From left: Women's Basketball Head Coach Beth O'Boyle, VCU President Michael Rao, Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics Ed McLaughlin and Men's Basketball Head Coach Will Wade

The importance of athletics

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Pictured from left: Women’s Basketball Head Coach Beth O’Boyle, VCU President Michael Rao, Associate Vice President and Director of Athletics Ed McLaughlin and Men’s Basketball Head Coach Will Wade.

Earlier today, we cut the ribbon on our Basketball Development Center, a best-of-its-kind practice facility for our men’s and women’s basketball teams. It was an exciting event with some very special people, including our head coaches, student-athletes, friends and donors, and some of the nation’s very best basketball fans on the eve of what promises to be a memorable season for the Rams.

But it was much more than just a fun day.

Opening this facility is important not only for VCU Athletics, but for all of VCU.

Why?

Because athletics is important to every part of our university.

I have the pleasure of serving in a national leadership position with the NCAA and am proud to bring VCU’s voice into the conversation about the future intercollegiate athletics. What has become very clear during these discussions is the passion people everywhere have for college sports, even if they are not affiliated with a particular university.

The real value of athletics, then, is that it becomes a window into a university, the way in which so many will come to discover all that a university represents.

Many who have no other connection to VCU have learned about our world-class academics because of our nationally renowned athletics.

Consider that in the wake of our historic 2011 Final Four run, student applications to VCU soared to record numbers; they are still markedly higher than before we became bracket busters. The day we reached the Final Four, hits to our university’s home page were in the millions. (Note that these were visits to our university webpage, not our athletics webpage.) Philanthropic support rose. Enrollment ultimately rose. And institutional pride swelled. I see VCU hats and shirts across campus and across Richmond in numbers I never did before.

As our baseball team reached the Super Regional this year — the very rare No. 4 seed to do so — VCU again made national headlines. Overall, our student-athletes brought home five Atlantic-10 teams championships last year, and, what’s more, brought interest and attention to VCU.

When I speak in the community, I am often asked about VCU Athletics. I hear stories from parents whose children want to attend VCU, in part, because they grew up watching the Rams and soon discovered that we are also distinguished in academics, research, creativity and clinical care.

While many learn about VCU because of athletics, when they look deeper, more closely, they see a university that is changing the world and advancing humanity through innovation, discovery, creativity, academic excellence and an unrelenting commitment to human health. They see us for what we are: The benchmark research university for the 21st century.

Our success and progress are not entirely about athletics, of course. Great athletics alone does not make us a great university.

Our faculty, staff and students have advanced Quest and furthered our critically important mission in profound ways. Our record levels of research and creative activity, philanthropic support and community engagement distinguish us from our peers. VCU Medical Center, which is uniquely both our region’s safety net and our state’s No. 1-ranked hospital, is both distinctive and nationally premier.

Our mission as a great research university will always be advancing the human condition through innovation, creativity, education, service and health care. It’s not winning basketball games.

But if people learn about VCU because we create Havoc and then discover we are also creating the future, then Havoc is important. Athletics is important.

And days like this, when we usher in a new chapter for VCU Athletics, certainly are important.