Students attending Roosevelt University were recently surveyed by the administration and asked what the college needed most on campus. Overwhelmingly, they concluded that athletics were missing from the formerly commuter-based school.
With more students living on campus at University Center of Chicago, 525 S. State St., and the college needing an identity, the reinstatement of athletics was a no-brainer for Roosevelt. After a 22-year absence, athletics have returned to a campus of 7,306 students.
Roosevelt has seven athletic teams, including men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, tennis and cross country.
“It’s been a great addition to the university,” said Roosevelt Athletic Director Mike Cassidy. “It was already a diverse campus. The one face missing in the crowd was the face of the student athlete. That face is now represented with the seven athletic teams we have competing.”
Cassidy, who previously worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago said there are challenges for a first-year athletic program, and the administration is enduring the obstacles that come with it. He said there will be five more athletic programs added to the university’s vertical campus in 2012.
There will be a brand-new gymnasium inside the main campus building, which will be 32 stories high. Roosevelt will add women’s volleyball in the fall and men’s and women’s soccer and golf in 2012.
“In future years, we will go from not having athletics to having [more than] 200 student athletes on campus,” Cassidy said. “We’re really proud of that and what it’s helping doing in terms of rallying our student body around a common cause. No matter what your background is, everyone is now a Roosevelt Laker.”
The Lakers are part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and play their home basketball games at the Keating Sports Center, 3040 S. Wabash Ave., on the campus of Illinois Institute of Technology.
Roosevelt plays in the same conference as Robert Morris University, Olivet-Nazarene University, St. Xavier University and St. Francis University, which are all located in the Chicago area.
With Chicago as Roosevelt’s home city adding more marketability to the NAIA, it has the league excited about the growth of its program, according to NAIA CEO Jim Carr.
“Anytime you get a market like Chicago, it does offer you some visibility and presence,” Carr said. “We have some schools there that have some great history, and the Chicagoland conference is a strong NAIA conference. When you can add a school with the quality of Roosevelt, it continues to add strength to what’s already a good situation.”
For Roosevelt to be accredited by the NAIA, Carr said a number of factors were accounted for during the selection process. He said representatives visited the school to learn about their plans for athletics, which is based on the program’s future.
Carr noted facilities were toured and financials were reviewed for the university and its athletic department. Conference affiliation was laid out for the Lakers before information between Roosevelt and the NAIA was transferred.
After being accredited by the NAIA, the Lakers had to fill coaching vacancies for their newly formed teams. Cassidy said it wasn’t a problem because coaches began inquiring about the open positions the moment they were announced.
One coach Roosevelt hired, Joe Griffin, was a graduate assistant coach under Michigan State University Head Coach Tom Izzo.
“I wasn’t sure if he was going to give it to me or not because there were a lot of other great candidates, and he gave it to me,” Griffin said.
According to Griffin, he was notified he would be the men’s basketball head coach while on the golf course.
“I celebrated for two seconds then I hit to hit my tee shot. I proceeded to shank my shot off the nearest oak tree and could never find the ball because I was pretty excited.”
Cassidy and Griffin acknowledged having the opportunity to leave their footprint on a new athletic department has them excited about the program’s future.
“I want this thing to be where [students] know they’re not playing at UIC or Division I or II [and] say, ‘Well, I want to go to Roosevelt,’” Griffin said. “Because [there is] a great education at a great school [and] a great location right on Michigan Avenue.”
Cassidy said one of the things he learned at UIC was to keep working and to show up every day. He said the hard work eventually pays off and everything is about the student athlete at Roosevelt.
“We all have the special opportunity to be the founding fathers on what will be a great athletic department in the future,” Cassidy said. “To where 20, 30 years from now, when Roosevelt is known as a real quality athletic and academic institution, we can say we had an impact on why it is as successful as it is.”