Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dr. Michael Cross, Director of Athletics

On the videostream, he was "Dr. Cross," dressed in his best suit with his brand-new red tie and "Bradley" pin.

Here at HQ, he's "Mike," the guy down the hall for the last 10 years, who came here with a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1999 with a career goal to be a Division I athletic director and now leaves Princeton 10 years later having achieved it.

Mike Cross – Dr. Michael Cross, according to his new school – has been named the Director of Athletics at Bradley University. He begins his new role effective Jan. 1.

When TigerBlog first heard that Mike Cross was leaving to become the AD at Bradley, he checked Bradley's website to see how many sports the school has. The answer is 14, or 24 fewer than Princeton has. There is no football at the school. Or lacrosse or hockey or fencing or squash or field hockey or water polo or swimming or crew or sprint football or wrestling or men's volleyball or others.

What it does have is a team in the model mid-major basketball league, the Missouri Valley Conference. The same Bradley website that showed Mike's picture as its lead story had a recap from the previous night's basketball game, and the accompanying picture of Carver Arena showed all 11,000 seats filled.

It's a huge change from a school like Princeton, with no athletic scholarship, 38 sports, and more than 1,000 athletes. Bradley's release has a 139-word description of the athletic program's recent success, of which 84 words are about men's basketball. The release also recognizes Bradley's success in graduation rates, which has been best in the MVC in nine of the last 10 years.

When you spend your entire career at Princeton, or even the 10 years that Cross did, you get a bit of a skewed view of college athletics. Cross spent considerable time in meetings at Princeton talking about marketing for football and basketball, and the issues he will face in those same meetings in Peoria will be considerably different.

For starters, there will be no football meetings, with no questions about ticket prices, start times of football games, parking and everything else. In basketball, marketing takes on a whole different focus when demand either equals or exceeds supply.

Beyond all that, though, when the news broke, TigerBlog thought mostly about Mike himself.

Princeton athletics is an interesting place, with a blend of people in it for the long run with people who are just starting out in their career who have come through the department with the goal of being there for a short time and then moving on. TigerBlog never had the feeling that Cross viewed Princeton as a prerequisite; TB said often that when Cross looked back on his career one day, he'd remember his time at Princeton with great fondness.

Gary Walters, Princeton's AD, is clearly the face of the department and its most visual spokesperson. Cross has spent the last few years as No. 2 on the depth chart, the "first among equals," as Walters called him.

It's not an easy role to fill, because clearly someone like Cross spends that time on the verge of becoming an AD of his own while also following the lead of the current boss. When TigerBlog was asked Tuesday afternoon what kind of AD Cross would make, it wasn't as cut-and-dried to answer the question, because now that he's the boss, it'll be interesting to see what directions he might go in. That, coupled with the types of challenges he'll face at Bradley that he never saw at Princeton, make the situation interesting.

What is unchanged, though, is who Mike Cross is. He's very smart, for starters, and that's where TigerBlog started when tried to sum up Cross on the phone. He's also very funny. It's a good combination.

TigerBlog and Cross had some great discussions in recent years about any number of topics, and TB didn't always agree with him. At the same time, TB and Cross were on the same side of way more issues than they were in opposition.

At the first meeting Cross attended after he was hired 10 years ago, he made an analogy of something to an old abandoned building, one with a broken window. If the window is not fixed, Cross said, the building will soon have other broken windows.

TB has never forgotten when Cross made that point, and it's something he's kept in mind through the years. The point is that problems need to be fixed immediately, that weakness needs to be corrected immediately. If not, they won't stay the same; they'll expand beyond their original point.

Mike Cross spent the last 10 years fixing the first broken window he found in the Princeton athletic department, so that other windows wouldn't follow. It wasn't always an easy task, with the needs of so many teams and coaches and athletes and administrators and other constituents.

As TB said before, he was always certain that Cross wouldn't look back on this time as a prerequisite, something he had to do to get the next job, and when it finally came time to leave, an email from Cross basically said the same word for word.

Mike Cross will remember his time at Princeton with great fondness, he said.

TigerBlog will remember Mike Cross as his friend.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congrats Mike! Best of luck in your new role. Best wishes to you and your family!