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Going Public: SEMO Athletics Wins First-Ever OVC Commissioner's Cup

Southeast Missouri State University

On this episode of Going Public, we spoke with Athletic Director Brady Brady about SEMO Athletics winning its first-ever OVC Commissioner's Cup.  He also discusses future plans for the Redhawks and how the university's student-athletes have been doing in the classroom.

Woods: You're here to make some big announcement, there's been some really happy stuff happening down at your area. So tell us about it.

Barke: Yeah, there have been it's, you know, it's been a long year. You know, coming through the COVID pandemic and out on hopefully, what is the other side of it. But, you know, we had an opportunity for almost all of our sports to be able to compete a full season this year. And at the end, when all the dust settled, we are being crowned the Ohio Valley Conference,Commissioner's Cup champions for the first time in school history, which is a huge accomplishment, a huge milestone for us. 

Woods: So when I asked before we taped --  this is not just, I thought was this academics and athletic performing, but it's just athleticism?

Barke: Yeah, so it is, for those who haven't been tracking on it. And most people haven't. To be honest, the best we've ever previously done has been a third place finish. So we haven't talked a whole lot about it. But it measures an athletic department's overall athletic success. And so what what they do is they essentially take your finish in each of the sports and they award points for your finish, and each of the sports that the OVC sponsors, and, and so every one of them counts for us. And based on how you do if you finish in first place, for example, you get 12 points, second place, 11 points. And at the end of the year, you add up all your total points that you've earned. And whoever earns the most points, is the champion that year. And for 2020-21, that's your SEMO Redhawks.

Woods: And and from what I understand we were doing really well in the 2019-2020 season, but then of course, COVID happened.

Barke: Yeah, we had those that maybe remember, and it seems like it was 10 years ago, in COVID-time, but that 2019-20 academic year, we saw all of our team sports in the fall -- football, soccer, and volleyball, all win conference championships. And then women's basketball, made a historic run and won the conference tournament championship as well. So we had won four championships.

Through the winter, we were sitting atop the Commissioner's cup standings in 2019-2020, poised to have a first ever, then COVID hit and the conference decided to not award it in that shortened year. And so some of us may, you know, consider it kind of a back to back champions of sorts. But this is the first time that it's officially being awarded to SEMO. And it's really exciting for us.

Woods: So what what do you attribute it to why first time ever. What's what's in the in the mix there that caused this achievement this time?

Barke: You know, I think a lot of it is, you know, as people we always talk about, you know, you win with people and and I think that that's true, not just in the quality of student athletes that we, you know, have been able to attract to the institution, but I think more so, it's our coaches and our staff, you know, you have to have people that are committed to doing it the right way and are bought into what you're trying to accomplish. And we set a goal just a few years ago, for Commissioner's cup, for example, in terms of just starting to talk about athletic excellence and expectations of winning championships. And, and the majority of our coaches have been here through that process. And sometimes it takes a little while, because you have first time head coaches that are maybe learning a little bit in terms of, hey, what really matters and what doesn't, what are the types of things I need to focus my energy on? And we've been able to give them time to be able to develop their programs and be successful.

And then once we've seen some of that success, we've had a really good ability to retain them. And so we've got some continuity, just in terms of the staff, and I think that's what, you know, helps ensure that you can sustain some of that success, that it's not, hey, we had that one good year, and then we lost those coaches. And now we're starting over again. And so we hope to be able to continue that trend for the next several years with some of these programs where I'm sure people have opportunities to move on.

Woods: There's something to be said for continuity. And you know, having that knowledge there and that experience at the same in place for a length of time, it makes a big difference.

Barke: It really does. And, and especially with athletics, you know, it's such a weird environment right now for student athletes because they have the ability to transfer and to go to another school. And so as soon as you change a coach, well, now all of a sudden, I'm not invested in that program as much because oh, I came, I wanted to play for, you know, so and so. And so when you're able to keep those coaches and keep that program progressing, it does, it makes a huge difference just in terms of being able to build one year to the next and not have to start over because you lost a bunch of people. And so that's helped us a lot. And in several of these programs that we've seen success in>

Woods: We've heard a lot of stories about how certain professors have such a huge impact on college students, I have to imagine that the coaches for these athletes have a huge impact on their lives and on them on their personal growth.

