Going into her first homecoming weekend as Eastern Michigan University vice-president and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, Heather Lyke was gracious enough to sit down for a question and answer session to talk about everything from the lack of attendance at the home football games to the legacy she wants to leave behind.
Echo: Attendance has been a big issue at EMU home football games over the years, how can you help encourage fans to come to the games?
Lyke: First of all, I would say that we were fortunate to have 9,642 people at our first home game against Howard. A lot of it was tied to our freshman convocation, where we had the opportunity to invite the new students and their parents to come to our game. So that certainly did help because the timing of that event preceded our football game. But, I think there is an opportunity to do a comprehensive evaluation of our football game operations and the overall fan experience when they come to the stadium. We definitely want it to be something that people are proud of and that it feels more than just another game. The team winning the opening game helps, but what we are looking is to get fans to have a memorable experience so they can keep coming back.
Echo: Do you think a factor in people not showing up for the football games could be because attributed to the fact that Rynearson Stadium is an off-campus site?
Lyke: I think it is more about creating a culture that wants to things like that. Starting the “Rally To Rynearson” which is a walk from campus with cheerleaders and the mascot “Swoop” with the intent to get students to walk to the football field. It is all about building those traditions and what makes the quality of the student experience at Eastern Michigan. Part of it should be rooting for not only football, but for the other teams because the athletic program is just as much a part of the university as the academics.
Echo: Given that you have been on the job for a little under two months, what are you looking to accomplish as the Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics?
Lyke: I look at it in three particular ways:
Athletically, we want to compete at the highest level possible in the Mid-American Conference. We want to win the Reese and Jacoby Trophies, which are points you get from being in the MAC Championships across all sports. We have talked to our student-athletes, coaches and staff about it and I am not sure it was something that was emphasized in the past, but it is something we want to be competitive in. For all men’s sports in the MAC, we have only won the Reese Trophy four times in the last 40 years and on the women’s side, we have never won the Jacoby Trophy in the 29-year history.
Academically, we want to be on the same trajectory as this past winter semester all of the athletic teams average a 3.19 grade point average. We had 209 student-athletes with a 3.0 or better and 49 of them are currently in the honors program.
Who we are as a community because there is still a lot of pride in EMU and we want to unite our student-athletes, staff and the university. It is very important for us to become a source of pride for the university and to be partners in the community to help others.
Echo: I noticed in the GPA for the individual sports, the three lowest were football (2.690), women’s basketball (2.657) and men’s basketball (2.135), what can you do to help these students to improve in the classroom?
Lyke: Well, I think it starts at the top quite frankly with the quality of the student-athletes that we recruit and making sure that they are academically prepared to come here to Eastern Michigan to be successful. Also, it is about the amount of support that we can provide for them and the guidance we can give them once they are here. If your team has a strong culture of academics, then you will tend to improve in those areas.
Echo: How did your 15 years of experience as part of the Ohio State administrative staff help you prepare for this current job position?
Lyke: I came to Eastern Michigan because it was an opportunity to lead and I have been fortunate to work for some tremendous leaders in my experience. Andy Geiger and Gene Smith both at Ohio State are the best of the best even though I might be biased. Those gentlemen modeled and taught me hands-on so many different situations. It prepared me to take advantage of this opportunity to lead.
Echo: Anyone in a high-level position faces adversity and/or scrutiny at some point, were there any in particular that you dealt with to help mold you into the person you are now?
Lyke: Yeah, I have definitely faced adversity in my career especially when I was at Ohio State, where there is a tremendous amount of scrutiny. What you learn from it is to always do the right thing, always communicate and have integrity.
Echo: As the first female Athletic Director in EMU’s history, how have you been perceived by your peers thus far?
Lyke: I have been fortunate to be congratulated, acknowledged and well received by my peers. It has been a very humbling opportunity and I feel very honored to lead EMU Athletics.
Echo: Once you leave EMU one day, what do you want your legacy to be?
Lyke: I would want people to say that I was filled with integrity, class, honest, genuine, caring about the quality of our student-athletes and making this place better than the day I started.
Follow Eugene Evans on Twitter @EasternEchoGeno.
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