get back to work to normal.


TS: Yeah. And there’s another school, two Purdue campuses kind of did a similar thing where they merge the athletics and they operate on different campuses. But those are both at the Division II level now. But I do have a question as far as the athletic teams where they compete, where they practice, are they… is their athletics actually being going on on both campuses? And how far away are those two campuses? Just kind of curious about that for anyone that might be in a similar situation and if it’s accessible campuses.


WM: Sure. So, it’s a very unique situation. So, our campus in Brooklyn and the campus in Brookville, which is the Post campus, we have sports competing on both campuses. Brooklyn is an urban campus of 11 acres, very safe and secure right in the heart of Brooklyn, beautiful campus. And with that, we’ve kept most of our indoor sports. So, our volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, swimming, fencing, just to name some, some of the few, but primarily indoor, with the exception of softball. And then all the other sports that are mostly outdoors, your footballs and lacrosses and baseballs and such, we do have wrestling, and women’s ice hockey, but a majority of our sports are at the Post campus. And so, we’re competing on both. We do a great job of transporting our students to both campuses to watch the ballgames, whether it’s bringing Brooklyn students to Post for football games and homecoming or whether it’s taking similar students from the Post campus to Brooklyn for men’s and women’s basketball or swimming. So, it’s a unique situation. You know, transporting students back and forth to the campuses to watch the games, but there are similar cases where, you know, even like at St. John’s, even though basketball was on the Queens campus, they would play at Madison Square Garden. And people would have to commute, you know, and get transportation into the city. So, playing off campus or at another campus is not too foreign to some institutions, but definitely unique in our situation where we do have two campuses that have sports competing on each of those campuses.


TS: Yeah, and the majors and academic offerings, has that changed at all between the two campuses? Or is it strictly just athletic component?


WM: Well, for the most part, the University at both campuses had many of the same programs. Now, Brooklyn historically had… has had, and we do still have our College of Pharmacy and some other health care programs a little bit more specific to Brooklyn. And same with Post campuses that we’d have a few programs that are a little bit more specific to Post. But, you know, we’ve always had kind of a solid core of similar programs. So, there are a few nuances by campus. We are collectively, though, trying to unify the academic programs as much more as we can, that has to go through the New York State Department of Education and Middle State. So, there’s work that can be done that just takes a little bit longer due to programming and assessment and things like that. So, we are doing a little bit more of that, but we still have unique programs for each campus.


TS: Yeah, with the enrollment crisis, head and higher education, which I’m sure you’re aware of, and it’s getting really hit hard in the northeast part of the country, but it may be as even sped up due to the COVID-19. But do you see LIU’s athletic department transition as maybe a potential blueprint for other universities that something they might need to consider consolidating two athletic departments into one as a way to kind of offset some costs maybe between the university system?


WM: Well, I’ll tell you first, Travis, but I said this earlier, you know, our unification, I would say is a better way to do it. We unified two programs. And we did it for a couple of reasons. One is really from a national perspective and national branding is to be one athletic department allows us to, you know, let people know we’re Long Island University. Two or three years ago, if you had to watch ticker tape on ESPN, you’d see LIU Post men’s lacrosse. And then a little bit later you might see LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball. And, you know, if you’re watching the ticker tape you’re wondering, is at the same university, and we are. That was the, you know, the ironic thing where you talked about Purdue or, you know, you have IU Purdue Fort Wayne, IU Purdue, you know, yeah, they’re really not… they’re part of the same state system, but I don’t think they’re quite the same. They’re separate operating campuses, right.


TS: Right.


WM: We’ve always been one operating university with multiple campuses. So again, another unique piece to it. So, we didn’t consolidate per se for a cost saving perspective. We unified to an opportunity to really brand ourselves nationally, with our nationally recognized academic programs and research. So, we saw it as an opportunity to help the university kind of gain more so on its reputation of what we’ve done over the years. Because that’s been the challenge from a branding standpoint, we’ve been LIU, but people have thought of us as LIU Brooklyn or LIU Post and not really thinking one and the same place, so.


TS: Yeah, and you hit it spot on though talking about you may have seen the ticker and everything and I think a lot of people knew LIU Brooklyn for its basketball success and I was really familiar with LIU Post because I worked on Division II committees at the NCAA in the national level and came from university Indianapolis, so I was familiar with LIU Post, but I do see it as a great, I mean, if you’re going to rebrand, why not do it with a unification. I think that’s a great way of putting it and maybe your institution is really rare in higher ed maybe with the athletic programs as far as being really part of the same university instead of just different campuses operating under an umbrella.


