College notes: Q&A with Detroit Mercy AD Robert Vowels

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Detroit Mercy athletic director Robert Vowels

This is the fifth in a weekly series of quick-hit Q&As catching up with the state's Division I athletic directors.

Up this week: Detroit Mercy's Robert Vowels, who's been on the job since 2013 after working as a vice president of membership and student-athlete affairs for the NCAA.

Question: Obviously, when folks talk about Detroit Mercy athletics, it starts with basketball, which has a rich history but has fallen on some tough times. What are reasonable expectations for Year 2 under coach Bacari Alexander?

Answer: Of course, with every season, every sport, you expect high expectations and championships, OK? That's always the goal. Realistically, you try to understand what we have, kind of what's here. We want to be above .500 in conference play (Horizon League), and then above .500 in nonconference play. Whatever that translates into, it needs to be a winning season. I think gauging on who Bacari is, what he is about, what he brings to the table and our recruiting ... and with the holdovers we have. I will say this, I don't think the cupboard was bare last year. But there needed to be some culture change, and that culture change has begun to happen. I don't think (above .500) would be (an unrealistically) quick turnaround. Bacari knows and I know, it's gotta be better than 8-23.

■ Q: Outside of simply winning, how do you get the excitement and the fans back to Calihan Hall?

■ A: That's a great, great question. The one asset that we have here on campus is Calihan Hall. I go everywhere, and somebody says, 'I went to a game at Calihan Hall,' or, 'I saw 11,000 people at Calihan Hall.' We've got a campaign going on, 'Welcome to Calihan Hall.' We've got five neighborhoods in this area, Sherwood Forest, Green Acres, Palmer Woods, the University District and Fitzgerald. There are 44,000 people in and around this campus, and we know this, at some point in time, they've come to Calihan Hall, so we're reaching out to them. Up and down Livernois Avenue, all the businesses ... it's an incredible building, and if they know nothing else about Detroit Mercy, they know about Calihan Hall. It's a community-engagement campaign.

■ Q: There's been so much turnover in the Horizon League, even recently, with Valparaiso leaving and IUPUI joining. Detroit Mercy's been in the league since 1980, and no other current member was there before 1994. What makes Detroit Mercy stay, and has the school ever looked to leave?

■ A: You always look, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're going any place. There's a reason why it fits for us. We're one of those early members, we've had success, I believe that our market is a good market for the conference. ... With Oakland being in it and that rivalry starting back up, and even with IUPUI coming in there, the geographic locations of Indianapolis and Detroit work well. With UIC in Chicago, we've got Cleveland with Cleveland State, we've got cities that I think work, with Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis that are big enough and strong enough to help make this conference something special.

■ Q: What's the biggest challenge you face at Detroit Mercy?

■ A: I think No. 1, it's facilities. I'd love to see us, at some point in time, renovate Calihan Hall. I'd love to see, at some point in time, an indoor practice facility out back. I'd love to see us, at some point in time, improve Titan Field with lights and maybe a stadium. I know the university is working on their end of things, trying to work on residence halls and new facilities. We're all looking at those type of things that attack not only the student but the student-athlete, too.

■ Q: Detroit Mercy dropped baseball in 2004, leaving Wayne State as the only college baseball team in a city with a rich baseball history. Is there any chance baseball could make its way back on the Titans roster?

■ A: It was tough seeing it go away. I will never say never, because this is a baseball city, a baseball town, and this was a baseball university. But at this point, with the expenses, I couldn't sit here and tell you absolutely (it will be back). But I will never say never.

Next week’s Q&A will be with Wayne State athletic director Rob Fournier.

This and that

Oakland has a new softball coach, and its an impressive hire from a Power Five conference — former Pitt assistant coach Lauren Cognigni.

"We believe she will lead the softball program to new heights," Oakland athletic director Jeff Konya said in a statement.

Cognigni, a four-year starting pitcher at Saint Joseph's (2005-08), replaces Connie Miner, who resigned last month.

... Recently graduated Oakland women's basketball star Hannah Little has signed to play professionally with the Athinaikos Basketball Club of the Greek A1 League. The Rochester Hills native averaged a double-double this past season (11.2 points, 11.4 rebounds), and even played in the Horizon League tournament with a broken hand.

... Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich, who recently drew interest from Stanford, hadn't yet signed his five-year extension as of late last week, but is expected to shortly. He should get a sizable raise from $182,327, his base pay in 2016-17 in the last year of his original five-year contract.

... Wayne State volleyball player Michelle Asiedu has been in Ghana since July 7 as part of the university's Medical Brigades program, which provides treatment for thousands of patients. She has been blogging about her trip, from which she is set to return Wednesday.

... Found out recently mascot costumes aren't cheap. Western Michigan's Bronco costume, for instance, costs about $18,000 brand new, which is why the school only has two of them. I can only imagine what Sparty will set you back.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984