First comes baseball in the fall, then cross-country and tennis by late 2010. Those will be the first sports for Roosevelt University’s athletic program, restarted from scratch after 20 years without one.
Newly hired athletic director Mike Cassidy, who previously worked for 11 years in the athletics department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says one of his first priorities is finding a gym for the new program.
“I want this to be for everyone at Roosevelt, so then we’re going to ramp up the intramural program, we’re going to ramp up recreational activities,” Cassidy says.
The university’s first opponents in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics will be places like St. Xavier University, Columbia College and the Illinois Institute of Technology. A decade from now, Cassidy wants Roosevelt to grow into an NCAA Division III team going up against the likes of Aurora University, Concordia University and Dominican University.
He expects such a long wait to gain NCAA status because the review process to be admitted takes five years. He wants a strong program in place at Roosevelt before applying. Among the challenges: Roosevelt has no facilities of its own. That means finding facilities it can rent, and soon. Eventually, Cassidy wants to build facilities for the school.
“It really has not been done, and so we are looking to be the model” for starting a brand new athletics program, Cassidy says.
A pep rally of sorts drew about 60 Roosevelt students, faculty and staff Friday afternoon – complete with a hot dog cart, popcorn and cookies decorated like baseballs and basketballs.
“I’ve encountered so many (students) excited about the opportunity to play,” says senior Tom Goodman, who plays on the school’s current club baseball team.
Roosevelt views the new athletic program as the next step for a school that is growing and increasingly billing itself less as a commuter campus, more as a place for full-time students.
“The revenue really comes from the 200 student athletes that we’ll have as new enrollees,” Cassidy says. That would mean about $6 million in added tuition dollars each year, he says. But that number won’t come right away. The tennis and cross-country teams are deliberate first choices because you need less than 10 people for each team. Many of the players on the baseball team would likely come from Roosevelt’s existing club baseball team.
“This is going to be a tough sell for recruits early on,” Cassidy says.
It may also be a tough sell for some current students.
Senior Debra Puzzo says she picked Roosevelt because it didn’t have an athletics program.
“I don’t think we need sports,” she says.
Political science major Joshua Noehrenberg is on the fence, worried that efforts to land big brand names to sponsor the school’s teams could conflict with its social justice mission.
“My opinion of it is kind of mixed,” Noehrenberg says. “It seems like a good idea, but on the other hand, I can see some disadvantages.”
Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.