Steve Moniaci is HBU’s fourth director of Athletics. For about a decade, he has overseen the operations of the department and its 17 NCAA Division I sports programs. During his tenure, HBU successfully transitioned back to NCAA Division I membership status, joined the Southland Conference, started a football program and a beach volleyball program, and built a 5,000-seat stadium on campus.
Tell us how you came to serve as the director of HBU Athletics.
I’m from a little town called Piqua, Ohio, which is about 25 miles north of Dayton, Ohio.
Career-wise, I was at Rice University for 26 years. I started out over there at about as low as you can start as an intern in the athletic department working in marketing and promotions. And over the course of 26 years, I was very fortunate to be able to stay there that entire time. And when I left, I was the senior associate athletic director there – the number two person in the athletic department.
In 2006, I took a job at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. And then there were some family circumstances that brought me back to Houston. I got a call in late December from HBU president, Dr. Sloan. He wanted to know if I would come out and do a study for him about what it would take to get this University to come back to Division I athletics. I became the associate director of Athletics here, then interim director and director a couple of years later. The rest is history.
What was it like bringing University sports back to Division I status?
Up until 1990, HBU was in the Transamerica Athletic Conference as a Division I institution. We had a number of different sports – many of the same we’re playing today. HBU had a very good history and was a very good Athletics department.
There was a change of college leadership and the focus wasn’t on intercollegiate athletics at the highest level. And so initially, athletics was dropped, but then brought back at the NAIA level. And it was a strong NAIA Athletic department. The year that I got here in the spring of 2007, the University actually made an appearance in all five national championships that it competed in.
Interestingly enough, when Dr. Sloan asked me to look into what it would take, we started digging into the rules book. The NCAA, as most people know, has a lot of rules. The rule book is thick. We did some research and found a line in the book that if you had been a NCAA member prior, you could come back to Division I. It would take you three years to come back. And so in the spring of that year, we sent a letter to the NCAA asking for readmittance to the NCAA citing that rule and asking what that three-year period would look like.
Finally, in midsummer, we got a letter back from them saying, “Thank you for your application and your check for the membership fee. However, we meant to take that line out of the manual. It will be a seven-year process to come back into the NCAA.”
Well, we somehow didn’t think that was probably quite right because it was obviously written in the NCAA manual that it was only a three-year wait. We felt like the seven-year probationary period for a team that had been a Division I team before was a bit much. So we had a legal battle with the NCAA. Two-and-a-half years later, we settled that suit. Neither side won. However, we got back into the NCAA, so you can figure out from there who actually won. It ended up being close to a four-year process. So, we came back into the NCAA as full members.
Please talk about establishing the HBU football program.
Almost as soon as we got back in Division I, Dr. Sloan asked me to take a look at what it would take to play Division I football. The NCAA has a rule that if you’re Division I in all your sports, then any sport you add has to be Division I. If you’re Division II or III, you can play up in one sport. But if you’re in Division I in all the rest of your sports, whatever sport you start is going to have to be Division I. So we knew that we were going to have to start football at the Division I level.
So we knew that the most likely candidate for us was going to be the Southland Conference. It’s a regional conference. We are surrounded by Southland Conference teams; that was really the conference that fit us best. We went up to meet with the commissioner of the Southland Conference. We had met with him a couple of years prior when we were in the transition period. He said at the time, “If you want in, you’re probably going to have to start football.”
So we went back to him and said, “Well, what if we started football?”
He said, “If you tell me you’ll start football, we’ll come down and do a tour of your campus with our membership folks and see if you’re a proper fit for the Southland.” Later in the fall, they came in and did a tour of the campus. We put on a really nice dog and pony show. It wasn’t but a week later that they came back and said, “Assuming you’re willing to start football, we’re willing to take you in. And so that really was the impetus to get the football program started.”
It’s a major undertaking to establish a football program. It’s hiring, recruiting, everything.
The first spring after we announced the football program, we had 11 or 12 young men on the campus who came out for spring drills. We did spring drills on an intramural field that was located about where the football field is now. I remember Coach Vic Shealy and I were out there lining off the field with a marker.
We went out and recruited, and I think our initial class was somewhere in the neighborhood of 60. We did it a little differently than some other folks have done it; that first year, we played football as a club sport. We started out our first game – our very first football game – at Sam Houston State. It was a very hot, late August, early September day. It was probably easily 110 or 120 degrees on the turf out there. We had a huge contingent and filled about half the stadium up there. I’ll never forget, Dr. Sloan came up to me and said, “I met more HBU alumni today than I’ve met in the five years since I’ve been president.”
When the game was over, all of our fans went down to where the visiting team came off the field and stood and clapped for our kids. It really got us off on the right foot.
What are the latest developments?
When we got into football, we knew what we needed to have. And that’s what we built. We needed to have about 5,000 seats. We needed to have a press box. We needed to have some locker rooms. But we’re getting to the point now where, to keep up with everybody else, and to make advances out in the field with everybody else, we’re going to need to improve our facilities. And so I formed a committee back in the early spring along with Coach Shealy to look at what it would take, how much it would cost, and then where we would go to get the resources to do a little bit more with the facility out there. And we’re currently right now in the phase of putting all the numbers together to make sure that we know exactly what it’s going to cost us before we go out and start asking folks to help us out.
Also, our beach volleyball program has just taken off. We’re only in our second year and we were in the top 30 teams in the country this past year. We hope to get better next year. So that’s a sport that’s emerging within the NCAA.
What sets HBU Athletics apart?
As I always say, our Athletic department is built on three pillars. Most athletic departments are built on two – academics and athletics. The really good ones do a good job at academics and athletics. We build on three. Our third leg is that of Christian principles. And so no one leg is any longer than another one, but I will tell you that, at the end of the day, the Christian principles one is probably the strongest. The analogy I always use is of a barstool. If you have a stool that only has two legs, it’s going to be hard to balance on that stool. If you have a stool that has three legs, you’re pretty solid.
How do HBU coaches stand out from others?
HBU coaches are role models. All of them are fine Christians and very much believe in the development of the individual athlete. We’re a small institution where staff know the individual students. It’s important that we win or lose, but it’s not the most important thing. That’s the message we try to impart to all of our coaching staff: love these kids.
We all work together as a team in the Athletics department. You can’t do it alone. I’m very blessed to be here and to build something and work toward a vision.