In 2011, and at 28 years old, Ryan Bradley became one of the youngest athletic directors in the country. Under his leadership, the ten Hillcat sports programs combined to post the highest winning percentage in school history. Bradley also directed the construction of more than $4 million in athletic facility improvements during his first year as AD, and helped usher-in a new era of Hillcat Athletics, as RSU was formally accepted into the NCAA membership process in 2012.
Mr. Bradly was good enough to offer some thoughts on making the transition to DII athletics, as well as advice for new and hopeful ADs.
What is one challenge that your program has overcome and one future challenge you see you’d like to surmount?
When we began implementing athletic programs at Rogers State a few years ago we were way behind on facilities. We had to go out and recruit student-athletes to a brand new program with either outdated or non-existent athletic facilities. To their credit, our coaches were able to sell the vision of what we could become to recruits and many of our teams were very successful right out of the gate.
Last year we made good on our promises and completed over $4 million in facility improvements benefitting our baseball, softball, soccer, and cross country teams. These programs that did without for the first few years now enjoy some of the finest small-college athletic facilities in the country. This was accomplished through a combination of community support, naming rights opportunities, and student fees.
Looking forward, one of our biggest challenges will be securing the funding necessary to construct a new on-campus basketball facility.
What aspect of your tenure at Rogers State University are you most proud of?
Building an athletic program from the ground up has been a very rewarding experience. Eight years ago athletics didn’t exist on our campus. Last summer we were accepted as a candidate for NCAA membership.
Things like creating and implementing a comprehensive policy and procedure can be a daunting task, but when the program started experiencing success it was all worth it. It’s extremely gratifying to reflect on all we’ve been able to accomplish in such a short period of time.
What has most surprised you during your tenure at Rogers State?
How important athletics is to the identity of an institution. The success of our athletic programs has resulted in a lot of notoriety and positive publicity for RSU. It’s also fostered a sense of school pride both on campus and in our community. As athletic administrators we often talk about these intangibles and their value to the institutions we work for.
However, seeing the culture and identity of an institution completely transform as a result of the implementation of athletics on campus has been really eye opening for me. It’s a powerful testimony and has provided affirmation of the important role athletics plays for colleges and universities.
What’s your best advice for a new or hopeful AD?
Make the big time where you are. Most of us don’t have the resources of Ohio State and Texas or the national following and tradition of Notre Dame and USC. That doesn’t mean that you can’t approach your job with the same passion for excellence as those with a bigger spotlight or a bigger budget.
No matter what level of athletics you’re working in or what your role in the department might be, treat your fans, donors, coaches, and student-athletes like they are a part of something special. If you are fully invested in where you are and what you’re doing, the results will follow and so will opportunities for career advancement.
How has technology impacted the planning and the execution of goals for RSU?
Technology has really leveled the playing field for small colleges when it comes to creating exposure and marketing opportunities for our athletic programs. At RSU, we’ve invested heavily in technology over the last few years.
We created a new media position on our staff in order to increase our presence on social media sites, keep our website fresh, and produce more video content. We now offer a live video stream of all of our home athletic events in all sports which is produced in high definition and features multiple cameras, replays, graphics and professional announcers.
We’re also adding new features like player interviews, coaches’ shows, and promotional spots and distributing them via facebook, twitter, YouTube, etc. to engage our recruits and fans on a daily basis. We launched a customized iPhone app over two years ago and recently added an instagram account to our arsenal of online tools.
Technology has enabled each of our programs to have a voice while also allowing us to control the message and carry it further than even seemed possible a few years ago. Utilizing these tools effectively is a big part of every strategic initiative we have in our department.