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LeCrone on:

The Proposed Phoenix
Sports Center Expansion

The Reputation of the League

The Challenges to the Horizon League

The Name Change from
MCC to the Horizon League


Q and A:
With Horizon League Commissioner Jon LeCrone

Q: What does UW-Green Bay — its athletic program, its media market, its fan base — mean to the Horizon League?

Our members form a very strong family with common bonds and values. As for UW-Green Bay, the school has been with us for a long time, even when the conference went by a couple of different names. UW-Green Bay is so important to our League because of our shared values. As I travel, I am proud to count UW-Green Bay as a member of our League. This is an institution where its positive reputation precedes it, on the playing field, and in the classroom, and I know that your school is held in high regard. We are a league with geographic compatibility, shared cultures and values and very balanced athletic competition between the member schools. UW-Green Bay is an extremely valued member.


Q: The University is in an asking phase of a capital campaign that, in part, would fund the expansion of the Phoenix Sports Center. As someone who has traveled enough to see the best (and worst) athletic facilities, and the best (and worst) campus life experiences, how important do you think this project is to the UW-Green Bay campus?

A: I believe that it is critically important for UW-Green Bay in sustaining a competitive D-1 program. What your school has that some don't is a beautiful campus, amphitheater, land and other great facilities. What you don't have is a level of athletic support facilities for training, practice and other activities that will take you into the future. Like most schools, UW-Green Bay doesn't have the best, or worst, in this area, but I think you clearly need the "basics" to continue to develop top-notch D-1 athletes and offer the "total" collegiate experience I am so fond of talking about. So, in terms of expanding the Phoenix Sports Center, I believe that it would be a good use of resources.

Q: Having visited our campus many times, what do you consider our greatest need to keep the athletics program strong?

A: I believe it's the provision of top-notch training and practice facilities. At one time, the Phoenix Sports Center served your needs. But things have changed. For one thing, D-1 athletics are different. There has been a big increase in the technology of training and developing athletes. The members of our League grow more and more competitive every day, as does UW-Green Bay, but there's a clear need to provide the best facilities possible. You also have to consider the impact of Title IX and the tremendous growth of women's sports, as well as the demand for intramural sports that are open to all students. All these things combine to create a need for the best practice, training and recreational facilities possible within the framework of all the university's needs.

Q: Why should the community rally support for this facility?

A: I know of few other communities like Green Bay where the town is so linked to the university in terms of fan support, community service and the many other factors like arts and culture and quality education. It's actually hard to separate the university from the community in many instances because they are so closely linked. I think the community should and will support this project because there will be a strong realization of its many benefits, not only the university, but to the community at large. The Green Bay community wants to see its university succeed and grow in a variety of areas, athletics included.

Q: What do you say to the conservative public that says, "We've had plenty of success without all the bells and whistles, why do we need it now?"

A: To me, it's not "bells and whistles" but more appropriately "tablestakes".....the basic needs to sustain and grow a competitive D-1 athletic program. In order to attract outstanding students, athletes, administrators, coaches and teachers, you need outstanding facilities. You wouldn't hire a teacher, hand him or her a piece of chalk and blackboard and say "go teach." The same is true of attracting high-quality student-athletes.

Q: In your experience, how important is a strong athletics program to a community?

A: In most cases, it is very important and certainly true in Green Bay. The community is extremely proud and supportive of the Phoenix and the university's teams are a source of pride to many in Green Bay. In addition, student-athletes have a proud tradition of community service to go along with strong performances on the playing fields. This is the best of both worlds for a community and is a primary reason why the Phoenix athletes are so embraced by the town.

Q: How important is recreation and fitness to the next generation of college students?

A: I look at this issue from a "life learning" perspective. Our society tries very hard to teach the value of fitness and exercise from a very early age. Through sports and recreation, we can continue to teach the next generation of college students how fitness and health impact their lives long-term. Regardless of whether or not you are a highly skilled athlete or just a recreational player, the importance of fitness and health can't be overemphasized. All of us will not play full-court basketball all our lives, but when good habits are instilled at an early age, and quality fitness opportunities are reinforced during the college years, hopefully, lessons and habits have been instilled for a lifetime.

Q: How important are student life activities in the recruitment of students and student athletes?

A: I sincerely enjoy this question because it strikes at the very heart of what the Horizon League wants to stand for and exemplify. Truly, for our students and student-athletes, we want to provide the total package and the total experience. So, student life activities are critical. It's about education. It's about service. It's about self-development. And it's about the competition and how one grows and learns through sports. The message that resonates with me as a parent is that I want my children to attend an institution that not only provides a high-quality education, but makes them better people, better citizens and allows them to know and understand the satisfaction in giving back to their school and to their community. Student life activities, be they philanthropic in nature, personal development in nature, athletic in nature or connected with the arts and culture are critical and a part of the very fabric that constitutes a total college experience.

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Q: Do you have a feel for the perception of the Horizon League to those in outside markets? We hear, "decent mid-major" tossed around come tournament time.

A: First off, I don't like the term "mid-major." If you asked teams like Louisville, Mississippi State, St. John's or Florida in the very recent past, they will tell you there's nothing "mid-major" about the Horizon League. It's a misnomer created by the media, not unlike how the non-BCS schools are treated in football.

In terms of the perception of the Horizon League to those in outside markets, we are likely known best for our "flagship product," and that is men's basketball. We have had national success in many other sports, but the difference is that with basketball success, comes media attention, and that isn't as true with our other sports successes.

Right now, our current financial models don't always allow us to provide as support to all teams in all sports. Most of our institutions are selective in what sports they put the bulk of their resources behind, and it varies by sport and institution. But in all sports, I am continually amazed at what our young people accomplish both on and off the playing field. We simply need to do a better job of telling the success stories of all of student-athletes, regardless of the sport.

