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August, 2019

The Man Calling the Plays for CUA Athletics
By Richard Wilkinson

Michael Allen

The majority of CEOs at Fortune 500 corporations have played on organized sports teams earlier in their lives, says CUA’s Athletic Director Michael Allen, citing the findings of a study.

His point: The lessons one learns while playing sports are transferable to later non-athletic endeavors such as business leadership.

Some of the life-changing lessons that student-athletes learn are the link between preparation and success, how to function in a team environment, how to accept authority and how to solve problems creatively.

“Those are all important lessons,” says Allen, who became CUA’s athletic director on Aug. 1. “I feel that by fostering successful programs for student-athletes, we can really contribute to their overall education.”

He and the university’s other athletic administrators and coaches do more than contribute to student-athletes’ education. These staff members also play a significant role in bringing students to Catholic University. More than 400 CUA students compete in varsity athletics and another 100 play in club sports. Many of those students choose to enroll in CUA because of the quality of its athletic teams and coaches. 

Allen has worked with the athletic departments of Division I universities for a dozen years. He was associate athletic director for student services at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton from 2002 to 2005 and worked in the Counseling Program for Intercollegiate Athletes at the University of Connecticut from 1993 to 2002. He has played ball himself, as well: He was a starting guard on the basketball team of his Division III alma mater, Trinity College, in Hartford, Conn. 

Allen’s 1997 Ph.D. — from the University of Connecticut — distinguishes him from his peers at most other universities. He estimates that less than 10 percent of university athletic directors hold doctoral degrees. His field of study was the sociology of sport; his dissertation was on the subculture of collegiate athletic teams and how coaches and teammates influence team values related to academics and university involvement.

If Allen has been committed to his own education, he seems just as committed to the academic achievement of CUA athletes.  “I’m proud that nearly 50 percent of CUA athletes had a 3.0 grade point average or better last year, but I would like to see that percentage increase,” he says. He vows to constantly remind athletes that the main reason they are here is to get an education.

His long-term goal, he says, is to see Catholic University become one of the premier Division III athletic programs in the nation.  Indicators of having reached that goal, he says, would include the following:

  • academic success of student-athletes
  • on-the-field success demonstrated by competing at the national level in all CUA sports
  • the building and/or maintaining of first-class sports facilities
  • the quality and quantity of students that the coaches help to bring to the institution
  • the degree of class and sportsmanship with which students represent the institution on and off the field. 

In addition to emphasizing the academic performance of athletes, Allen plans two major initiatives. The first is bolstering “school spirit,” i.e., improving the connection between the student body and CUA athletic teams. He has started working with Undergraduate Student Government and other student groups on this.

Michael and his wife, Beth, are the parents of two adopted children, Maya, 2 (held by Beth), and James, who will be 1 in April 2006.
“The first step is to get our athletes supporting each other,” says Allen. “If athletes don’t support each other, we can’t expect other students to come out and support us.” He is arranging for pairs of sports teams to become “partner teams” — e.g., the field hockey team and the baseball team might commit to support each other and go to each other’s games. In addition, he’ll encourage individual residence halls or student groups to adopt one of the sports teams, get fan T-shirts made and come out to root that team on.

The other major ongoing initiative will be improving CUA’s athletic facilities. The Competitive Edge Campaign for Cardinal Athletics led by former Athletic Director Bob Talbot is making such improvements financially feasible. Thanks to alumni giving, for example, the main stadium field used by the football and lacrosse teams will get a new state-of-the-art synthetic playing surface in the summer of 2006. The new field “will be a fantastic resource to help CUA attract the best student-athletes available,” Allen says.

The athletic director also will require each sports team to do at least one community service project per semester.

Asked why he came to Catholic University, Allen says he was impressed with the administrators who have led the university’s athletic program. He also points to the university’s coaches: “They work tirelessly for their programs and to give our athletes a positive experience. They are not only great coaches, but also strong leaders and educators of young men and women.”

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Last Revised 02-Nov-05 04:04 PM.