O’Dell’s plans for future hinge on new standards

By Wes Swietek

As NCAA reforms slowly change the face of collegiate athletics, NIU Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell recently discussed the state of NIU athletics and some of its most pressing issues.

One of the perennial issues facing NIU is conference affiliation for the currently independent football team.

O’Dell has in the past talked about the desirability of joining a conference, but NIU is still waiting for the right opportunity.

“There really aren’t many opportunities out there. We can’t control the competitive marketplace,” O’Dell said. “But we can control our destiny (and) we’ll continue to position ourselves favorably.

NIU’s posturing for position when conference slots open are being aided by recent NCAA legislation which has toughened academic standards and limited coaching staffs and scholarships.

“That legislation will help us tremendously,” O’Dell said. “The bowl requirements (that a team face at least six Division I teams to be eligible for a bowl) may not help us tomorrow, but it will help us down the road.”

One area in which it has already helped is in bringing schools to DeKalb to face the Huskies. Next year’s revamped home slate features Illinois State, Middle Tennessee State, Southern Mississippi, Liberty and Toledo. O’Dell said that NIU has reached agreements with Vanderbilt and Texas El-Paso for future games.

An obstacle for NIU’s growth throughout the athletic program, O’Dell said, was the state of NIU’s athletic facilities. “We have a master plan on improving all our facilities,” said O’Dell, who cited the cramped conditions, especially at Huskie Stadium as one of the main problems for NIU.

“Our initial thoughts are not to expand Huskie Stadium but to renovate it,” O’Dell said. “We need to make room for other sports. Right now, we don’t have enough space.”

Replacing the stadium lights, through bond revenue money, continues to be a priority, O’Dell said.

Money—how much the athletic department gets and how much it spends—is another hot topic for NIU athletics.

“We’re moving away from a welfare mentality—that someone will always be giving us something,” the AD said. “I don’t think that there will be increases (in funding for athletics). It will continue to go down and I don’t think it will ever recover,” O’Dell said. “But that doesn’t frighten me—we’ll continue to be entrepreneurial.”