Funda-mental change at McNeese

McNeese Athletic Foundation moves Cowboys toward the future in sports

By Jim Gazzolo

Step by step McNeese is moving into the future.

It seems, just as importantly, fewer and fewer of its fans are going into that future kicking and screaming.

Thursday the school announced its new plans on athletic fundraising, sounding more like an administration with its eye on the future and not its heart stuck in the past.

The creation of the McNeese Athletic Foundation should do just what its name says, give the school’s sports community solid ground to work from in its rebuilding and rebranding process. 

Instead of looking to be led along by others, which has happened at McNeese far too often, the school’s leaders are setting the path for their own future. If anybody wants to come along for the ride they are welcome, but either way the school is headed in a new direction.

President Dr. Daryl Burckel talked about this as early as two years ago. His vision was to make McNeese not the university of last resort for high school students and athletes but rather their first choice. 

Slowed by a global pandemic, a pair of hurricanes and an ice storm, McNeese has fought through those setbacks and now sits ready to move forward with Burckel’s plans.

Truth is, this could all implode and leave a mess, though that seems unlikely. Even then it is still the right thing to do. 

Change for the sake of change is worthless. Change for the good of all is priceless.

McNeese needed to join the rest of the college sports world in the 22nd century. The school needed to set its own path, make up its own mind on what it can become and not let others make those decisions for them. Using athletics is the best way to get the word out about your school. 

With the new ESPN streaming deals out there, McNeese teams can be found on televisions sets every weekend. They are the perfect 3-hour infomercial for the university and the town of Lake Charles. 

So it makes sense the school finds a way to get all the money it can back into the program. You have to spend money to make money and this investment into athletics seems like a win-win for all. 

“Athletics is the front porch to our university,” Burckel often says and he is right. Look no further than Lafayette to see what a solid athletic program can do for a school and town. 

When one thinks of LSU it’s the football team not a chemistry lab that comes to mind. Nobody’s cheering math professor’s lecture, or at least nobody I know.

That may be sad to some but it is a fact of life these days. Sports sells and colleges are in the business of selling their product to future students. Combining athletics with a student’s overall college experience, which is also a goal of the foundation, seems to make sense.

What McNeese did this week was find a way to give its sports teams the tools to sell. You do that by finding ways to fund the programs as best as possible. In the process you make the school more attractive to all students, not just athletes. 

Seems strange but the new basketball arena, pre-hurricanes, was a top selling point when it came to showing off the campus to perspective freshmen. 

Winning breads winning, and the momentum an athletic program brings bonds past students to present ones and keeps the money flowing. A dollar well spent is a dollar well invested when it comes to college athletics.

McNeese even went further, announcing a hurricane relief concert to help fuel the foundation financially this summer. Call it a kickoff roundup if you will.

Known as Cowboy County Fest will come to campus July 3, opening up the campus to many who have never seen it before. Officials hope it is also just the start of things to come. 

All this could lead to an even brighter future for the school, as questions about its place in the national picture continue to be raised. A move to football’s top division should be examined if not fully pursued. This may become the first real step in that process.

Athletic Director Heath Schroyer loves to say the best of McNeese athletics is in front of us. He could very well be right, but there is a lot of work to be done to make that happen.

But with this announcement McNeese has, after years of watching other universities go racing past, taken a giant step into the future and out of its past.

Schroyer also asks the questions, “why not us and why not here.”

It’s his battle cry that McNeese can play with the big boys.

The fact school leaders are willing to make this next big step seems to be adding to Schroyer’s words with why not now.

That, in itself, is a good thing for all to see.

*Jim Gazzolo covers McNeese sports for CBS-Lake Charles and is the co-host of the show Poke Nation which airs Sunday’s at 5:30 p.m. on KSWL.

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