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Cynthia Reeves | SBJ

A Conversation With ... Nyla Milleson

Vice President & Director of Athletics, Drury University

Posted online

This role is your second at Drury. In 2000, you launched the Drury Lady Panthers basketball program as head coach and led the team to the championship game in its fourth season. Tell me about your work in between and how your career brought you back to Springfield.
My first stint at Drury was remarkable. I got to make the journey from high school to college athletics and didn’t have to pack my house up and move. Who would’ve ever thought that we would have the immediate success that we did? We were really fortunate and had really good players and we were able to garner fan support really quickly, and a lot of that due to our local recruiting. I loved my eight years here, but when I had a chance to go across town [to Missouri State University] and go to Division I and, again, not have to move, it was just an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I spent six years over there and then went to the East Coast for eight years. But with a number of variables, COVID – and I had coached for 36 years – I needed something different. I had the blessed opportunity to go to Hollister [R-V School District] a year ago in May. I’m going to finish up (as director of athletics) through June 1. When they called me about this opportunity, as hard as it was to leave Hollister, it feels really good to be back home.

What are the opportunity areas in Drury’s programs?
We’re one of the best Division II athletic programs in the country without question. We’ve got national contenders in several sports. We’ve got some really good, high-character people in our coaching staff, but also really good coaches. Our Drury education is certainly second to none. I think we do a great job with promoting the student-athlete experience and providing positive environments to play in, and the facilities are very good.

What was the vision that you laid out for Drury athletics in your interview, and what challenges do you plan to tackle?
Probably first and foremost is that core value of excellence and trying to be the best that we can be in everything that we do. Finances are a challenge every place. It’s not just in education, it’s not just Division II, it’s not just Drury. It’s in our world right now. Being able to optimize our finances, continue to look for more revenue and still being able to provide our student athletes, our coaches, with the things that they need to be successful. Along that same line, accountability is really big for me, to make sure that we as an athletic program are holding ourselves and each other accountable. We’re holding our student athletes to, first and foremost, the academic accountability. We’ve brought them here to get a degree and hold them accountable and continue to develop strong young men and young women to be leaders once they leave here. The other thing that’s really important to me is that we, as an athletic department, give back not only to our campus but to our Springfield community.

What are the primary ways Drury’s programs are funded, and where are the opportunities to grow?
I’m just kind of getting in on the ground floor on that. In athletics, you really rely on donors and fans and people that just really love Drury men’s basketball or wrestling or whatever it might be. You rely not only on their fan support, but you rely on their financial commitment to the university. Sponsorships and advertising, you really rely on that. COVID put such a pause and a hit on that, too. You don’t have any fans in the stands; it’s hard to sell signage. We’ve got to get back and hit the reset button on some of those things. Particularly at a private university where you don’t have some of the public funding, you have to build relationships.

Last summer, the NCAA began allowing student athletes to receive compensation for use of their name, image and likeness in promotions by a business. What’s your take, and do you expect it to happen locally?
I think there’s some good to it. I do think it’s probably going to benefit more “big-time schools.” I’m not sure how it’s going to trickle down into your smaller schools, even your smaller Division I. I have seen at some smaller mid-major universities, maybe a men’s basketball player gets the opportunity to benefit through a car dealership. It’s another avenue that could benefit the student athlete, but also benefit a business. That was put in place after I left the coaching world, so I have not dealt with that yet, but I’ll put that on my list.

Nyla Milleson can be reached at nmilleson@drury.edu.

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