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Ben Smith

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Ball State AD: Still work to do


– They’re waiting for him in a back room at Biaggi’s, all the people who will make or break Bill Scholl. Here’s his men’s volleyball coach, Joel Walton. Here’s his men’s basketball coach, Billy Taylor. And over here, and here, and here, too …

Donors. Alumni. Primers of the pump without whom, make no mistake, there is no pump.

Bill Scholl’s the last guy who’d have any illusions about that.

He wore a lot of ballcaps at Notre Dame in 23 years, but the one that got the most tattered with wear might have been the one he wore for what he calls “resource acquisition” – i.e., selling the product that was Notre Dame athletics. And so, when he wasn’t raising the profile of the women’s basketball program or the baseball program or Notre Dame’s Olympic sports, he was selling tickets and promoting games and putting together the corporate partnerships that are the fuel for big-time college athletics here in its Era of the Arms Race.

And at mid-major schools such as Ball State, where Scholl landed as athletic director in April?

Well, he’s here at Biaggi’s, isn’t he? And pretty much right on time?

“This just has to be such a big piece of what we do at a MAC school,” Scholl said Monday. “We’ve just got to continue to try to increase on the revenue side so we can reinvest in the programs.”

And if that’s true at a place like Notre Dame, it’s doubly true at a mid-major such as Ball State. You can go out and beat a Big Ten school (Indiana) and a Big East school (South Florida) back to back on the football field, but you can’t sustain that without, as Scholl puts it, reinvestment. And you for sure can’t build up every other athletic program, a task that’s a lot harder at Ball State than at Notre Dame, for obvious reasons.

“With Notre Dame, there was a culture around athletics where success on the fields is really important to people,” Scholl said. “It’s a long-term thing, and it involves sustaining success over a number of years. And I think that’s what we need to do.”

So, yes, he’s here in Fort Wayne this day, because there remains work to do long term and it’s time to get cracking on it. Facilities are a big part of that, Scholl says; he has eye in particular on the school’s baseball/softball complex, which he says are “subpar at a MAC level.”

“I think we need to address that, and we are trying to address that,” he said. “You’re trying to grow, you’re trying to be competitive, you’re trying to give your student-athletes the resources they need to succeed and the tools they need to be successful. And you need to create resources to make that happen.

“It’s not incumbent on the fans to do this. It’s important we provide the product to them that makes them want to be involved in our program.”

As an example, simply because of what’s happened the last two weeks, Scholl points to Pete Lembo and the football program. He jokes that Lembo could make it easier by not taking every game down to the last snap, but he has no issue with the results.

“I think that’s a perfect example of how you come in and you change the program and you change the culture around the program and develop the kids,” Scholl said. “I think we have a lot of coaches on our staff who have that mentality. I give Tom Collins, my predecessor, credit. I think he hired some very good coaches.

“I think we just need to continue to give them the tools they need to be successful. It’s amazing what results you get when you raise the bar a little bit.”

And so here he is, right on time. Raise away.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.