McElroy has had a career that has spanned decades: playing for UCLA, being elected president of the National Association of College Athletic Directors, serving as the University at Albany’s athletic director and ultimately, retiring. Well, I guess it wasn’t ultimately, as he came out of retirement this year to take over at RPI.
I asked him questions about his life, his work, and what it has been like moving from a Division I school with a larger athletics budget to RPI, where its only Division I teams are men’s and women’s hockey.
What resulted from our two interviews, half of a dozen phone calls and many emails is this week’s cover story. The following are two significant questions from conversations I had with McElroy during the course of these interviews.
What are your thoughts on the state of college sports? How would you like to see them change?
I think college sports is headed where the marketplace wants it to go. And that is those who generate the greatest resources and have the greatest level of investment get the greatest amount of attention. And that’s the American way. It’s called capitalism. So as you know, we have a new term that we throw around in college athletics now called the Power Conferences, the five Power Conferences. And we say that they’ve been provided autonomy.
To me, what that means is that because of the resources that they’re generating, particularly through the College Football Playoff and also through March Madness, the NCAA Division I basketball playoff, that they have the right to formulate the model that works in the best interest of all parties. I see nothing wrong with that.
Where there is some question … is the balance between academics and athletics. What are your graduation rates? What are your young people majoring in? What type of experiences are they having outside of athletic experiences?
I think we have to watch it very closely. As long as we do that it will be fine. The next 10 years, you’re going to see a lot of attention paid to college athletics because of the significant amount of money and investment of resources and also to make sure that young people are getting an education.
Your biggest rival in hockey, Union College, recently won a national championship. What effect has that had on the athletes and the administration?
You know, it’s interesting. A lot of people at RPI in athletics have not addressed it. You know, they’ve kind of talked around it. But I’ve talked to [RPI hockey coach Seth Appert] about it and he explained it to me. That was the first thing that I asked him, ‘How could Union win a national championship and RPI was very close? Same conference recruiting, how could we not quite get there?’
Coach and I have met several times, so we know what we need. We know where we need to invest so we’re doing that, and we need a little luck. We’ve got talented kids that have to stay healthy. They have to play smart and they have to all believe in each other. So that’s where we’re spending our time and our energy. I’ve never been a person to predict. That’s not my role. My role is to provide resources so our student athletes and coaches and staff can be successful. But if we stay to our plan, and it’s a good one I think, we’ll be okay. Coach and I have directly looked at it, but I don’t think it was addressed thoroughly why [Union] did win a national championship and we haven’t won one in 30 years.
Now, if my memory serves, that was their first one. We also won one in 1954, so we have two. But I’m not counting.