Players built for professional sports sometimes land on Division II courts and fields.
That was apparent to Mike Racy as far back as 1984, shortly after he enrolled at Washburn.
He attended a football game that featured a receiver named Jerry Rice, who caught 15 passes one Saturday when coach Archie “Gunslinger’’ Cooley brought his no-huddle attack to Topeka and Mississippi Valley State toppled the Ichabods 77-15.
After some 30 years working in athletic administration, Racy knows even more about the qualities of small-college athletics.
In six months as the MIAA commissioner, Racy is confident the conference can continue being a standard-bearer for Division II.
For every national championship captured by MIAA teams, including the sensational double by Northwest Missouri State last season in football and men’s basketball, Racy can also cite contributions from league administrators. Including the recent work of Washburn athletic director Loren Ferre’ on the Division II basketball selection committee.
Before arriving at MIAA headquarters, Racy worked at the NCAA since 1993 and was essentially in charge of Division II from 1999-2013.
“That network helps me in this job at the MIAA. It is hard being a commissioner,’’ Racy said. “You’re running a small business. You have a small staff, there’s a lot to do and there’s not really a commissioner’s handbook they send to you.’’
Chapter One would touch on the need to work hard and develop relationships.
That is what attracted Racy to small-college athletics at Washburn, where he was the campus intramural director as a junior before serving as assistant sports information director as a senior.
Washburn games he watched on KTWU as a kid growing up in Abilene prompted Racy to look into attending the university. It was in high school at Abilene that Racy played football for legendary coach Paul Dennis.
“I loved him,’’ Racy said. “I was part of a team that was a couple of years after his first state championship, so we had a lot of pressure playing football at Abilene, trying to carry that banner. Great coach. Great man.’’
Not long into his time at Washburn, Racy realized he wanted to work in athletics.
He moved on to obtain his law degree at UMKC, with the intention of becoming a sports agent.
“But I took a break, took some time off, worked at the NAIA, and worked in marketing and promotions,’’ Racy said. “It was a great place to kind of learn about how a national organization operates, and how a membership organization operates, and the network I developed.’’
Already, Racy has leaned on peers for advice as the MIAA commissioner.
In terms of promoting the conference, Racy can rely on his personal observations.
“In Division II we talk about life in the balance,’’ Racy said, pointing to good facilities, coaches and trainers provided at that level while also allowing athletes to focus on academies and community relations.
“Too often at universities at higher levels in the NCAA,’’ he said, “our schools attempt to shield off their athletes from the fans in the community, and young kids.’’
All Racy has to do is point to the field at the conclusion of any MIAA football game. It is filled with family, friends and fans interacting with players.
“After they’re done doing that, the kids are playing catch in the end zone,’’ Racy said. “At least for me, that’s what I want to be around when I think of college athletics.’’
Issues on the horizon for the MIAA, which begins the 2017 football season with a full schedule Thursday, include potential expansion.
The league consists of 14 members, though two, Lincoln and Southwest Baptist, are affiliated with different conferences for football.
“That arrangement will expire and we’ll be back to 14 football schools,’’ Racy said. “That number creates some scheduling concerns. Sixteen is a better number for a conference, so I think at some point soon, the MIAA will have some discussions about membership.’’
A temperature reading will have to be taken on whether new members must field football at all. Also, Racy said potential funding issues faced by current members could prohibit the MIAA from broadening the regional footprint it occupies in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska.
“Those issues are not immediate. They’re not pressure points right now,’’ said Racy, “but they are issues where we need to be pro-active and be thinking strategically about.’’
Meanwhile, the MIAA will attempt to build on its overall strength, which Racy admits is “the hard part of my job. Expectations are high. We need to work hard every day.’’
Contact Kevin Haskin at firstname.lastname@example.org or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.