Smart Sports

Miami University in Oxford, Ohio

By Emily Tipping

amed for the Miami Indian Tribe that once inhabited the surrounding area, Miami University has a long tradition of close attention to its students' academic success. The 2007 U.S.News & World Report college ranking listed Miami University 21st among top public universities in the nation, recognizing its "outstanding examples of academic programs that are believed to lead to student success." Located in Oxford, Ohio, about 35 miles north of Cincinnati, the school offers undergraduate and graduate programs for nearly 16,000 students, and retention and graduation rates are some of the highest among NCAA Division I schools. It's a highly competitive school academically, and that competitive spirit extends to the school's athletics programs.

"In the U.S.News & World Report, Miami was ranked 60th in terms of quality of education, and less than half of those top-ranked schools are public institutions," said Brad Bates, athletic director for Miami University. "We're one of the top 24 public universities, and only 16 of those compete in our division of the NCAA, so our students are competing against some of the brightest minds in the world at the same time as our athletes compete against some of the greatest amateur athletes in the country."

As the university approaches its bicentennial in 2009, it has undertaken a record level of construction, spending more than $300 million on academic and athletic facilities, including the Goggin Ice Center and upgrades to the school's "athletic classrooms." Renovations at the school's Yager Stadium have included new stands, a scoreboard, permanent lighting and an artificial turf playing surface.

"I came in while the university was engaged—and still is engaged—in a university-wide campaign, in which athletics is involved," Bates said. "I'm fortunate because our trustees and leadership have endorsed having athletic classrooms that are as extraordinary as our campus resources."

Since he arrived at the university in late 2003, Bates has played a large part not only in upgrading facilities, but also upgrading Miami's athletics to greater success. Miami University's RedHawks sports teams compete in the NCAA Division I Mid-American Conference, as well as the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and the U.S. Figure Skating Association, "Miami University has a national reputation," Bates said. "It's referred to as the 'Cradle of Coaches.' It got that moniker in the '70s because a series of coaches came from Miami University. …There's a whole series of Miami University alumni who were great successes. Our history is strong and deep, and has turned out these great leaders in athletics."

One of Bates' great successes has been the department's record in graduating its student athletes. Miami has consistently ranked among the best Division I-A programs over the first two years of the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate (APR) program.

"The top goal is to maximize the development of our students, and really all participants—coaches, faculty, staff. Hopefully all of them are perpetual students too," Bates said. "There's really only one way to justify athletics in higher education, and that's to make sure it's educational."

Five of Miami's intercollegiate athletic teams were recently honored by the NCAA for their latest APR scores, including the women's tennis team.

But the tennis team's stellar performance this year wasn't just academic. They advanced to the 2007 Mid-American Conference tournament as the No. 5 seed. Over their past four seasons, they've posted double-digit win totals.

This is despite the fact that, until recently, the team—as well as other students participating in tennis—only had the outdoor tennis courts on which to practice on campus. To provide a spot for indoor play, the university had to get creative. They ended up adapting an existing gym to provide indoor practice facilities.

"We do not have an indoor tennis facility on our campus, so we've had to be creative in how we provide a resource for our students who participate in tennis," Bates said. "We tried to come up with a concept that would provide a much better experience than just putting a cover over the gymnasium surface. We eneded up converting an old gym with a high ceiling. It's a one-room facility that was large enough for a full-size court with enough room around the outside of the court that it would be safe. Then we needed a surface that would be as close as possible to a regular playing surface."

The university ended up selecting TecnoTile, a sports surface made up of interlocking, textured, low-density polyethylene tiles. The cushioned properties of the surface, along with good foot grip, help prevent fatigue and injury that comes from playing on harder surfaces. But the greatest benefits, Bates said, are the expanded options for playing time.

"Now we have access to a facility 24x7 during inclement weather where our students can continue to practice, perform and improve their game," he said. "But it's also a campus facility—it's used by faculty and the entire campus community. It's not just exclusive to a dozen students. You can't wear it out, so it's something that can be accessible to our entire community."

Anyone for tennis?


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