When the opportunity to make history came along, California State University, Stanislaus Director of Athletics Milt Richards couldn't let it pass.
Richards announced Tuesday he will leave CSU Stanislaus to assume the post of Director of Athletics and Recreation at Simon Frasier University, in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.
The Vancouver-area school, home to more than 35,000 students, is in the process of breaking barriers by becoming the first international university to join the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
“Leaving Turlock and Cal State Stanislaus is a very difficult decision, but the opportunity to assist one of Canada’s finest universities towards becoming the first international university to join the NCAA is too good to pass up,” Richards said.
SFU, currently in its provisional year of NCAA DII membership as part of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, is already making waves with a No. 1 ranking in men’s soccer. However, as the program is in its provisional year, the university will not be eligible for the playoffs.
SFU also has an American football program – preferred over Canadian football throughout British Columbia – and top-tier softball and track and field programs among their 17 NCAA DII sports.
The transition to the NCAA brings a number of challenges for Richards to address, ranging from eligibility – five years in Canada, four years in the NCAA – to academic accreditation by an American accrediting agency – required for full NCAA membership, and uncommon for Canadian schools.
Richards will leave for Canada on Monday, beginning the job at SFU on Tuesday. He will live in an on-campus apartment in University City, on top of Burnaby Mountain.
The late notice comes due to a visa snafu; Richards landed the job 10 weeks ago after an international search and four in-person interviews in Burnaby, but had difficulties obtaining the proper work visas from the Canadian government.
CSU Stanislaus Provost James Strong will fill in for Richards on a short-term basis, with a longer-term interim appointment due in the coming weeks until a national search for Richards’ replacement can be completed.
“No one can replace Milt,” Strong said. “He’s one of a kind.”
During his 12 years as Director of Athletics at CSU Stanislaus, Richards oversaw the program’s rise in the ranks of NCAA DII. Twenty-six teams participated in postseason play, two teams received a regular season No. 1 rankings, and over 400 student-athletes earned All American and All Conference honors.
The program also succeeded in fundraising, generating more than $6.5 million in private funds and passing three student fee referendums in support of athletics, increasing the annual Warrior Athletics budget from $700,000 to more than $2.2 million today. The most recent of those referendums funded the $16 million Student Recreation Complex.
The construction of that facility led to CSU Stanislaus’ hosting of the NCAA DII Outdoor Track and Field Championships last May, bringing athletes from around the country to the Turlock campus. Richards credited the community for the success of that event.
“Everybody in Turlock, we’re all working together,” Richards said. “I’m very fortunate to have been surrounded by great people and great students.”
The university will host the tournament again this year, and has also hosted conference championships in track and field, soccer, softball and golf.
More importantly to Richards, though, was the emphasis he placed on academics, ensuring student-athletes graduated at a higher rate than the general student body. Since his arrival, CSU Stanislaus athletes have maintained a 3.0 GPA.
Richards previously worked as Director of Athletics at the State University of New York at Albany, guiding the program from NCAA DIII to DI – valued experience to the NCAA newcomer SFU.
“We have no doubt that he is the right person to lead our Athletics and Recreation department as we transition into the NCAA,” said Tim Rahilly, SFU associate vice-president of students. “He has an impressive track record of building successful programs through strong fundraising initiatives; impressive graduation rates of student-athletes and of course, fielding teams that win. His experience will be invaluable as we continue working towards becoming the first Canadian school with full-fledged membership in the NCAA."
Upon hitting the ground in Canada, Richards expects to start learning about Canadian culture, meeting with coaches, and building a strategic plan for SFU. From there, Richards will work to fundraise, market the school’s athletics to the area, and build the program – just as he did in Turlock.
Apart from his work with Warrior Athletics, Richards has been involved in the Turlock community as a member of the Turlock Noon Rotary Club, a Turlock Chamber of Commerce Board member, and as president of the Turlock Mosquito Abatement District Board.
David Heft, Turlock Mosquito Abatement district manager, said Richards’ attentiveness, collaboration with the City of Turlock to address issues, and efforts to develop the district’s technology would be missed.
“He’s been an excellent board member,” Heft said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Richards' new job could ultimately effects Turlockers beyond his direct sphere of influence, as his wife, Amy Bublak, currently serves as vice mayor of the City of Turlock and president of the Stanislaus County Chapter of the American Red Cross while not working as a City of Modesto police officer.
Bublak will remain in Turlock for at least the short term, she confirmed Tuesday, and expects to make a decision about her future in the coming months. Bublak's first term on the City Council is due to expire in December 2012.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.