By: Tejay Cleland, Editor-In-Chief
In the three years Newman has competed in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association, many athletes and coaches say, it has become more and more evident that the university’s facilities are not up to par with the rest of the conference. Now, heading into the fourth season, many are calling for upgraded facilities, not only to improve field conditions, but also out of concern for the future of Newman athletics.
Of the 14 MIAA member universities, Newman is one of two schools that does not have an on-campus indoor facility for outdoor sports. While most MIAA member schools have a practice gym separate from their main competition courts, allowing multiple sports to practice at once, Newman has only one gym. The MIAA also has only four baseball programs without turf fields, and is one.
Head Baseball Coach Drew Maus began his Newman coaching career in 2019, the year the Jets made the jump from the Heartland Conference to the MIAA. He said that since his time at Newman began, he has found that staying in the recruiting race has become increasingly difficult as many schools continue to improve facilities.
“The facilities aren’t viewed as inferior because we are comparing them to schools in the MIAA, they are inferior because we are behind local NAIA schools, junior colleges and frankly, high schools in the area.” Maus said. “From a competitive and recruiting standpoint, we are in a situation where we need them now.”
Athletic Director Joanna Pryor said Newman doesn’t necessarily have to build to the level of the universities in the conference with large, profitable football programs. But, she said, the current facilities will not suffice if Newman wants to be competitive in recruiting.
“We don‘t need things that big, but we need the things,” she said. “In order to attract and retain the kind of student-athletes that we need to be successful, I think it‘s important that we make an improvement in that area.”
Newman’s athletic facilities have not been a part of a university capital campaign since Fugate Gymnasium was completed in 1999. Now, more than two decades later, Newman is in the process of planning another comprehensive campaign.
The campaign in the works, expected to be executed as a three-year plan, could help Newman catch up in the MIAA facility race if the project resonates with donors, said Vice President for Institutional Advancement Bob Beumer.
Newman President Kathleen Jagger said that she hears the athletes who feel their facilities are subpar and hopes that funds allow for these facilities to be upgraded. Jagger and Beumer said that another project the university has been thinking about is a renovation of Sacred Heart Hall.
“We have at least one project, if not more than one, in the new strategic plan that will address some of the facility questions,” Jagger said. “But we also have to balance it all.”
Jagger said that it is also important to note that Newman is the only private university in the conference, so it does not receive the state funding that the other public institutions do.
“We really have some athletic facilities that need upgrading, and we want to invest in those,” she said. “But I don‘t think we can get into the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ kind of mentality because we have to recognize we are the only private school in the conference.”
Maus said that as he and his team have traveled throughout the conference over the last three seasons, he’s noticed that his team‘s facilities are at the bottom of the barrel and said he hopes that upgrades come so his team can catch up to the rest of the MIAA.
“Across the board we are last in facilities,” he said. “There are various ways that facilities could be judged, such as availability, utility, aesthetics, spectator friendly and cost-efficient. I think we are drastically behind in every metric you could use.”
Maus said that he believes Newman is either going to have to choose where to spend funds: nicer facilities to be able to compete in the conference or on lengthy travel that comes with joining elsewhere.
“If we don’t want to try and catch up to schools in the MIAA, then we would have to look at other conferences,” Maus said. “We are going to have to spend money one way or another to compete at any intercollegiate level.”
PHOTO: Courtesy photo, Newman Athletics