WM: Yeah, and the reason why is this is what makes it unique, Travis. See, we’re a private university. Right. So, your state school systems, whether it’s Penn State or Indiana, or you know, Penn State has multiple campuses, you know, that they have different athletic departments. The SUNY system here in New York, same thing, multiple campuses with separate, freestanding athletic departments and mascots and colors, where we were a private university. And so, for us, that’s what makes it even more unique is that we’re that private university that had multiple NCAA programs competing on it. And so, for us, it was much easier to, I think, do that, not that it didn’t take a lot of work by many. But it was, you know, I guess, logistically, it was easier because we… we’ve always been one private university. And so, when you think of it from that perspective, and think all the great things you’re doing as one institution that people think of it as two or three, I think you see the opportunity to let people know, “Hey, we’re one LIU.” And I think it’s worked out well. I think it’s helped a lot of people even in our area that thought of it, us as multiple, the separate institutions really.


TS: With the unification of your two athletic departments campuses? Would… did that make it easier with the NCAA as far as instead of having to reclassify, were you able to do something else to kind of make it an easier transition?


WM: Yes, to your point, so, we had an existing charter as a Division I NCAA program was with our Brooklyn sports, right? So, we didn’t really reclassify. We were unified. And so, we essentially became a newer looking Division I program that we… that already existed. So that helped us immediately become eligible to compete for postseason with… through our Northeast Conference membership. And so, all those sports that we, in the NEC, again, those sports essentially continued as an NEC sport and Division I sport. And then we transitioned upward with some of those sports that we didn’t have like football or like men’s lacrosse, you know, the sports that we’re not already Brooklyn. So it was a much easier transition that I think the programs that are Division II, that, you know, make the step up, the rise up to Division I, they have to go through a mandated, I think, three- or four-year process of becoming eligible.


TS: Yeah. I did want to touch on football because football seems to be going through some growing pains and it’s moved from D-II to D-I. For example, in 2008, LIU Post had a 10-in-1 record in D-II; in 2019 competing the first year as a D-I FCS program, I believe, football went 0-and-10. So for others that might be going through a similar athletic department transition, whether it’s one like yours or a merger or maybe creating a new program, while choosing to keep your star football, can you talk about how an athletic director and an department administration should approach the football part of the transition as far as being patient and understanding that it can take time to see those wins and the return on investment?


WM: Yeah, and I think, you know, football was one of those sports that we didn’t already have at LIU. Right. So the other sports where you had like men’s and women’s basketball or baseball, where you already were competing at that level, you had student athletes that, at that level, if you will; football, coming purely from Division II, I think Coach Collins has had great success at that level. And he’s done a great job. He’s, you know, to have us competitive. I’ll tell you right now, we were probably the most competitive 0-and-10 team in the country. Watch every last one of those games that we were in, every last one of those games, at least until the third quarter, you know, where we needed probably a little bit more help was in depth, which will come with the continued recruiting that Coach Collins and his staff will do. So yeah, there’s a degree of patience with all of our sports.


You know, I look at our men’s soccer program, and we went to the conference championship this year. And our team was at a combined from Brooklyn and Post. And so, you know, you see that immediate success, if you will, or continued success and then you see a program like football where, you know, let’s face it, there’s 120 guys, you’re going to have out there, you got, you know, just, well, probably 60, 70 different positions, right. You got offense, defense, so you got kicking gains. You got all those individual positions that you need a great deal of depth and the talent to play at Division I, and I think we had some quality and we do have some quality kids that played Division II for us that made that, I think, a reasonable transition to Division I, because the success we had shows that we had some pretty, pretty good football players.


The coaches did a great job of recruiting within that year or so that we had to bring in some kids that are Division I talent. And so, I think as we move forward, I see our football program making some great strides in this next year or two because we were right there the whole time. We’re going to do well in football. The Conference, I think, knows that we’ve had great success. They see how we played this year, and they know we’re recruiting our butt off. So, I think we’ll see some progress with us this year.


TS: Back to higher education, I am curious if I read your dissertation was actually focused on behavior and leadership of college football coaches. So, I’m guessing maybe that helps with the understanding of the transition that’s ahead of you all.


