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November 21, 2003

Playing In The Shadow Of Giants


By Bill Shumard, Athletic Director, Long Beach State University


It’s a long way from OSU and FSU and the other immense Division 1-A marquee athletic programs to the unassuming Division 3 and NAIA programs (where reason and sanity reign, everybody knows everybody and athletics are just another part of the college mosaic).

I run a Division 1-AAA program that falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Long Beach State and some 200 other institutions populate the NCAA’s Division 1-AA and 1-AAA classifications; we are one rung down the college athletics totem pole from the major league 1-A classification.  Our programs have much of the same hype and hoopla as those of the giants: dozens of scholarship athletes, big man on campus aura, high level competition, pro sports possibilities for our athletes, etc.  Many schools in these divisions have 30,000 (and more) students.  Division 1-AA and 1-AAA are not small college athletics by any means.

However large our programs might be, we are indeed a noticeable level removed from the titans of college athletics.  Division 1-A’s giants enjoy (and are sometimes cursed with) relentless media attention in major metro areas, states and sometimes entire regions of the country, plus major TV network and cable outlets.  Further, they enjoy the adulation of their alumni armies; mega budgets; and the pick of the litter from the country’s –and the world’s- preeminent high school athletes.

For nearly a decade I have been Athletic Director of the ‘big fish’ program that Long Beach State has become.  It is often a daunting challenge to swim in the big pond of Southern California, sharing the waters with the whales of UCLA and USC, not to mention substantial programs like UC-Irvine, Pepperdine and Cal State Fullerton and other ‘big fish’ 1-AA and 1-AAA programs.  Navigating the Long Beach program through such choppy and turbulent waters often presents a distracting and disconcerting challenge.  However, I learned long ago (philosophic platitude here) that it is far better to channel my energy toward the positive -aspiring to be the best we can be with what we have and who we are- rather than toward the negative (i.e.- “look how much bigger, faster, more popular those guys are!”). 

People are drawn to work in sports because of their competitive nature.  I am proud to say that everyone around me at Long Beach State strives to be the very best they can be, just like their counterparts at the big-time institutions.

It is against this backdrop that we have steadfastly solidified our niche in the Southern California college athletics marketplace.  We have studiously refrained from trying to be what we’re not; and we strive to be the best we can be at what we are.  Our goal is simply to be the best in Division 1-AAA.

And the results have been very gratifying.  Five of our 18 varsity teams were ranked in the national top 10 last year.  Our unique 18-story Pyramid physical education and athletics events center is a showpiece of versatility.  Our elite women’s volleyball team has earned national recognition.  Then there’s our renowned “Dirtbag” baseball program.  And Long Beach State’s prominence in hosting NCAA events.  The list goes on and on . . .

Not bad for playing in the shadow of giants.


[Bill Shumard was a hapless 3rd string quarterback for a woeful 2-7 Compton (CA) Junior College team in the 70’s when a visionary journalism instructor persuaded him to become the best he could be in something else.  Football’s loss, Athletic Directorship’s gain.]