Below is Press Sports Editor Dustin Monke’s conversation with Dickinson State University President D.C. Coston about Blue Hawk athletics for the story that appeared in Sunday’s edition of The Dickinson Press:
What are your feelings about athletics at Dickinson State and university-sponsored athletics in general?
Firstly, I enjoy collegiate athletics. I always have. Regardless of where I’ve been. All the way from being a student to the present, I try to get to as many events as I can just because of enjoying the competition.
I’ve also had the opportunity to witness, at a number of places, the visibility that athletics can create for the institution, as far as bringing a number of people to the institution. Hopefully we can find ways to showcase the rest of the university, using athletics as kind of a door opener with a number of people.
Another piece is when you have athletes, coaches and others who are obviously striving hard, having success and being very positive in the way they represent the institution, they can be a big part of helping the public perception of who and what an institution is. That’s some of the things we hope athletics can be at Dickinson State.
Frankly, you begin to look and a lot of times we think of athletes as athletes, and they’re student-athletes. We have something on the order of 400 young men and women that have been attracted to Dickinson State, who are in classes, doing well in classes and also happen to compete on the court or the field or whatever their particular event is. That’s very much a positive too.
Students come to universities for a number of reasons and we attract a lot of wonderful men and women because we do have an athletics program.
What is your take on the university’s move to the Frontier Conference in athletics?
Well, as you know, you were there and took the picture when we officially signed. That was done before I got here.
In a lot of ways, it’s very exciting. It is a level of competition that we will work to be successful in those various types of competition.
It’s a wonderful set of institutions. I’m getting to know them. I have not been to a meeting with all my counterparts and ADs at those institutions yet. I’ve been on several conference calls and so on, and feel very positive about the people and the institutions.
It’s a change for Dickinson State, but it creates a new set of opportunities for us. Hopefully we step up and are successful.
Certainly there are some challenges among those.
As everyone is aware, there are — in various sports — some teams in that league that compete incredibly well. There are some traditional powers.
Glancing at your paper a minute ago and Carroll is ranked No. 2 in the country in football and we have two opportunities to see if we can change that — yikes — upcoming this fall.
That becomes a challenge and, frankly, being sure that everyone understands what it’s going to take to be successful at that is a piece of it.
Another piece of it, and it’s no surprise to anyone, is financially we’ve got to find ways to manage the travel and so on related to getting all the athletes to the various events and then being able to get them back so they miss class as little as possible so they can be successful as students, as well as athletes.
Is managing the financial part of it something you’ve looked into quite a bit already or something you’re really just starting to explore?
We’re very much in the process of that right now. The university is at the point of having to prepare for the fiscal ’13 budget, which would begin July 1 this year. We’re looking at all of those parameters as we think about moving forth in athletics as well as everything else we do as an institution.
Is DSU committed to increasing scholarships amounts awarded to athletes, especially for revenue sports such as football and basketball, where they are extremely low in comparison to other Frontier schools?
I think that there is a lot of optimism, a lot of promise. The conversations are under way. We probably won’t be fully there one year. It is something that can grow. But, the sentiment I get is that people are committed to get there.
The move to the Frontier is providing us an opportunity to have some great conversations.
The boosters are expressing great support. The Rendezvous they had was a phenomenal success for them.
Part of our budgeting will be sitting down with them and talking to them about what it will take for us to be successful and saying, you know, if the boosters will really be able to have a conversation about ‘This is what we’d like you to consider seeing what you can do.’ Right now we really don’t know what that number is. Hopefully within a few weeks, we’ll be able to sit down with the leadership of that group and say, ‘You’ve been supporting us, this is where we are,’ and start moving toward that.
Awarding of athletic scholarships in the NAIA is more complicated than people understand too.
I don’t understand all the rules, but we certainly have rules. There are limits and there are things you can do within a sport, among sports, and so on. Our commitment is to be compliant with all the rules. That’s what we’re going to do on that side of it and to work as diligently as we can to be able to offer athletes the opportunity to come here.
Ty Orton was saying that he could have 11 kids that are TR scholars, but those are his team’s 11 scholarships then. It’s an intricate balancing act.
Again, having been at a number of institutions and having watched those things, yes it is. It’s one of the things that, having watched it at other institutions and watching it here, people think that athletics operates in a vacuum. Well no. There’s interaction every day with the financial aid office, the admissions office, various academic departments. Most of our athletes come in and they’re interested in business, teaching, nursing, biology or whatever. An important piece is putting a good academic program in front of them.
The point of that all is, it is an intricate mix of that, as well as the actual management of the scholarships to be sure that you can fund them and to also be sure you’re complying with all the rules and policies that are there.
