Photo By Briana Contreras

Mike Thomas sits at his new desk, planning for Cleveland State athletics with more campus involvement in the future.


May 9, 2017

New AD plans changes for CSU athletics

Mike Thomas, Cleveland State University’s new athletic director, began his career in athletics after receiving his master’s degree in sports management at Western Illinois University and interning in college athletics at The University of Iowa. Thomas will use his 32 years of experience and success as an AD at other universities to help Cleveland State’s athletic program.

With notable experience as an AD at the University of Akron from 2000-2005, The University of Cincinnati from 2005-2011 and The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign from 2011-2015, Thomas brought his success from each school to Cleveland State, following in the footsteps of the previous AD, John Perry, who according to Thomas “has experience at the highest level and integrity.”

Thomas said that he enjoyed his run at Illinois. During his stay, athletics had success competitively by winning national championships, claiming four Big Ten titles in one year and making many Bowl and NCAA tournament appearances. He also helped raise the most money in the history of the university, student athletes’ academics improved, more students became connected to the community and it had no NCAA issues. Thomas also added that he assembled the $170 million renovation of Illinois basketball arena, The State Farm Center, making it the biggest project in team history.

“I can walk away saying we did a lot of good things there,” said Thomas. “[I left] with good feelings and [I’m] wishing them nothing but the best.”

After leaving Illinois, Thomas did consultant and search work for college ADs and coaches for 15 months. During that time, Thomas said he found many AD opportunities, but no university took his interest as Cleveland State did.

“Some [opportunities] were perceived as being terrific jobs in the industry, but really at the end of the day it [Cleveland State] was where I wanted to be and who I wanted to be working for,” he said. “This was about where I was going and what opportunities I could take to make a difference.”

Since his arrival at Cleveland State, which was two months ago, he said his time on campus has been terrific.
“I’m on a listening and learning tour,” said Thomas who is still in the process of meeting people on campus, finding their roles and how things fit together at Cleveland State. “This is my fourth AD job. I know how to do that [athletic director] part of the job and I think I do it very well. People are different and how they do things are different.”

Thomas also added that he is still getting grounded on the history of the program with past strategic plans, old reports and looking at the greatest areas of need for athletics. He has also been meeting with coaches and unit directors one–on–one to see what patterns or significant plans they follow and what is needed to develop long-term plans for the future.

Thomas said that engaging with not only athletics but also the whole campus is important. At Cleveland State he works with 17 different sports on campus, more than 300 student athletes and their coaches on a campus with more than 18,000 students.

“I don’t believe you can live in a silo if you’re in the athletic department,” Thomas said. “You have to work well with others on campus and be integrated.”

As he becomes more familiar with Cleveland State’s campus and its athletics, Thomas is beginning to plan what he wants from athletes, students, staff and downtown Cleveland to help the university grow.

“When you look at the campus and see what’s happened in the snapshot time with [President Ronald Berkman], a lot of great stuff has happened with the growth downtown and on campus,” Thomas said. “With the physical transformation and raising of money, it’s exciting. It’s on an upward trajectory and you want to be part of that momentum because in athletics you need that as well. He has high expectations for the school and wants the best for athletics, as I do.”

Thomas wants the university to be competitive in any sport it sponsors. He also wants all of the programs to participate in NCAA postseason play and to supply them with the correct resources to do so.
Resources, he said, will help each sport go to a higher level. According to Thomas, one of the recurring issues at Cleveland State is that it has to do a much better job at fundraising.

“We need to round the bases and slide into home plate with a great fundraising program,” Thomas said. “Those are the kind of things that will make a difference.”

Not only does Thomas wish to make a difference through competition, skills and fundraising, but also improvements on academics and making sure students are focused on graduating. He also wants faculty get the correct resources for students and supports them on their journey of graduating. He also wants better engagement from not only the population on campus, but from people downtown as well so the Viking brand can grow in more places than just northeast Ohio.

Making Cleveland State a bigger name, taking more sports to postseason play, improving academics and raising enough money for students so they can reach any of those goals are at the top of the list for Thomas. He said that in his experience as an AD, it takes a lot of work to help a campus grow and improve, but overall it’s his job and he loves it.


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