I also believe that our League is becoming known for its fair play and sportsmanship, one of our key values. I don't see the levels of misbehavior, profanity and other negative behavior from our student-athletes as I do in college athletics in general. That doesn't mean that we never have a problem. But when we do, I am proud of how our coaches, officials and players are ready to stand up and say "it's not going to happen again."

Q: How does the Horizon League administration hope to communicate the values it stands for among individual institutions, especially when personal egos and agendas (always a part of D-I athletics) sometimes get in the way?

A: If we are doing this in hopes of getting orchestrated media attention, then we are misguided. If we stay committed to our beliefs and really "walk it and talk it," the rest will take care of itself, including recognition from the media, our internal constituents, prospective students, potential sponsors and many other audiences. I'm not naive in the sense of believing that just living our values makes us special. Many others are as well. But as long as we're true to our beliefs, we serve as a good example to others, and there's great benefit in that for all of us.

Q: What does espousing those values mean specifically for UW-Green Bay?

A: It means a strong philosophical connection between the Horizon League and UW-Green Bay. I have known Chancellor Bruce Shepard for many years, and through that association, I have come to know and understand something I like to call the "Green Bay Way" which is an established total commitment to the welfare of all students, the community, academics and high-level achievement. Whenever I travel and talk to people about UW-Green Bay, I hear things like "outstanding learning opportunities," "tremendous competitors on the athletic fields," "a true part of the Green Bay community" and so on. These are the things that the Horizon League stands for, and we're so very proud that the Phoenix is a part of our family.

Q: How can UW-Green Bay and our fan base help in Horizon League efforts?

A: I think they're already doing it! Look at the community involvement of your student-athletes, the tremendous competitive spirit that's evident in your teams and the marvelous fan base in Green Bay. Again, it goes back to the "Green Bay Way." Your institution is already well-grounded in understanding the importance of the student-athlete and the role the student-athlete can play in the community. And, there are few other towns that love their college team like they do in Green Bay. There's a reason for that, and I suspect much of it centers around our shared core values.

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Q: What are the challenges of the Horizon League in the immediate future?

A: One big challenge we face as a league is to continue to differentiate between intercollegiate athletics and professional sports because the lines are becoming very blurred. In other words, the great challenge we have is to maintain and grow the educational aspects of sports and competition for our student-athletes. I like to call this "education through competition." And it means little more than being grounded in your life and knowing why you play the game and understanding how it fits into the total college experience, and how it can shape your life after you graduate.

Major college sports, in some respects, are evolving into a negative culture where the individual is greater than the sport or the spirit of the competition. Kids leave college after only a year and become multi-millionaires. In many cases, football and basketball have become "pressure cookers" for athletes leading to negative behavior, public tirades, scandals and cover-ups. Too many times, the rules mean nothing and 15 minutes of fame is more important than the total experience.

Don't get me wrong, I want our member schools to compete and win national championships. I want us covered in USA Today. And, if we have an athlete that is outstanding and can compete in the professional ranks, I hope he or she maximizes their income potential. But our great challenge, for all our student-athletes, is to help them understand that they are role models, they are privileged and gifted, and that they remember that sports is only part, albeit an important part, of the total college experience.

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Q: It seemed as though we were finally building some name recognition with "MCC," why the change to the Horizon League?

A: The process that led to the name change was an exercise that had to deal with our future. We needed to ask ourselves: "Where have we been; where are we going?" The exhaustive process took nearly a year. We conducted extensive interviews with our stakeholders that included our CEOs, athletic directors, alumni, boosters, student-athletes and many others, both internal and external. What we heard loud and clear was that our old MCC name and logo didn't really mean anything and, more importantly, didn't reflect our collective values. Also, the old MCC was very similar and caused total confusion with other "Mid" leagues such as the Mid-American, Mid-Con and so on.

In our research, our stakeholders told us that, as a group of institutions, we were committed to such core values as:

• Academic Achievement — in terms of expecting our student-athletes to also excel in the classroom.

• Community Outreach — in terms of our student-athletes serving fellow students, their respective institutions and their communities.

• Personal Responsibility and Accountability — in terms of our student-athletes, coaches, officials and administrators working together to create collegial, competitive environments.

• Athletic Success — in terms of expecting our student-athletes to compete at a very high, national level.

Taking this feedback, we wanted to come up with a name and logo that was a strong representation of the key fact that the student-athlete is at the center of our league and is the "star figure" of our league. We decided to use "league" as opposed to "conference" because there are very few "leagues" out there — another way to break away from the pack.

We eventually landed on the name "Horizon" because it implies positive and motivating terms such as "stretch," "scope," 'vista," "reach," "perspective/field of vision," and "range." The logo is a symbolism of the juncture of earth and sky — the student and the athlete. It also takes a long-term view of what lies ahead — the "journey." The logo does a good job of expressing the range of a person's outlook and perspective and is also distinctive, visually appealing and forward-looking.

Our tagline, "Raise Your Sights" means we're working hard to "raise the bar" in what we expect from our student-athletes and what they can expect from us. It compels internal and external audiences to do their personal best.

I'm fond of saying that one of our primary goals is to accept a "student-athlete" at our institutions, but to graduate a "citizen-athlete" who is prepared for life's journey; understands the proper role of athletics in that journey, and is prepared for the challenges of life. We're working hard to "walk the walk" and "talk the talk." The Horizon League continues to evolve and learn the best ways to bring our values to life. But to date, I am pleased with the name change, the increasing name recognition and the outstanding people we have at all of our member institutions.

Interview conducted in spring 2004 by Sue Bodilly, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Office of Marketing and Communication.

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