Barke: Yeah, I mean, for sure. And, you know, I mean, we'll be honest, you know, our student athletes, when we recruit student athletes, they of course, have academic programs that they're interested in. And that's kind of that first hurdle that they want to make sure that they can study something they're interested in here. But a lot of that is going to be their athletic experience and their coaching staff, and do I feel comfortable being with that coaching staff in that particular program, because they spend more time with those people than they do anybody else at the university. And that's just the way that it is. And so they have to be comfortable there. And I think we have as great a group of mentors, because that's ultimately what they are -- our coaches as, as anywhere. And I think we we pride ourselves on our ability to be able to come develop these young men and women into champions. And we always say our goal is for them to be able to walk across that stage at the end of their time, with championship ring on their fingers, earning their college degree, and being prepared for whatever that next chapter is in their lives. And when you look at the success over the last few years, I'd say we've we've delivered on that mission with almost everybody that we've put through in the last handful years.

Woods: That has to feel good. Barke: It certainly does.

Woods: So let's talk about SEMO gymnastics. So this OVC Commissioner's cup,  they were not in that number as far as the total in those points, right? How does that work?

Barke: Yeah, so we end up with a national championship gymnastics program, and they don't even get to count towards, you know, this departmental goal that we had kind of, but now our gymnastics program is, is one that competes in the MRC, because there are no other gymnastics programs in the Ohio Valley Conference. And so they compete in a separate conference. And, you know, have had a tremendous amount of success in the last couple of years. But, but yeah, they don't factor into the standings. And so we kind of have to talk about them kind of alongside this. It's like, oh, hey, we were Commissioner's Cup champions this year. Oh, and by the way, we also have this gymnastics national championship team to.

And it's a lot of fun to see what Coach Lawson has done with that program, taking it from, you know, one of the worst Division I gymnastics programs three years ago, to, you know, certainly having the greatest turnaround year over a year of any Division I gymnastics program in the country. And she's been recognized for that. And of course, the team has to win their national championship.

Woods: And there's been so much success, Women's Tennis has done well, softball, track and field. Everything just seems to be firing on all cylinders.

Barke: Yeah, I mean, I think absent only a couple of our sports. Everyone has won a conference championship in the last three years, we've had eight of our 10 head coaches have won Coach of the Year honors in the last three years. It really isn't just one or two programs that are holding, you know, everyone else up and creating this narrative, it is really a level of dominance across all of our sports. That is, it's what's so impressive, and it takes everyone and that's why the Commissioner's cup is something that I'm so proud of and think that we need to celebrate because it takes everyone it's not like you can just say oh, well, we had these three teams that were really good and everybody else wasn't, you know, it took everyone's points, counting towards this in order to be able to get to that end goal. And it's a special thing and something thatwe look forward to being able to defend that again in 2022.

Woods: So I'm just curious, when you're going to do your strategic plan, I mean, you've already had a lot of success. What more do you see, in the next couple of years for Southeast Athletics?

Barke: Yeah, as an administrative staff, we've started to talk a little bit about that, because, you know, you kind of make sure that you can get it in chunks, right. And you know, we've had some success of, you know, kind of championships here and there. But we wanted to kind of get to this departmental success. And so that was kind of the Commissioner's cup thought process and winning conference championships.

But now, I think the narrative shifts into talking about NCAA Tournament appearances, which, of course, is what baseball, just earned is, their opportunity to be able to do that, this weekend. And then you're now talking about being you know, regionally competitive, outside of the conference, you're talking about being someone who can go and win in the NCAA tournaments and do those types of things. And I think from an athletic standpoint, that's where your progression tries to get you to, so that you can become nationally significant, right? And maybe the national championships outside of gymnastics, which is kind of a different animal.

If we're being honest with ourselves, a lot of our sports, we don't have the opportunity to truly aspire to compete for a national championship at this point. But you're trying to get to the point where you can become a little bit more of a household name of sorts, and we've seen those mid-major programs be able to do that. And I think that's what we want to do, because it adds so much value to to the institution, the pride that the alumni have the you know, name recognition. That people now associate with an institution that they have heard of, and that they know, based off oftentimes from sports, but that also, you know, just the brand, and, and how much brand value and media exposure do you get from something like that? And I think that's a huge role to that, that athletics can play in this time when recruitment is so challenging for institutions. Any opportunity, you have to get your name out there and be visible is something that can benefit the institution.

Woods: So this was this is a long term plan to get to where you are now? Did you get frustrated that things take longer than maybe you would like them to take?

Barke: Yeah, I hate that strategic plans are five years because it's like, man, that's forever. But it's a process. And it's understanding that, you know, stuff takes time. And I think in college athletics, it's so much of a microwave mindset, right, we want it now. And I think we see that with coaching changes and other types of things that happen in bigger schools, where the stakes may be higher financially, they bring somebody in, and two years later, if they haven't gotten to where they think they need to be, they're going to make another change. And in my opinion, you set yourself back and you're starting all over again. And so, we've tended to allow people a little bit more time to be able to figure that out and build it. And I think we've been rewarded for it.

