First-year athletic director Jim Sterk trumpeted a successful year at the helm of Missouri’s college sports franchise Monday during an appearance at the Tiger Club of Kansas City Golf Tournament at Staley Farms Golf Club in Kansas City, Mo.
Sterk beamed as he talked about junior distance star Karissa Schweizer’s latest national title in 5,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
“With her third title, it ended up with women’s outdoor track being 17th in the country,” Sterk said. “That meant 10 of our 20 programs were in the top 25. That’s significant, and probably our best year ever. We’ll see where it ends up on the Learfield Cup, but it’s a significant amount. A lot of great things have happened this past year, but I think the future is even brighter and I’m really excited about it.”
That bright future includes resurgent interest in Mizzou men’s basketball, which has endured a 27-68 stretch during the last three seasons but is poised to reemerge as a top-25 program led by new coach Cuonzo Martin and top 2017 prospect Michael Porter Jr.
“(Hiring Martin) got people excited about basketball and that was really the main purpose — to bring basketball back to a competitive level and get the state really excited about Mizzou basketball, like they’ve been in the past,” Sterk said.
Sterk also expressed excitement about Missouri softball, which opened a new $17.5-million stadium this spring and reached an NCAA regional for the 10th straight season.
The program didn’t quite play to the lofty standards established under coach Ehren Earleywine, but Sterk said there’s reason for optimism around the program.
“I had a good debriefing, end-of-the-season wrap-up and he’s really excited about the upcoming season,” Sterk said of Earleywine. “He has some momentum with a lot of players coming in. About half the team will be new next year, so he’s excited about where softball’s at.”
Earleywine is entering the final year of his contract and will remain the Tigers’ coach.
“He’s proven himself to be a really quality coach and then took it to heart, I think, what happened last year,” Sterk said. “I think he’s really working to improve … but I think we have a good leader there that will continue to lead softball.”
Sterk said he’d encountered no issues similar to those that prompted an investigation in Earleywine’s conduct last spring under his predecessor, Mack Rhoades.
“It was a good year,” Sterk said. “We talked about some things that he had brought up. I think he’s got a great support in (assistant athletic director) Brian Brown, who’s his sports liaison. The three of us met after the season and we’re moving forward.”
Also moving forward is Mizzou’s joint investigation with the NCAA into allegations of academic fraud within the athletic department, which surfaced in November when former tutor Yolanda Kumar blew the whistle on herself.
Sterk said the investigation remains ongoing and MU won’t receive any notice of allegations from the NCAA until that process concludes.
“I really don’t have a timeline,” Sterk said. “I wish I did, but I don’t. The NCAA hasn’t given us any timeline on that. Hopefully sooner rather than later. … It’s still in fact-finding. Until that happens and that’s done then we’ll be able to know a little bit more of what the timeline is, but I don’t have anything.”
He indicated in late April that he hoped the entire process could be wrapped up within the next six months — which might be ambitious, though he doesn’t anticipate anything as drawn out as the continuing saga at North Carolina.
“It will not be that long,” Sterk said with a laugh. “I can almost guarantee that. … When it started, I would say, ‘We’ll have this wrapped up in three to six months,’ but now I don’t know. It’s nothing that’s negative or worse, anything like that, but it just takes it a long time for these things to go through.”