HPU feels at home in Big South
The conference realignment wheel continues to spin in college athletics.
The recent spinning included the Southern Conference adding VMI, Mercer and East Tennessee State to fill slots opened by the departures of Appalachian State, Elon, Georgia Southern and Davidson.
The spinning continues without High Point University as an active player, as athletics director Craig Keilitz feels comfortable with the Panthers membership in the Big South Conference.
“No, we aren’t actively pursuing other opportunities,” Keilitz said. “We like the position we are in. But, we’re going to keep our eyes and ears open.”
The wheels continue to move at such a pace that Keilitz admits he must continually watch how they move, even though HPU may not be as attractive as some other schools because It does not participate in football — the money sport that drives realignments. It is the reason Big South member Liberty is seeking a new conference.
“It’s something that we continually evaluate,” Keilitz said of the changing landscape. “With athletics serving as the front door of the university, you want to be in position to put the university in the best light possible. So, we’re always evaluating what’s best for the university. It’s something we evaluate weekly. I think if an athletics director is not doing that, he’s not doing his job.”
Something that Keilitz isn’t re-evaluating is the possibility of adding football and taking on the multi-million dollar investment that would be required.
“It just doesn’t fit in well with what we are trying to do,” Keilitz said. “It would take so much money to get it started and that doesn’t include the capital expense of a stadium.”
In fact, Keilitz isn’t looking to add any sports.
“Not at this time,” Keilitz said. “We like the number of sports that we have. One of the problems we have is being landlocked, so that makes it tough to add any outdoor sports. I don’t see anything soon.”
Not even a revival of tennis.
“We would have to replace the courts, which would mean quite a sizable investment to do it right,” Keilitz said. “We still have a tennis program at the club level and have about 60 kids participating. But eliminating that from the intercollegiate budget and concentrating on our other sports turned out well.”
Recent success on the field leads Keilitz to boast that HPU is enjoying its best run since going Division I, citing the Panthers coming home with 10 conference championships in the past three years as opposed to nine championships in the previous 11 years as a Division I school.
“How we’ve improved by leaps and bounds is most remarkable,” Keilitz said.
The championships this season included regular-season titles in women’s soccer and men’s basketball, and a tournament championship in women’s lacrosse which resulted in the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m pleased how the whole program performed this past year,” Keilitz said. “You know, you can find fault with certain games in every sport but to see the overall improvement we made makes you happy.
“But the thing that makes me most proud is the character and integrity that our coaches and athletes have shown. They continue to do it the right way from the field to the classroom to community service. At the end of the day, it’s about winning championships. But to do it with high integrity is most important.”
Without football, men’s basketball is the program’s high-profile sport. The profile was raised this year with a division title, a record number of league wins (12) and the program’s first trip to a postseason tournament. The profile is projected to be high again next season with the return of 11 players who accounted for 79 percent of the scoring and 63 percent of the rebounding last season. He looks forward to the day when the profile will be raised more by playing in a new arena, which remains on the list of the future projects.
“We’ve come a long way since finishing last in the league four years ago,” Keilitz said. “Scott Cherry is certainly providing the right leadership for our program.”
While basketball has turned around. Keilitz looks for the same in golf. Part of golf’s problem is not having an on-campus practice facility, he said.
He also sees improvement in baseball after coming home with a record number of league wins despite not being able to finish above the .500 mark overall again.
“Every program in our league has positives and negatives,” Keilitz said. “I think we have more positives than anyone else in the league.”