I think that's some of why we've seen success, because they're coaches that seem to get in and fourth, fifth year that they're here is when you oftentimes start to see them turn. And I think we saw  that with softball when they won. Tennis has been that way. Baseball has been that way. I just think that's a little bit of what it is. And so you you do want to see it right away. But I think you have to understand that you've got a longer term objective. And give it a little bit of time.

Woods: And so this now, I guess this next year 2021-2022 will be the 30th anniversary of moving to Division I. I can't believe it's been 30 years.

Barke: Yeah, it's, you know, it's an exciting time for us because I think we're as successful or more successful now than we've ever been. And so as we talk about this anniversary, there was this long time where people I think, maybe question the decision about -- was it the right decision, and there may be still some people out there that are questioning that decision. But I don't think you can look at what we've been able to accomplish in the last three calendar years. I mean, we've won more conference championships in the last three years than any other school in the conference. And so you look at those things. And you say, well, maybe that wasn't a bad decision. Now let's maybe see how we build from here. And so the 30th anniversary is kind of that timeframe, right, that you sit back and you assess kind of where you've been. And you figure out where you're going. And and I think the future is really bright.

Woods: We talked about the Commissioner's cup, and that's for athletic excellence. Let's talk about academic excellence, brag on your student athletes for a little bit. They've been doing fantastic work in the classroom, too.

Barke: Yeah, they really have been and, and you're right, we don't necessarily talk about that quite as much. It doesn't grab the headlines in the newspapers. But, you know, that's something that I'm as proud of as anything. We've had record setting GPAs. I mean, we had a departmental GPA last spring, in the midst of COVID, that was 3.6 departmental GPA. I mean, like, ridiculous numbers. Even this semester, we had every one of our sports, competing in season during the spring semester, which was a headache for our staff. But I mean, think about our student athletes, they were all in season, all competing. And you know, during their coursework, 14 of our 15 programs had a 3.0 GPA or above as a team during that semester.

And so, we look at that, and you say, you're recruiting the right type of students who are serious about wanting to get an education. And, and they're committed to doing that. And, you know, and then you graduate those students and so as we talk about it, that's the ultimate accomplishment is making sure that you get them to the finish line, knowing that they're prepared. And we don't probably talk about that and enough. But it's something that is, is certainly a testament to the the type of people that we have in our program and the support that they receive from our coaches and our staff who ensure that that part of their experience isn't lost. Because it is important.

Woods: Okay, so the OBC Commissioner's cup is there the presentation of a gigantic cup? What does it look like?

Barke: Yeah, you know, in typical fashion, this is kind of the way I feel like things always happen to us.  Normally the Ohio Valley Conference does an honors brunch in the first weekend in June, basically this upcoming weekend, that they always recognize new Hall of Fame inductees into the conference, and they have a few other awards. And then they present the Commissioner's Cup. Because of COVID, they have elected to have those meetings and things that are in conjunction with that brunch virtually. So there will be no brunch this year. And there will be as a result, no awards presentation. And, and so we'll get it shipped to us directly from the awards creator and we'll have it to display prominently somewhere. But there won't be a formal presentation like there normally is. And so it's like, well, that's just kind of our luck that first time ever and and it doesn't go the way it normally does. But we're gonna have a lot of fun with it. And over the next couple of months, we're going to be able to relive a lot of our moments that we've had over this past year and be able to share a lot of that content with people through social media and that type of thing, and spend the next couple of months getting people excited for the upcoming year. Because again, we talked about the opportunity to defend that, but I think it's so much more about building and continuing to get better. And so that's something that, you know, that we're going to be ready for is this upcoming year. Can we take another step and kind of try to continue to create this legacy that I think we're on the track of creating.

Woods: So this is kind of a random question, but so this cup, is it the same cup that travels around or there each school gets its own cup that stays at school forever?

Barke: You know, I hadn't paid a lot of attention to the trophy until we got to this point. And the Commissioner's Cup isn't actually even a cup. It's a trophy. So yeah, I was envisioning this thing that that everybody gets to go and you get to celebratory drink out of it and you know, Stanley Cup kind of style. Woods: That's what I was..

Barke: No, it's nothing like that. It's just a trophy. But who knows, maybe we'll need to create our own something that we can have some fun with. It's super exciting and again it takes everybody from our supporters who've helped give us the resources to be able to get to the point where we're at to our coaches, our staff, our student athletes. It's taken everybody it's been a team effort and and something we all should celebrate together.

Woods: Well, congratulations to you and all the folks that Southeast Athletics for your achievements. It's really great news.

Barke: Well, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Dan is a 1994 graduate of Southeast Missouri State University. He majored in radio and minored in political science. He spent three of his four years at Southeast working as a student announcer at KRCU – the beginning of his radio career.
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