The departure of Rick Majerus from Saint Louis University’s men’s basketball team has created a host of questions concerning the Billikens. Most of these questions are centered on the court—how will the team fare without Majerus at the helm? Beyond the loss of his talent in tactical decision making, how will the absence of Majerus affect the performance of the players? But perhaps the biggest questions surrounding the Billikens belong not on the court, but in the offices of the administration.
Majerus is one of college basketball’s greats, a brilliant strategist and a skilled leader. Finding a head coach to replace him will be a challenge. How the athletic department responds to this challenge will have repercussions not just for the basketball team, but for the University as a whole.
Majerus has worked hard to build up a solid men’s hoops program at SLU. A worthy successor will continue and even build upon that success. Obviously no one can foresee how a given candidate will perform, but what the department can do is devote the necessary resources to the recruitment process. It would be a travesty to the University and to Majerus’ legacy to allow the Billikens to descend into obscurity by selecting an unqualified coach.
The importance of the basketball team extends well beyond the athletic department. Like it or not, men’s basketball is the most popular NCAA sport in which SLU participates. A strong basketball team does more than just win flags to hang in the Chaifetz Arena rafters; it creates a brand name for the SLU. Judging by the billboards populating the highways around St. Louis, the administrators at SLU clearly understand the importance of creating a memorable brand name for the University.
A strong basketball season will bring students into the school, allowing SLU to become more selective in admissions and thereby gain rankings nationally. Moreover, athletic success is self-catalyzing; a good season brings in more recruits, which further improve the program. On top of that, the men’s basketball team can be a significant source of income for the school, helping to fund academic programs as well as other athletic teams that may not enjoy the same financial success.
Furthermore, a university’s athletic teams are the most tangible link between the school and its alumni. Keeping the basketball team relevant will improve alumni support for the University and hopefully bolster the alumni donation rate. Putting the basketball team in the national spotlight could do more to encourage alumni support than a year of cold calling.
Majerus will be missed, but the show must go on. The basketball Billikens are at a turning point, and it is up the administration to point them in the right direction. And when the athletic teams are victorious, the entire university wins.