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Balance Approach

Washburn education propelled career for MIAA commissioner

Mike Racy

From The Ichabod - Fall 2019

Mike Racy, bba ’87, got his start at Washburn where the small setting made him feel he could make a difference. He has since worked to build similar opportunities for student-athletes as commissioner of the MIAA, the athletic conference Washburn has been a part of since 1989. He talked this summer about changes in the MIAA and what excites him about the balanced experience student-athletes get.

How did you chose Washburn and what was your experience like here?

I grew up in Abilene, Kansas, and really wanted to go someplace where I knew I could get involved. Washburn was one of a handful of schools I looked at and it just felt like a good place for me. I got a business degree, was involved in a fraternity (Phi Delta Theta) and got involved in student government. When I think back on the start of my career, I know the experience I had at Washburn helped open some doors and helped me get a start in intercollegiate athletics.

You were NCAA vice president for Division II until 2013. What excites you about Division II?

A lot of the hot button issues today – whether student-athletes should be compensated more than they receive in their scholarships, the health and safety of student-athletes, scheduling issues and the balance of being a student and being an athlete – those are the same issues we’ve always dealt with in college sports. I think we did a really good job of helping brand Division II as a special place where this balanced student-athlete experience could occur, where student-athletes were still very engaged in the student body, still very involved in their communities. Balance is such an important word in Division II. One great example is the national partnership we started with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I think Division II is closing in on $5 million raised by our student-athletes and granting hundreds of wishes for young people. We also started the Division II National Championships Festival that takes place once a year in either the fall, winter or spring. It brings all the Division II championships together in the same location, kind of like an Olympic format. Washburn’s experience there was a great example of what Division II athletics is all about – the volleyball team competing at the highest level, but the student-athletes are thinking beyond themselves and to this young person who is part of the Make-A-Wish program. It’s a great story that touches your heart.

You became MIAA commissioner in 2017. What have been your favorite moments in that role?

There’s nothing more fun for a commissioner than being part of a championship celebration. Obviously, I get to do that at our championships when I hand out the trophy, but to be in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a couple of times and see the Northwest Missouri men and Central Missouri women basketball teams win a national title, to be in Kansas City on the sideline of the soccer field when the Central Missouri women won an exciting championship, to be down at Pittsburg State when Pittsburg State track and field in the last race clinched a national title, those are exciting moments.

The other memory that sticks with me is every year when we host the MIAA Hall of Fame celebration. It’s an opportunity for us to hear the stories of not just what these people did when they were on our campuses, but what they have gone on to do. That just reinforces to me how important intercollegiate athletics is to the success of our country.

What are your favorite things to tell people about the MIAA?

Since I became commissioner in 2017, our schools have won 11 different national championships by eight different schools in six different sports. To me, that speaks about the breadth and depth of excellence in our conference. The other thing we like to talk about is how old the conference is. Dating back to 1912, that puts the MIAA in the same company as the Big 10, the Missouri Valley Conference and the Ivy League.

Fans will see changes this year with the departure of Southwest Baptist University and Lindenwood University and the addition of associate members Newman University and Rogers State University. Tell us about them.

We had an opportunity this past year to think for the first time of bringing in schools that do not have football. Rogers State, in Claremore, Oklahoma, just outside of Tulsa, and Newman, in Wichita, Kansas, are schools in our geographic footprint, they’re schools that are currently Division II members and schools with great academic reputations. The coaches and student-athletes in those schools won’t notice anything different. They’ll play an MIAA schedule, compete for MIAA championships and be eligible for the automatic qualifier to get into the NCAA tournament. The difference as associate members will be voting rights, shares the schools get of NCAA money and things like that. It gives us a chance as a conference to consider someday for those schools to become full members and possibly grow to 16 schools, 12 with football and four that don’t have football.

The MIAA got a new office. How is that going?

The move to what used to be Kemper Arena, now Hy-Vee Arena in Kansas City, has been great. Hy-Vee Arena has been repurposed as a multi-level sports complex with 12 full-size basketball courts and volleyball courts. The move opened an opportunity for branding and marketing. We’re excited about the opportunity through signage to tell the story of the MIAA and our schools. People see those schools and start to see some of the success they have had nationally. We’re also excited to get to host some events there including the MIAA volleyball tournament this year. You know from Washburn’s run last year that we have great volleyball in the MIAA. Hopefully we’ll be able to attract a lot of young volleyball players around the Kansas City area to watch. We certainly love playing the MIAA basketball tournament at Municipal Auditorium. The MIAA is able to kick off March Madness in Kansas City before the Big 12 roles in and the NCAA tournament starts. We don’t anticipate moving that, but there’s a chance we might move some non-conference basketball events to Hy-Vee Arena.

The Ichabod magazine spring 2021

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2021 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

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