Lisa M. Sweany enters her third season as Director of Athletics at Armstrong Atlantic State University for the 2013-14 academic year after an excellent 2012-13 campaign, sending 8 of 11 teams to the NCAA postseason, capturing the school’s 11th NCAA National Championship and also achieving its best-ever finish in the Learfield Sports Director’s Cup standings. During her first year, the Pirates experienced unprecedented success, winning the Commissioner’s Cup for the first time in school history —the league’s all-sports trophy.
Ryan Matthews, Winthrop’s Managing Editor, chatted recently with Lisa about facilities upgrades and DII as a destination for academic and athletic balance.
What is one challenge that you’ve overcome at Armstrong Atlantic State University and one future challenge you see you’d like to surmount?
I’m just entering my third year as the Athletic Director at Armstrong and there have been a lot of great accomplishments, both on and off the field, for our student-athletes in that short period of time. However, one challenge I saw right away when coming to Armstrong was the lack of branding in our facilities. There was very little “Pirate Pride” visible to students, fans, alumni and friends of the program.
Over the past two years we have integrated more graphics into our facilities to dress it up and offer a sense of pride in who we are. In addition, our weight training facility was dark and dreary, had outdated equipment, and was not at all appealing to workout in. As a major part of any student-athletes’ training regime, strength and conditioning is so critical it was obvious this needed to be addressed immediately.
Fortunately we were able to purchase new equipment, flooring and painted the facility which now creates a positive training atmosphere for our student-athletes and our Physical Education classes. This renovation has created a sense of pride in the facility, for our student-athletes, and is now a tremendous recruiting tool for our coaches.
A future challenge we face here at Armstrong is renovating our outdoor athletic facilities. Although we have been very successful in our spring sports we have arguably the worst outdoor facilities in our conference. We are currently in the master planning phase, and I look forward to the opportunity to develop a more detailed facility plan and begin the capital campaign to raise funds for the renovations.
What aspect of your tenure at Armstrong Atlantic are you most proud of?
We have been fortunate to be very competitive as a department and our teams do well in conference and NCAA play, but I would have to say I am most pleased with the academic accomplishments of our student-athletes. The student-athletes take pride in doing their best in the classroom and are always striving to improve. This past academic year we won our second straight Peach Belt Conference Commissioner’s Cup, the all sports trophy for our conference, but more importantly we won the PBC President’s Cup as well recognizing Pirate Athletics with the best academic performance as compared to the rest of the institution’s student body. This is a great source of pride for me, the department and the institution as a whole.
What has most surprised you during your tenure?
Not necessarily just during my tenure at Armstrong Atlantic State University, but in my time as a Division II administrator I am impressed with the growth and identity of Division II. We went from a division that people knew very little about to a division that not only produces tremendous student-athletes but is also now a destination for institutions looking to reclassify from their current situations.
Mike Racy, former NCAA Vice President for Division II, and Terri Steeb Gronau, current NCAA Vice President for Division II, provided tremendous leadership to the DII membership in creating an identity, exploring new ideas such as the Championships Festivals, and marketing DII as a destination for institutions looking for a balance between academics and athletics.
In addition to Racy and Steeb, there are a lot of very bright administrators in DII with a passion to propel this division forward. I have been fortunate to spend a majority of my athletic administrative career in DII, learning from these administrators, and look forward to many more years as an active DII member.
What’s your best advice for a new or hopeful AD?
Developing a network of athletic administrators that you can share experiences with, seek guidance from, or rely on for a reference is critical. Some of my best professional development opportunities have taken place by talking with peers and seeking out mentors.
Professional organizations also offer you a great way to receive education and best practices for an athletic department. Attending these organizations’ conventions as well as the NCAA Convention gives you an opportunity to learn from the best in the business.
How has technology impacted the planning and the execution of goals for Armstrong Atlantic State University?
Technology will play a large role in our plans for facility upgrades. We webcast almost all of our home games and it’s important that we put the best product out there that we possibly can. With the addition of new HD equipment, we also will have to discuss the best placement of camera decks, announcers and editing equipment. In addition to the webcasting capabilities we’ll also need to create an environment that allows our sports information department to effectively and efficiently perform the necessary duties of in game stats.
In addition to the future facility upgrades, we always try to keep in mind our daily responsibility of recruiting students to Armstrong. We have to provide them with information that they want to see so we are moving towards more human interest stories—videos and photos of our student-athletes in their everyday life of school and sport. Technology is ever changing and our current students stay on top of all of the latest and greatest so we need to do the same.