A Look At The NEIU Scoreboard, Part One

Robin Bridges, Editor in Chief

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Despite having an expansive physical education complex and a playing field, there is nothing left of NEIU’s athletic glory days. The fields next to the recreation building look barren most of the year. However, they weren’t always that way.

According to the Independent archives, NEIU has a history of athletes and clubs dedicated to all things physical. Shortly after its establishment in 1967 as a public university, NEIU officially joined the ranks of collegiate sports in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). For 20 years, NEIU held an athletic program that played local schools.

The sports program at NEIU included baseball, basketball, softball, swim team, cross country and even a boxing club. In 1969, the basketball team finished in 11th place, the highest rank over the next two decades.

Once Title IX passed in 1972, women’s sports began to grow. In 1978, the University Board of Governors instituted a $3 athletic fee. At the time, $3 was enough to warrant outrage. The national average for four year university tuition was $924. Today, that athletic fee is known as the recreation fee.

The late ‘80s sparked a different match for the athletics department. The move to join the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the move to Division I in the 1988-89 season was a hot topic. In an article from the Independent archives, there was concern about the rising tuition costs despite an athletic program failing to win championships regularly would push out students who chose NEIU for affordability.

There was concern for the athletes as well and whether they were good enough to be students and focus on their studies. There was also doubt whether the move to NCAA and Division I was a ploy to boost student enrollment and ease some of the university budget concerns.

The PE complex was officially inaugurated in 1988. Among attendees to this dedication ceremony were the Assistant Governor for Education, Mary Barber, Health and Physical Education Chair Frank Holstetler and Walter “Sweetness” Payton. The formers Bears’ running back gave a speech to those in attendance about the importance of following their dreams. The dedication kicked off the final trimester before the official move into the NCAA Division I.

NEIU held this position for almost ten years after that. The move into Division I rose NEIU to a new status. There were tournaments, conferences and recruitment. The Golden Eagles baseball team placed 3rd in conference playoffs that year.

The team began recruiting from community colleges in the area to build its ranks. The 3-on-3 Schick Super Hoops Tournament, for example, comprised over 200,000 students from around 800 different colleges and universities nationwide.

In Feb. 1989, the Golden Eagles took their first NAIA playoff title in four years. This solidified the move to the NCAA Division I and was the beginning of the positive transformation in the athletic program over the following years.

To be continued in the next issue, coming August 21.