Springfield, MO

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Heather Mosley | SBJ

A Conversation With ... Dennis McDonald

Director of Athletics, Evangel University

Posted online

The Valor Center is an estimated $18.5 million, 70,000-square-feet sports facility. What will be included in that building, and what will that allow for Evangel Athletics?
You have the Rowden Training Facility, and that’s going to house men’s and women’s soccer locker rooms, a football locker room, athletic training space and a weight room. That area is meant to really provide services for all sports programs. The Valor Center is the gymnasium and the arena, and then a lot of offices in both of those buildings. We’ll office pretty much everybody but baseball and softball in this building.

It’s updating a facility that was built in the early 1960s, the Ashcroft Activities Center.
Yeah, right about the time I was born. This building is aging for sure. We’ll still be using the facility quite a bit because right now we don’t have an opportunity to have simultaneous practices for either basketball or volleyball, so what that does is put pressure on your academic times. That’s really a great benefit.

Will the new facility allow for any additional sports?
It has to be determined, but it absolutely provides the opportunity for that. For example, court sports like men’s volleyball, men’s and women’s wrestling.

What are the biggest revenue drivers in the athletics program?
At the (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) level, we’re always trying to strike the fine balance between enough scholarship to have really great athletes but at the same time, not every single one of those athletes is a full-scholarship pathway. Trying to strike that balance between tuition revenue and actually being able to give enough scholarships to have great athleticism. You compare that to University of Alabama: one home football game will bring in more revenue to that university than just about every school in the NAIA [combined] having the revenue from [one] home football game.

So, it’s the paid tuition from student-athletes that’s the biggest portion of your revenue?
Yeah. For us, we’ve got about 1,500 undergraduate students and I’ve got 500 athletes, so that’s a third of the campus. There’s a multitude of different activities that draws students into an institution like Evangel, and that obviously generates the tuition dollars that we need to be able to be successful. Beyond tuition, you also have to have the fundraising aspect, and those donors that are out there that believe in our mission, and that generates quite a bit of revenue as well.

Has the number of student-athletes grown since you’ve been in this position?
We just started men’s and women’s soccer that year, so they had actually developed a plan, put the plan in place, hired the coaches and that was the return of men’s soccer. In 2015, we were right at 300 athletes. The year prior to that we were about 250. We started growing I would say my second year here; it’s my eighth year. In year two, we began to develop a plan for rosters for every sport that would be strong enough rosters that we would be able to have a greater number of total student-athletes but not so large that the athletes wouldn’t have a great experience.

Last fall you launched the Evangel Valor Marketplace, working with the name, image and likeness partnerships with college athletes. What traction have you seen?
We have a partnership with Opendorse. Any of our athletes can log on and they can read through different offerings that are out there and then they could basically apply for that. If they’re chosen, then they would use their name, image and likeness for whatever that might be. It could be as simple as a company that wants to advertise something, and they just want to be able to have maybe one of our college athletes be a part of that. I talk to our kids all the time and say, “How’s it going?” “Well, I made $80 last night.” “I made $100.” “I made $25 just doing this one thing.” At our level, it’s a great way for our students if they want to get engaged; they can actually just make a few extra dollars. We’ve got 15 or 20 [athletes] that are working hard at it all the time. We probably have somewhere around 100 that have engaged in it.

How has student recruitment changed since the pandemic?
The major challenge is because in various sports, the athletes were given an additional year of eligibility. That one thing has put all of our head coaches around the nation into this dilemma on when do I begin to replenish the players as they’re leaving. What’s happened is you’ve seen this in the Division I level trickle down to where this player’s going to take that extra year of eligibility and so there’s no spot. That player that might ordinarily have been at a Division I level is making a decision, do they go the (junior college) route or do they sign with four-year university? That will begin to kind of phase out in the next year.


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