Building success on and off the court


Fans voted for a new court design during the 2014-15 basketball season. The black top court was completed in April.

By Kristen Davis

The 2014-15 athletic year was historic for the Golden Grizzlies.

From winning five Horizon League tournament championships, to receiving an all-sports trophy for the first time in the 40-year history of athletic competition and even leading the league for the fourth straight semester with 125 student-athlete honor roll selections, success came on a variety of levels.

The Grizzlies had over 85 games streamed on ESPN3 and every home men’s and women’s basketball game aired on local television. The Grizzlies also appeared on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays more than once.

Not only does the Oakland University Athletic Department want to continue that success, but they also are proactively working towards fulfilling a variety of other aspects.

“This is my eighth year here, and we’ve never had a year like this,” Senior Assistant Athletic Director of Public Relations Scott MacDonald said. “I mean obviously our student-athletes did a tremendous job, but we had a huge shift in culture.”

That shift in culture is something Director of Athletics Jeff Konya brought with him when he first arrived at Oakland in August of 2014. Since his arrival, he’s led the way for the recent changes and adjustments made by the department.

“We are focused on the student-athlete experience as a driver in our decision-making process,” Konya said.

“If you combine that thought with the new “Ethos” and focus on our process of how we do things each and every day, the results will come and the results will be in a better position to be sustained.”

Out with the mission statement, in with the ethos

The Ethos of Oakland University Athletics were recently created in place of a mission statement. MacDonald said this was done partly because mission statements are quickly outgrown.

“One of our major hallmarks is to be limitless where anything and everything is possible in Oakland Athletics,” Konya added. “Having a belief statement, or an ethos statement, is more concerned with the means of getting there as opposed to the ends. It just fits our new culture better.”

First-class, knowledge, innovative, forward-thinking, efficiency, positive attitude, maximum effort, welcoming environment and relationship-oriented are the keywords in the ethos, and they can be found printed on the walls in the athletic office in the O’rena.

MacDonald said the ethos are at the center of the department talks now.

Improving the game day experience

Enhancing the game day experience for both student-athletes and fans is another area of focus, and the new lighting and sound renovations in the O’rena will enhance both.

The project starts in July and will last until late August. It will be completed in time for the opening volleyball tournament on Sept. 17.

The new LED lights will double the current light levels on the court and allow Oakland to meet NCAA Tournament standards, according to MacDonald.

“We’re going to have the ability to have the lights on the court, dim lighting around the concourse and the stands and turn our lights off for the pregame, so it’s really going to amp up that game day experience,” MacDonald said.

“More importantly, it’s going to help our student-athletes and give them a better experience. It’s going to help our broadcast as well.”

Renovating the sound system was a top priority, especially since the special events held in the O’rena required the university to rent speakers. With the new system, those additional costs are eliminated.

The new HD sound system will not only strengthen public address and presentations on the video board, but it also will make microphone and pre-recorded media messages easier to understand.

MacDonald said that the new lighting and sound, along with the dance and cheer teams and the increased interaction with Grizz Gang and the band all enhance the game day experience for both the athletes competing and the fans watching. 

Increasing fan involvement

Getting more fans involved is another area the department has focused on.

When Konya first arrived at the university, he invited key constituents from the university, student-athletes, key donors and others who cared about Oakland to the O’rena for an open discussion of ideas and suggestions for the department.

“There are a lot of constituents around the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, and they have passion, ideas and interest in always improving the current state of affairs,” Konya said. “We found great symmetry between what we heard and what we believed, and I think it is why all of our changes worked so well and were so universally applauded.”

The fan interaction increased with the “Wear the Bear” marketing campaign, which was created after the open meeting. The phrase in its entirety is “See the bear. Be the bear. Wear the bear,” and the phrase has sat well with the university and its students.

After the department forged a partnership with Postano Social Media Hub, people could begin using the hashtag “Wear the Bear” in their posts on social media and those posts would appear on the Golden Grizzlies website or the big screen during games in the O’rena.

Fans also were able to vote for the new court design during the 2014-15 basketball season. The black top court was completed in April, and the new design received national spotlight through features on ESPN, Yahoo! Sports, Sports Illustrated and the Washington Post, among others.

The department also concentrated on getting students on campus to embrace athletics more.

“That’s something we’ve kind of been lacking in athletics, as much as we’ve tried to get the students to come out,” Konya said. “We spent more time in the Oakland Center, we spent more time in the dorms, we spent more times doing socials where we just invited everybody and I think that helped us get the support we needed from the students.”

Maintaining transparency and momentum

Moving into the future, the department wants to maintain the transparency they’ve created with both the fans and the student-athletes and build off the momentum gained after the successful year.

MacDonald said getting to know student-athletes and educating them about what the department does is something they staff in the athletic department is going to spend more time doing in upcoming years.

“Before, we all had a job to do. But then you get a change with the president and you get a change with the athletic director and they both have the same ideas and it’s really kind of taking off here,” he added.

“Now the key is, keep the momentum going. The hardest thing to do is repeat, and it’ll be a tough task for our student-athletes, but I think they’re up for the challenge.”