WM: Yeah, I think just in general, you know, I pick college football coaches because I’ve been around them for so long and I’ve been a Division III player, and been at Notre Dame was Division I, you know, the highest level, and I always thought that… I knew leadership was a common thread. I just… I thought really there’d be a slight difference in what coaches would expect in leadership from Division III to Division I. And the reality is my dissertation proved that the football coaches all, and I think this is true in any sport, all expect the same kind of leadership from a head coach no matter what level that you’re at. And I think that goes back to my point earlier about life as a people business. And I don’t care if you’re Division I or Division III, is that people, you know, working with other people, leading other people, there’s, there’s very similar and common expectations and qualities that people want to look at or look to, and they want somebody who’s going to show a strong, you know, structure, organization, you know, a plan, right. That’s what people want to see in a leader. But they also want to see in that leader some consideration, some empathy to understanding and being able to connect on a human level. You know, it’s not the “my way or the highway,” it’s our way together. Right. So, I think that’s what people want to look at in leadership.


And in terms of how it works with football, you know, I’ve been fortunate to be around some great football programs, whether it was DePaul University as a player; Notre Dame, and even St. John’s as a coach or administrator, is that I think, I think, you know, working with Coach Collins and understanding the game does help. But I think if you’ve watched LIU football over the years, you can see the same things I just mentioned. We’ve been competitive at the Division II level. We were competitive this year. And we’re going to be more competitive as we continue to recruit. And that’s what I’m excited about. And I’m excited about that for all of our sports.


I think we have great opportunities within our conference. We have an exceptional group of coaches and student athletes. And I think the unification is only going to make us stronger and more competitive. And my goal is to create an exceptional student athlete experience. One that’s a culture of success; expectations that people can see and understand; expectations that make people want to work a little harder. And I think that’s the exciting part here, Travis, is that people like to be a part of successful organizations and to kind of see how it goes as one athletic department, one LIU Sharks, the light blue and yellow gold, representing the two campuses. I think it’s just exciting. If you… and you have been, when you’re around athletics, and you’re around teams and coaches and student athletes and you see how you develop young people and the excitement of the games and the wins and the losses, you know why you’re in it, you know, you know why you’re in this profession. And I think we’ve got a great future ahead of us.


TS: There’s going to be some tough decisions being made in the next coming months out of this coronavirus. So, what would your advice be for maybe if an athletic director that maybe hadn’t been in those situations before, what advice would you give them with those tough situations and the leadership style that is expected to take an athletic department through some pretty turbulent times?


WM: And that’s a great question, Travis. And I think, you know, there’s a lot of common threads here that we can all take advice or heed the advice is… and I don’t have all the answers, but I can tell you the things that generally have worked over the years is that one is that nobody is doing this by themselves. You know, no one, no one person is going to do all this by themselves. So, I suggest you think about how people on your team are going to be helpful contributors, and listening to different people on your staff and coaches and administrators, listen to them, get their input, help make a better informed decision than you could without them. Because I firmly believe it, no one achieves greatness or success alone. I really, really believe in that. You know, we do this together. So, take the input, insights from those who really might know a little bit more about it than you, whether it’s a sport coach or an administrator who does something that you haven’t done, take their input, insight and think about how you make that decision. Because it shouldn’t be done alone.


I think also you have to always go back to your mission and core values and start there. What’s important? Coach Holtz always used to say, you know, WIN, the acronym, you know, WIN, you know, “What’s important now?” And I think you have to look at, you know, what’s important, what’s driving your program, stick to those core values and goals that you set, and start there. So, if you’re making tough decisions, how does it affect the student athlete experience, you know, should be the place to start. You know, how does it affect a student athlete? And take the advice and input from others. I think there, as much as they might be tough decisions, and there might be some people disappointed, which is always possible, is that in the context of that decision making, you’re making the best decision you can make. And you can explain why the decision was made because you have the research and the input that’s important to make that tough decision. People who make decisions, you know, just kind of unilaterally or in a box that they don’t, you know, talk with others, usually, it’s hard for that decision to stand over time and people understand why it was made, even though it was a difficult one.


TS: Dr. William E. Martinov, Jr., Long Island University athletics, the Sharks Athletic Director. Thanks for being on the Higher Ed Athletics Podcast brought to you by Athletic Director U.


WM: Thank you. Appreciate it, Travis.