In a business that sees admins come and go, Director of Athletics Sean Frazier has been a staple at Northern Illinois since 2013 and just had his contract renewed through 2023. It’s a testament to the successes he’s helmed during a challenging time.
“I had to call on all of my experience, everything I learned in Division II and III to get through those first years.”
After coming to campus six years ago, Sean Frazier and his team drew up the athletic department’s first master plan.
“Before the master plan it was all about need and going to get it,” he explains. “Now, with the plan, it’s about organization. It’s about making sure we were good stewards of our resources and being able to better ourselves in all areas.”
However, the climate at the time in Illinois was tough. Budget constraints and funding made them put some of the aspects of the master plan on hold.
“After creating the plan, we hit some unbelievable headwinds. We had a state budget impasse for three years. We had no budget in the state of Illinois, it was really, really challenging. It really took us back and it really hurt us, we were basically fundraising just to make up the shortfall of the budget, not for the master plan. It shut us down to some degree, but, to the credit of our supporters and donors, they rallied. We did not take a back step.”
Frazier pointed out to CollegeAD that during that three-year period, they did not cut a single program, and even though it was a challenging time, they still ticked off some of the boxes for the master plan.
“But during that time, we still had some major wins,” Frazier said. “We renovated our Nelson Club Suite area in the basketball facility, that was part of the master plan, and we also dropped a new $1.3 million video screen in the basketball facility. This enhancement really made that building glisten. It enhanced all of the programs housed there.”
The school also secured a performance center he says sets them apart as an athletic program and university.
“This sponsorship from Northwestern Medicine and Phi Sigma Kappa Alumni Association, which is our performance and nutrition center, we just dedicated about a month ago. That was also part of the master plan, dealing with three critical areas, strength and conditioning, nutrition and mental health programming.”
He explained that Northwestern Medicine and Phi Sigma Kappa Alumni Association really stepped up to leave a lasting legacy at Northern Illinois.
“Those three areas really separate us. Our critical job is to bring in young people and really develop these young athletes. That facilities’ comprehensiveness, the way it was laid out, really separates us and puts on a different level.”
He says he’s keeping an eye on issues impacting universities and programs around the country. With the recent news of the clarified guidelines on the transfer waivers, Frazier knows there’s still room for improvement.
“It’s a bit of the wild, wild west. I’m all for student-athletes’ rights, welfare and well-being — I get all of that as a former student-athlete and coach — but I do think there has to be a certain level of accountability and restrictions. I would even add if there are restrictions imposed on the student-athlete maybe it’s the same on the administrator and coach”
He also says the kinks still need to be ironed out; right now he says they are seeing some “unintended consequences.”
“We’re seeing kids that are going into the portal and coaches are thinking, ‘Hey we are losing this kid,’ and then they are recruiting that scholarship and being able to come back is not the reality. Now kids are stuck because the coach has filled the scholarship and moved on.”
Although Frazier admits he may not know if there is a right answer, he hopes the working groups coming together to address practical components will further the conversation. Sean Frazier also hopes the conversation on who owns the name, image and likeness of student-athletes will also continue.
“I think there are a couple of tracks and I would like to see from this working group, ‘OK if you do have a Zion who can make a significant amount off of that criteria.’ I think they should be able to do that. Maybe you set aside some particular amount of dollars for that, but I think that is the exception. I don’t think there should be a boilerplate that deals with that for every student-athlete, because I don’t think we are dealing with individuals on every college campus.”
However, he’s quick to point out that’s not the only issue. There are operations to be figured out and implemented if changes are made.
“But there’s another piece to this. A lot of this is associated with the institution’s brand, so if a ‘Zion’ wants to do that, it’s great, but then the institution he’s with has its own brand. It wouldn’t be associated with their brand, so there is another wrinkle and complexity with it.”
It’s an issue he’ll be keeping an eye on while he tackles his own challenges close to home.