The first time I heard about Bradley University was during the basketball team’s run to the Sweet 16 in the 2006 NCAA Tournament and their subsequent photo on the Sports Illustrated cover.
One of my high school teachers used to cut out the cover pages from the magazine and tape them together to create a collage to cover the walls of the room.
As a result, I saw Marcellus Sommerville proudly hold up the front of his jersey to show off the Bradley lettering to the crowd, and thanks to the Sports Illustrated cover, to the world.
Not only did that leave a lasting impression on me when I was weighing my choices for college, but I expected Bradley to be pretty successful in sports.
However, the level of play by the Braves didn’t match my expectations.
Yes, there are some positives. The soccer team has gone to the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years, and I even got to travel to Louisville to watch their second round match. They have met and exceeded my expectations.
But on the other side, you have the Bradley baseball team, which hasn’t won a Missouri Valley Conference title since 1968. The volleyball team hasn’t played in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament since 2005. And the women’s tennis team has won only four matches in the past decade.
Those numbers are awful and embarrassing. But even more shocking, I’ve felt that Bradley athletics has been content with below average teams, and it can be seen by the number of students attending games.
But now, my viewpoint is starting to change.
Bradley unveiled a new logo earlier this month, replacing the outdated ‘B’ block with a unique red and white shield.
Some people will look at the new logo and not see its full value. Sure, it’s just a patch to be seen and worn. But its significance is much broader than its face value.
Don’t be mistaken. President Joanne Glasser and Athletic Director Michael Cross are attempting to do much more than change looks. The new logo is marking a new era and new brand. They are putting their own personal touches to the entire athletic department, and showing that Bradley can be successful in sports outside of men’s basketball.
Look around on campus. No longer is the volleyball team playing their games on the Markin performance court. No longer do you have to travel to ICC to watch the women’s basketball team. The Renaissance Coliseum is changing how important athletics are at Bradley.
Don’t be mistaken. Glasser and Cross want Bradley to be more competitive across the board in sports.
The soccer team is nationally ranked. The women’s cross country team was voted by Missouri Valley Conference coaches to finish second this year, and 11th in the Midwest Region by a national coaches poll. The volleyball team had their best start in program history. The women’s basketball team is used to playing in postseason tournaments after earning their first berth three years ago. The baseball team continues to be recognized for their recruiting classes. And the men’s tennis team had its highest finish in conference play since 2006.
Soccer’s Jim DeRose and golf’s Jeff Roche are the only head coaches that have been on the Hilltop for longer than five years. That’s not by accident. In only their third year working together, Glasser and Cross are building a foundation at Bradley to make the athletic programs stronger, and better than they have been in the past.
There’s a storied history for multiple sports on the Hilltop and finally Bradley is working towards a rich future.
Don’t be mistaken. Bradley athletics are on the right path and closer to matching my expectations.