Ferris Athletics’ state of the union

Hear from executive and athletic sources on the future of university athletics

With the end of the sole-fall sport season, President Bill Pink, Athletic Director Steve Brockelbank and Assistant AD for Facilities and Event Operations Tim Blashill gave their thoughts on the current state of Ferris Athletics and the possible future additions.

The trio all spoke about the importance of athletics, a liquor license for athletics, graduate assistants and future plans for Top Taggart Field.

Athletics at Ferris

The three discussed success, visions and what they see in Ferris athletics currently. 

Pink: “Ferris State University has a well deserved reputation, both statewide and nationally, for having successful athletic programs and being successful in many regards. You look at many of our programs on campus, not only are they successful in terms of their competition, many of our programs are successful in terms of their student athletes completing [their degree] and going out and doing great things.”

Brockelbank: “I think for us, our vision is to continue to be a premier NCAA program. [Our programs] continue to compete at a high level, which we’ve been able to do for a number of years here. We’re awfully proud of the fact that we’re capable of doing that and we want to continue to do that going forward for a long time. [Our vision] is defined by winning championships. It’s also defined by academic excellence and personal responsibility. So those are the three things that we talked about in our vision that we believe is really important for us as an athletic department.” 

Blashill: “I think [the Center for Athletic Performance was] kind of a starting point. I’ve been very optimistic about what we’ve done here. Certainly right now, I think we recognize that we need some facility upgrades. We need to continue building on the momentum… Hockey went to the Frozen Four and the championship game in 2012. I don’t know that we built on it at that time. You have to kind of hit those things while the success is happening.”

Alcohol at sporting events

Over the summer, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed off on a bill which allows Michigan’s public universities to sell alcohol at their sporting events. The University of Michigan and Michigan State University have begun efforts to start the sale at their respective athletic events. This begs the question of if Ferris State will follow suit.

Pink: “We’ve started that conversation as far as our board is concerned. When you look at it, that’s gonna be a Board of Trustees checkbox whenever you get to that place. So we have looked at that pretty closely. I’m slow rolling that one right now, because I want to make sure that as we make those kinds of decisions, that those are well thought out and well planned out decisions… Is there something that says to us it’s a good move to make? Doesn’t mean yes or no, but we need to look at that because that legislation also says that it may be in one venue but not another venue.”

Brockelbank: “If it enhances the fan experience and motivates them to come back to our venues and watch our student athletes compete. That’s where I see the greatest benefit in it for us. Do I think we can generate some revenue? Yes. But I also think that it’s important that we make sure that we can do it safely, that we have processes and protocols in place so that we can execute it safely so everybody has a good experience, right? We don’t want alcohol to take away from the experience.”

Blashill: “I think it would be very beneficial for us to be a part of that. I certainly know there’s lots of steps to go to get to that point, you can’t just jump into anything. But I do think it would be extremely beneficial to our athletics department, and then that fan experience as well in terms of what people want these days and you have to be able to act accordingly to what your fans want.”

Graduate assistants

Graduate Assistants are mostly seen in athletics as coaches. However, Ferris State has implemented three positions within the department for graduate assistants. The three gave their thoughts on implementation and what it means to athletics.

Pink: “When we’re thinking about that, with the whole concept of graduate assistants… look campus-wide in terms of not just athletics, but in other spots. What should that, and what can that look like for our university going forward. I think it’s a very good conversation for us to have because of what we do here.”

Brockelbank: “This is the first year where we do have some graduate assistants in athletics. We have not had them until this year. Sarah Higley, our senior associate athletic director, and myself worked really hard to put together a proposal to the president to add some graduate assistants in our administrative staff to provide some assistance and give those folks the opportunity that they need to have to continue in athletics. They need an entry level opportunity, which for most people in athletics is a graduate assistantship, and that typically will springboard them into something full time down the road. We created three positions for us in athletics. Those would be our equipment person, an academic support position and a strength and conditioning position.”

Blashill: “Every athletic department across the United States obviously wants more staff. It needs more staff and we’re no different. We’ve always had great students that work for us and we appreciate that. But the internship level of that graduate assistantship has helped us in many areas be better and we need to continue to build that because it does help and there’s areas where we’re not great right now. And we need to be better. And that’s on all of us.”

Future plans regarding football

With Top Taggart Field and its age a topic of conversation at Ferris, the three spoke on potential future plans for the field. Pink first acknowledged the circulation of drawings for this potential field.

Pink: “Any drawings or renderings out there were, to say the word, preliminary would be an understatement. Those were helpful to us to kind of gain a grasp of what the possibilities could be. I do believe that as we get further down that road in the next several months, I think we’ll be able to get further down that road of having some of those determinations. So I think that once we are ready to be formal in what those announcements are, I think those announcements will be exciting to the campus community.”

Brockelbank: “We have some facility needs and upgrades that still need to take place. So I think when we look at our football facility, it’s old. It’s done what we’ve asked it to do well beyond its expected lifespan. And I think we look at other DII facilities, and even high school facilities, and we recognize that we have a need to do some work down there. I guess we have a bead on that. We’re working towards that and hopefully we’ll get some movement on that soon.”

Blashill:  “There is a thought process that we’re gonna have to move forward here and we have to have some updated facilities period you know, like it like you had mentioned that these have kind of served their purpose. I think it’s already the groundwork in your mind about what we need to do for hopefully a new football stadium or upgrades and, and then with the ice arena. What can we do? That starts with us just looking at some of these different projects.”

Upgrading facilities

Alongside Top Taggart, athletics views facilities as a very big target for upgrades. Pink, Brockelbank and Blashill all believe that adapting the facilities are important. 

Pink:  “As far as Ferris State is concerned, we have to be as forward thinking as possible when it comes to athletics from a standpoint of making sure that we are being as responsive to our programs as we should be … It’s also a matter of pride for the campus community. If I’m a student, I want to feel good when I drive by the stadium and say ‘that’s my stadium’ That’s where I go and watch our team play.”

Brockelbank: “From a facility standpoint, at some point, I would love to see something done with football. We know that needs to happen. We know at some point we probably need to have an indoor [facility] and at some point we need to do something with hockey … Those things would be fantastic to see happen at some point. I don’t know when or where but I think it’s at some point … Our student-athletes have been fortunate to experience a high level of competitive and academic success. For this to continue as an institution we need to be intentional about investing the resources necessary for long term success.” 

Blashill: “The [Center for Athletic Performance] kind of instigated the thought of ‘we need to start upgrading some other facilities.’ The reality is the rink is from 1974. Top Taggart is from the late 90s, maybe early 80s. So, these are facilities that are aging, and  there’s things that we deal with every day that we have to kind of fight through …  You’re also competing with other teams in the league. And I think that’s kind of striking when it’s hot.”