Larry Williams says his life is “about using athletics to grow as a person.” The commitment at Marquette University to that approach to its athletes is what convinced him to become Marquette’s athletic director a year ago, and it is the centerpiece of the philosophy guiding major decisions on Marquette’s sports future, Williams said during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session at Eckstein Hall on Thursday.
The foremost of those major decisions is the recently-announced move to withdraw, along with six other Catholic universities, from the Big East conference and form a new conference. “At the end of the day, we’re really excited about the opportunity to control our own destiny,” Williams said of the move.
Williams said Marquette leaders were aware of the risks of starting a new league, but he was confident that the future would bear out the wisdom of the decision. In the Big East, as it is shaped now, “our destiny was being determined by a sport we didn’t even participate in,” Williams said, referring to football. “We wanted to align with schools that have the same objectives we have” when it comes to athletic excellence and development of athletes as individuals.
Williams said many details were not set yet, including when the new conference will be launched and what other universities might join. He described Butler as a school that would “fit beautifully” in the new league, but made it clear he was not announcing that Butler would be part of the league.
Williams emphasized Marquette’s commitment to fielding teams that are able to compete at the elite level of college athletics, particularly in basketball.
Asked by Gousha if college athletics as a whole has “lost its mind,” Williams said he didn’t think that was so, but that pressures between the need for media contracts and corporate sponsorships sometimes collide with what college athletics should be at its best.
He said Marquette leaders were convinced both that the new league would attract good television contracts and that Marquette would maintain its commitment to its student athletes. “We’re trying to use elite level competition to grow young men and young women,” he said. “We want to win like nobody’s business,” he said, but to do that within Marquette’s Jesuit mission.
Williams listed two things Marquette athletics would need in the future: Continued investment in scholarships and a field house to be used both by athletes in sports such as soccer and students in general, particularly during winter weather. There are no immediate plans for a field house, Williams said, but he expects Marquette to work with the city of Milwaukee and the surrounding community to develop a plan in the future.
Asked by an audience member if college sports should move to a model in which athletes are paid, Williams said, “I am fundamentally opposed to paying student athletes. That’s not the game.”
And asked about concerns about the long-term impact of concussions on football players, Williams, a former National Football League lineman, said, ”I love the game of football” and he called the sport “an unbelievable art” and “a ballet” as well as a team game. But he said he has many friends and former teammates who are struggling now because of injuries they received as players. He said there is no guarantee football will be played in today’s format 20 years from now.
Williams was director of athletics and recreation at the University of Portland before joining Marquette. He is a native of Santa Ana, Calif., and he was an All-American player at the University of Notre Dame. He played in the NFL for seven seasons. He has a law degree from the University of San Diego Law School.
Video of his conversation can be viewed by clicking here.