Three current TROY coaches remember well the University’s transition to Division I athletics.
Head Basketball Coach Don Maestri, Head Football Coach Larry Blakeney and Head Softball Coach Melanie Davis have witnessed first hand the impact the transition has had on the athletics programs and the University as a whole.
Maestri took over the helm of the TROY basketball program in 1982. Perhaps the program’s watershed Division I moment came in the 2002-2003 season when the Trojans won both the Atlantic Sun Conference’s regular-season and tournament titles to advance to the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The following season, the Trojans earned the program’s first-ever bid to the National Invitational Tournament.
“Of course, I have seen how it was before the move to Division I, as well as after, and there is no doubt in my mind that the amount of visibility the University receives now is far greater than it ever could have been at the Division II level,” Maestri said. “You just can’t put a price tag on the amount of publicity and exposure you get. When the football team won the New Orleans Bowl that was the only football game on that night in the nation. When we went to the NCAA tournament, there was an article about us in the USA Today and we were included with the other teams that made the tournament on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The cost of buying that type of exposure for Troy University would be astronomical.”
Maestri believes athletics also plays a role in the University’s enrollment, which continues to steadily grow year after year.
“The beauty of this move is that it has played a role in making the University more attractive to potential students,” Maestri said. “Being more visible was a goal of the University and its leadership when this move to Division I was made, and I think that we have far exceeded what we could have imagined at that point.”
Blakeney joined the TROY coaching ranks in 1991. The football program transitioned to Division I-AA in 1992, compiling a 10-1 record that first year. The Trojans transitioned to Division I-A in 2001 and competed in their first full I-A season in 2002.
Blakeney took the Trojans to the first Division I bowl game, the Silicon Valley Bowl, in 2003 and recorded the University’s first-ever bowl win in 2005 with a 41-17 win over Rice in the New Orleans Bowl.
Blakeney believes the move to Division I athletics has had a tremendous impact on Troy University.
“From the University’s standpoint, the move to Division I athletics was the best and smartest decision our leadership and Board of Trustees could make,” Blakeney said. “And, the move of football to Division I was the icing on the cake. The move was necessary and has enabled our athletics program to do what it is designed to do for our University.”
Blakeney said that the visibility created through athletics is key to the University.
“The exposure our athletics teams receive allows the University the opportunity to keep pounding our message home,” Blakeney said.
When Davis first arrived at TROY, she coached both the softball and volleyball teams. One area of impact she readily recognizes is the service that is provided to the student-athlete.
“As we compete against the top programs in the nation, regardless of the sport, the visibility the University as a whole has received has been a tremendous asset,” Davis said.
Davis believes alumni of the University are excited about the progress both in athletics and TROY as a whole.
“I would think that our alumni are excited about the progress that has been made in the move to Division I. The added visibility received by the University through its athletic programs certainly has spilled over into other areas and the TROY name has become more widely recognized. It would seem to me that the greater attention has added to the value of our alumni’s degrees.”