Illinois State University athletics ushers in a new era during a time when college athletics has been changed dramatically, and perhaps permanently.
New ISU athletics director Kyle Brennan said the coronavirus pandemic could have some lasting impacts on college sports.
He said athletic departments have found efficiencies that could remain, even when fans are filling arenas and stadiums again.
“I can’t wait for that day when we can get fans back and we can have life somewhat normal,” Brennan said. “I think what we’re going to do, hopefully from my standpoint, is take some of the things that we’ve learned from this and use them moving forward.”
Brennan said the pandemic has caused some financial strain for college sports, but it also could help athletic departments run more efficiently in the future, like trimming travel budgets--not for games, but for meetings and even recruiting visits that could be done online.
“I would look for some of that across the industry as we move forward to limit some of that travel, limit some of the recruiting,” said Brennan. “There are some sports that really have no what we call dead period, so essentially they are allowed to recruit all year.”
Brennan said some coaches have even found recruiting athletes via Zoom to be effective, but he's not sure if that will last beyond the pandemic.
ISU announced the hiring of Brennan in late December. He replaces Larry Lyons who is retiring after 33 years with the university.
Brennan comes to ISU after working in the University of Utah athletics department and previously at Northern Illinois, Texas Christian and Ball State universities.
Brennan said he has watched ISU from afar, admired its history and success and jumped at the chance to help carry on the tradition.
“When I saw this job posted, I called every search firm in the country telling them I want in on this position,” he said. “We want to be a dominant force in competition in this conference and feel we can do so.”
Brennan said the pandemic has made this season “upside down" for all coaches this year, but he evaluates and hires coaches based on their hunger, intelligence and ability to find success--especially when they’ve done more with less.
“When we bring people to Illinois State, we want to put them in a position to have great success, so giving them the resources they haven’t had somewhere else is a goal that we have,” Brennan said.
Brennan said he’ll be looking for new ways to bring more fans to Redbird Arena, Hancock Stadium and ISU's other venues once fans can safely return. Attendance has been shrinking for college athletics nationwide.
“I think what we need to focus on is making our games an experience,” he said. “I’m sure it’s great (at ISU) but we are always looking to improve.”
Brennan said one of his first priorities will be to review the department's new action plan to address racial equity. He said he wants to foster inclusion for all student-athletes, coaches and staff.
“One of the things I really learned from our student-athletes in our interview process is that their voices need to be heard and we need to listen,” Brennan said.
Lyons created the action plan after many student-athletes and some coaches said the athletic department hasn't taken the time to understand the unique challenges Black and other minority athletes face.
Brennan starts on Jan. 15.
Lyons will retire at the end of January.
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