Southern Oregon University Athletics, image credit Bob Palermini, www.palermini.com
Recently, The Siskiyou sat down with Matt Sayre, Southern Oregon University’s Head Athletic Director, to discuss the decision of the four new sports that will be added to SOU’s athletic program. The four new sports, which are expected to showcase in the 2022-23 season, are men’s and women’s golf, cycling, competitive cheer and dance, and beach volleyball. The last time sports were added to the Raider athletic program was in 2015-16 with men’s soccer and women’s wrestling.
The President’s Athletic Advisory Committee of the NAIA made the decision to add these four new sports to the Raider program. They conducted a report for SOU, which focused on the return on investment in these sports. In an overall analysis, the report looked at the student numbers of female and male athletes, where the sports would compete, what season the sports would be in (fall, winter, spring), and if there was a conference available for the sport to compete in. Sayre also mentioned in the interview that “student-athletes are full-time students. They persist and graduate at a much higher rate than the regular student body…we [also] have a high percentage of diversity among our student-athletes.” The decision to add these sports helps SOU’s enrollment numbers, but it is also ensuring that there is equality and student diversity amongst the student-athletes. The inclusion of these new sports will also follow Title IX rules to help create an equal balance between the male and female student-athlete population.
In response to the question, “how will SOU make sure to cultivate diversity and recruit diverse student-athletes,” Sayre stated, “I think we do it with our good programs that a lot of student-athletes want to be a part of, and they just happen to be diverse. But we also have diversity scholarship money.” Recruiting diverse student-athletes will also be a part of the newly hired coach’s job once they get to SOU. The hiring process for these new sports is currently ongoing.
Sayre explained, “we put the job search out right before [Winter] break. We are down this week and next week for interviewing coaches for golf, cycling, and for beach volleyball. We promoted our current cheer and dance coach, Jasmine Dalton, to the full-time position… so we’re just going through the searches we will hire or name a coach in February for all those programs. We will give them a recruiting stipend and allow them to go out and talk to student-athletes.” When asked about what the athletic department is looking for in these newly hired coaches, Sayre responded with, “my head coaches over the past 12 years and myself have developed a sheet of values that we all hold in common and that we look for in the next head coach.” Sayre further explained that the hiring process is also about working with the current head coaches and hearing their input about the candidates. Sayre looks for his current coaches to say, “we can work with that person. They’re a team player. Their character values align with our character values. They’re going to teach their student-athletes about integrity, respect, and responsibility. They’ve got a good idea about servant leadership.” As Sayre said, “those things are extremely important to us. We want somebody that we’re going to work with who has all those things, and somebody who is a great communicator.”
“They’re going to teach their student-athletes about integrity, respect, and responsibility.”
Adding men and women’s golf, beach volleyball, competitive cheer and dance, and cycling to SOU’s competitive roster is a huge advancement for the school. It is an advancement that brings in much excitement from the community and from the conference. Sayre added, on the sports, “they’ve all got a cool factor to them… they’re not the traditional sports that you see in high school. Cycling is going to be a cultural and regional fit, and everybody’s really excited about that. And I’m excited to see the community support of that program…Golf is going into one of the tougher conferences in the NAIA and Cascade Conference, but everybody’s told me that we can do well with golf here…Cheer and dance is one that we’ve put together a great program and had a good club program…this is just the next step for them: to be competitive and see if they can make it to the NAIA Championships. Beach volleyball is just so cool. They have that element here to work alongside our indoor sport. And only a few will be crossover athletes. Most of them will be different athletes.”
With the addition of new sports to the existing ones, there is an adjustment period amongst the athletic department. On adding these new sports into the already existing programs, Sayre wants the support between the sports programs to continue. Sayre said, “it’s a little bit more difficult to go out and support a golf team or cycling team, but beach volleyball [people] can go and support them… it’s a little bit more difficult and trickier that way, but we want them to feel like they’re a part of the athletic department. We want those student-athletes to feel like ‘yeah, I am Raider, and I’m gonna go support.’” There will also be changes within Sayre’s role.
As the athletic director, as Sayre said, “[he is] the head of all the coaches.” Sayre works on fundraising for all the sports and makes sure the programs receive those funds. He also enforces that each sport is following the NAIA rules, the Cascade Conference guidelines, and any rules set from the Frontier Conference. He also makes sure that the 400 student-athletes are represented in some way. However, the inclusion of these new sports is going to require some new staff in the athletic department. Sayre mentioned, “we will have to add another athletic trainer and an assistant sports information director.” As for getting the sports started up and ready for competition, Sayre and Bobby Heiken, associate athletic director, will have different roles concerning the different sports. The three varsity sports — beach volleyball, cycling, cheer and dance — will report to Heiken while the intercollegiate sport, golf, will report to Sayre. The most important part about the addition of these new sports, and in terms of getting them off the ground, Sayre stated is “[we need] to make sure that there’s a good solid program that student-athletes are attracted to and is successful.”
The first potential sports appearance projected for the Raiders would be from the new cycling program in the 2022 fall. Sayre said, “if we have cyclists here in the fall, and if that coach feels like ‘hey, we got enough cyclists to enter a race’, then we’ll do it. But really I think spring will be the first season for them. Beach volleyball will be spring of 2023 as well. Golf, though, we can come right in and compete if we get the athletes here.”
With enthusiasm, Sayre spoke about what the new sports meant to him. “It’s great for the institution and great for the university because it helps with enrollment. But it is also another thing for us, as a program, to hang our hat on instead. It’s pretty unique. We’re different because we are SOU, and we’ve added these sports and not a lot of people have. And we’re going to be good at them,” Sayre said.
“We’re different because we are SOU.”
Last, Sayre mentioned the importance and dedication that the athletic department is still going to uphold for the current sports. He reaffirmed, “our commitment is to all the programs and it will remain the same. We will still try to build the programs that need more scholarships and that need facility upgrades. Those are things still on our radar.”
You can catch Matt Sayre at any of the home games supporting and representing SOU’s athletic department. Later this year, you might catch him at the new sports events!
For more information about the new sports, check out this article from the athletic department.