The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Athletics Department continues hard push for results, excellence


Two years into a new home in the Leonard Center, the stakes are higher for the Macalester Athletics Department. With the completion of the state-of-the-art $45 million athletics complex, under the leadership of a new athletics director with a mandate to push for excellence, and with a college president who has made creating a culture of success in athletics a priority, coaches and administrators agree that there are increased standards within the department.

Macalester has never been an athletics powerhouse. Since recently retired soccer coach John Leaney arrived in 1987, the college has shown consistent success in men’s and women’s soccer programs, but little else.

The soccer program has won 17 conference titles since Leaney came to Macalester. No other team has a conference crown in that time.

President Brian Rosenberg said he rejects the perception that Macalester’s quirky, intellectual culture is not conducive to athletic success.

“Culturally, we’re not anti-sports,” Rosenberg said, noting that when programs have had successful seasons, the stands are filled with supportive students. “There is no cultural barrier to athletic success at Macalester.”

A quote of Rosenberg’s is printed in brochures and on a 40-foot section of the wall of the athletics department offices, a visible departure from his predecessor, who made athletics less of a priority.

Some coaches, who would not be identified by name for this article, said the resignation of men’s basketball coach Curt Kietzer after a winless season in 2009 sent a message to the department: past success was no guarantee of future employment, and the administration has become serious about fostering a winning culture.

Like all Macalester staff, athletics coaches are at-will employees, meaning their employment can typically be terminated without cause.

The college is at a disadvantage because of its membership in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, a group of schools that generally have lower admissions standards than Macalester and offer more merit-based financial aid – a draw for athletes who don’t qualify for need-based aid.

One of the main factors in the programs’ chronic struggles is the number of participants. With only 17 percent of the student body participating in intercollegiate athletics, Macalester is significantly behind other small liberal arts colleges, Leaney said. If the school hopes to improve its standing in the MIAC, Leaney said, it needs to consider admitting a higher percentage of prospective athletes.

“It’s tough to sell to [prospective] students a school with high academic standards and no history of athletic success,” Leaney said. The responsibility of initial recruitment rests on the coaches, but Leaney says this process should be re-evaluated in the interest of strengthening the college’s athletics.

Athletics Director Kim Chandler said recruiting was “the hardest point” in developing successful programs.

“How do we value a really good athlete? … Someone who is a great pitcher is every bit as important as a great violinist, though the world doesn’t see it that way,” Leaney said. “If you interviewed students at Mac, I bet 90 percent of them wouldn’t see it that way, either.”

The new sports facility has improved the school’s ability to attract recruits, coaches and administrators agree.

“I love it. It was a long haul going from the old building, to no building, to new,” said Ellen Thompson, head coach of the women’s basketball team. “It has opened up so many doors.”

Coaches say the Leonard Center has increased the pressure to produce successful teams.

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