Do you think the events of the past few months have at all affected athletics, as well as student-athlete recruiting? Coaches have told me they are volunteering the information and it has not seemed to be a big deal to prospective student-athletes or their parents, for the most part. Is that the same sentiment you’re hearing?
I have certainly not visited with every prospect that has come to campus, but I have visited with many prospects, whether they be coming to do athletics or other things. I’m trying to have face-to-face contact with young men and women and their parents, and have had the chance with a number of prospective athletes and assuring them that this institution here is a good institution.
The auditor said the degrees they will be going for are absolutely rock solid. We’re going to be here.
There was one prospect in here and I had conversation with him and his parents and a couple of coaches standing there and the coaches indicated that he had done quite well in high school and I said that’s great.
The three things that we ask are you behave and are a good citizen, you perform well in the classroom and you help bring us an NAIA championship. Those are the only three things we’re asking for. Not a lot. I got a smile.
Be good citizens, good representatives and do well academically. Most of our athletes will not be professional athletes. They will be in a whole realm of things. This is their opportunity to get those abilities and skills.
Thirdly, do things that years from now, when they get back together with their teammates, it’s a positive thing and they can celebrate that, ‘We thought we were pretty good. By genius, we proved we were really good. We came together as a team, worked together and really achieved things.’ That’s part of being the citizen and those type of things they get through those type of programs that we need to work toward.
As you look back at what happened with how scholarships and other payments were given to student-athletes, particularly the volleyball team, during the previous administration, what do steps are being taken and what do you plan to do differently to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
We’re doing some reorganizing of our whole student recruitment, management, financial aid within the institution that, I think, by having those things tied together, were something to happen, it would be detected. Hopefully quickly.
The other piece, whether I’m talking with (athletic director) Tim Daniel, a coach or a faculty member or a staff members in any one of our numerous areas, I talk often about having to do things that represent the institution well and doing them right. So hopefully a combination of monitoring things and hopefully people understanding that if you do the right thing, that’s what is expected at Dickinson State. That’s the standard we hope we hold ourselves and each other to and you avoid those types of occurrences.
You’ve said the international student program is going to be going through some changes?
If you’re within the institution, it’s fairly clear. Externally, it is more difficult.
The piece that we’re not going to do is the special international programs. Those are the ones that were the problem with the audit that we announced on Feb. 10. We’re just cutting those out.
But we’ve got approximately 170 students from 31 countries in addition to those. They’re an important part of the university. They are here. They integrate right into the remainder of the student body. You see students from various parts of the world sitting together in the dining hall or the snack bar, you see them in class together and so on.
We hope to still have those sorts of students because it adds to the vibrancy of the community here. It helps people understand that there is a big world out there.
Keep in mind, only four percent of the world’s population lives in the United States. So it’s pretty important to understand that.
And, from an athletic standpoint, we’ve had some wonderful young men and women that compete and do well from other parts of the world. Some of them come in with very high standards. That set some aspirational goals for some of our other athletes.
So you see international student-athletes being a part of DSU’s future for several years?
We would certainly hope. We would hope to have a vibrant international community as part of Dickinson State, doing things correctly and that they’re held to the same standards as any student here. That can be a positive experience for students throughout North Dakota, and for those international students.
In all likelihood, among that group will be a number of musicians and people that take part in place, and a number of young men and women that compete in athletics, just like you’ve got that spectrum across the entire student body.
We would hope some folks with some great skills in all those areas would choose to make Dickinson State a place that’s a part of their lives.
Is there anything you’d like to see DSU’s athletic programs accomplish in the next two years? Five years? Ten years?
I think the thing would be that the athletic department, the athletic programs, represent this university well. They’re a positive part of what we do.
Kind of what I said before, that the students are good citizens whether they’re physically on campus or anywhere across the nation competing. That they’re doing well academically and truly are scholar students, as well as being athletes, taking advantage of the opportunity to grow that way and being set for life.
Also, from an athletic standpoint, that there’s no give-up in them, that they represent the ethic of western North Dakota and this region, that it’s a place where people work hard and achieve well. If we do that, we’ll also be having success athletically as well.
The other piece that I’d ask is that people come and see these young men and women. There’s some incredibly talented people that come to Dickinson State and we hope that folks come and see them and enjoy what they do while they’re here. This year … I’ve been to a lot of things (games and events) and I’ve seen some phenomenal things done. You don’t have to drive several hundred miles to see great collegiate athletics. You can drive to the Badlands Activities Center or Scott Gym and I hope folks come and see it.