The University Board of Trustees pushed Bradley into its first step in a new direction March 16, 2015, with the hiring of Peoria native Chris Reynolds as director of athletics.
Reynolds’ hiring came a day after former director of athletics, Michael Cross, officially resigned his position and before an interim president was announced after Joanne Glasser officially retired.
As the 2015-2016 school year comes to a close, Reynolds spoke with The Scout about the future he has in mind for Bradley’s Athletics Department, saying he was complacent in his first full year at the helm of athletics.
“I’ve enjoyed being in those types of environments, coming from Northwestern, having worked at Notre Dame, so being at a small private institution is something I really enjoy,” Reynolds said. “Everyday I wake up just excited about being here at Bradley.”
It’s no secret athletics has fallen out of favor with fans in the last year alone. During the search for a new university president, multiple faculty, staff and students voiced their displeasure with the previous state of athletics.
It was also evident in the empty seats, as Bradley averaged 5,726 fans per game in attendance at the 11,060-seat Carver Arena.
Reynolds’ first year may not have yielded consistent success record-wise with athletics teams, but he has done what he can to win back those who were ostracized by the Cross-administration.
In September of 2015, Reynolds reinstituted the Spaghetti Supper, a Bradley basketball tradition that Cross phased out in his tenure.
He also reassured fans that basketball games would be exclusively played at Carver Arena, after the idea to bring men’s basketball back to campus was floated around in previous years.
“I think it’s important that we establish Carver Arena as our home arena,” Reynolds said. “People aren’t wondering is this game going to be at Carver? Is this game going to be on campus? It can get confusing from that perspective.”
Reynolds also said Carver brings an identity to Bradley in the recruiting sense, because it gives a tangible home for potential players.
Yet another reason Reynolds gave for keeping games at Carver Arena was it helps businesses connect with the Braves in downtown Peoria and keeps a connection with the local community beyond just Bradley.
Reynolds has taken large strides in the past year throughout the Peoria community as well, saying he’s “been everywhere.”
“Every rotary club you can imagine, I’ve been in the community as much as anybody could possibly be in the past 13 months,” Reynolds said. “It’s important that we be good partners from Peoria from a business perspective.”
According to a Peoria Journal Star article on Reynolds from last August, Bradley has been “in the red,” or losing money, due to declining basketball revenues. To combat that red, Reynolds said he has held his department more accountable in its spending.
“We set budgets for each of our sports programs, [and] we set budgets for each of our operating units,” Reynolds said. “We’ve really embraced the importance, as we move into next year, having to reduce subsidy. Again, that really requires that we raise money to be able to provide for our programs.”
That fiscal planning is one of the primary roles Reynolds has taken on in the past year, as his duties also include him helping “set the direction of the university.”
“It wasn’t about me coming in and making changes,” Reynolds said. “It was really about establishing strong fiscal controls to make sure that were doing what’s necessary from that perspective, and raising money is something that we’ve done very well over the past year.”
University President Gary Roberts, who was enthusiastic in his support for Reynolds, said the most revenue lies in the basketball teams, which are most important when it comes to university revenues.
“The only team that it is important, from a financial standpoint, that they do well is the basketball programs,” Roberts said.
It’s important to note that Roberts did not completely disregard the other athletic teams, but singled out basketball as it’s the highest profile sport on campus, which has the highest revenue
In the Feb. 6, 2015 issue of The Scout, the first and fourth highest compensated Bradley employees were then-head basketball coach Geno Ford and former head basketball coach Jim Les, respectively.
The figures for current basketball coach Brian Wardle’s contract have not yet been released.
While Roberts, who has been university president since early January, does have a sports background as a sports lawyer, he was adamant that he would not have a hand in the athletics.
“As long as they’re doing what they should be doing, I’m going to be hands-off,” Roberts said. “That’s Chris Reynolds’ job, to manage the Athletics Department. I think he’s very capable and a real star.”
Roberts said he has lofty hopes for athletics.
“National championships,” he said frankly. “You asked what I hoped. More realistically, I’d like to see modestly, or better, success on the court and good kids who are doing well in the classroom and graduating 100 percent.”
Where Roberts has a yearly outlook for athletics, Reynolds’ outlook is day-to-day.
“That’s our goal, to every day get better,” Reynolds said. “I think each athletics program certainly has goals and objectives, and each operating unit within the department has goals. We strive to improve ourselves on a daily basis.”