Athletic director forums open with Tommy Bell


By Aaron Graff, @Aarongraff_DE

The first of four SIU athletic director finalists had a community forum Friday at John C. Guyon Auditorium in Morris Library.

Tommy Bell, director of athletics at Western Illinois University, said Southern Illinois University would be a destination job for him.

Bell submitted a 10-point plan called, “Restoring the Glory,” to SIU President Randy Dunn on Friday. He mentioned three key points of his plan: The importance of academics for athletes, cost benefit efficiency and any new opportunities of revenue.


He previously served as the director of athletics at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne.

Before that, Bell spent six years as the Constituent Development Officer for SIU Athletics. He led the capital campaign efforts for the Saluki Way master facility plan.

Bell — who holds a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Virginia Tech and a master’s in health and physical education from Radford — has served for six different first year athletic directors. He said he learned more during his time at SIU than anywhere else.

“I was fortunate enough to stand on the shoulders of giants so that I could cast a bigger vision,” Bell said. “I was able to take the things I learned here in southern Illinois. I had the most growth in the history of my career right here on this campus. That’s why this job is very, very important to me. I grew so much, I had the opportunity of becoming an athletic director.”

He said people will remember the nice guy he was, and while he has returned, he is now a business man who will make tough decisions.

A main decision is the proposed budget cuts by Gov. Bruce Rauner, which could cut a total of $44 million from Carbondale’s campus.

“Everyone’s waiting to see what the final number is going to be,” Bell said. “The big buzz in the state is the impending cuts that’s been put across the bow for everyone.”


Bell said his staff, of roughly 80 people, at WIU is planning for cuts as well. He said he wants to make sure the student athlete experience is still great, while being competitive.

He said he does not believe in micromanaging coaches, but he needs to know what is going on and what the plan is.

“You just have to be there with them,” Bell said. “You build that relationship with them. Once you understand everything, if you know what’s going on, you can kind of help that coach handle the situation.”

Bell said winning generates everything, as far as revenue, and student athletes want people to attend their events. However, it is a difficult task.

“Getting students to attend sporting events might be the hardest activity in college athletics today, especially in the mid-majors,” Bell said.

He said he would try to make games more appealing if the teams are losing. In western Illinois, the largest industry is agriculture, he said, so he made an “agriculture day” theme for sporting events.  

Bell said he wants to promote smaller market sports as well. The Academic All-American Player of the Year in women’s basketball, junior Ashley Luke, attends WIU, and he made sure to publicize her success. 

“Once she had the big win, we’ve really promoted it,” Bell said. “She’s on every alumni newsletter.”  

Bell also has ties to the university. 

His two kids, Joey and Courtney, graduated from SIU. His wife Laurie also worked on campus as the assistant director of the University Honors Program and the director of the Office Major Scholarship Advisement.  

“Quite simply, I have a great love for this institution,” Bell said in his closing statement. “Not only did I work here for a very special time in its history, but my children are graduates, my wife has had an incredible career here. Southern Illinois is a very special place. Together, we can restore the glory.”

Bell said he would have to negotiate a contract and did not disclose an amount he would need.

The next open forum is for former University of Northern Iowa Director of Athletics Rick Hartzell. His forum is from 3 to 3:45 p.m. Monday at the Student Center Auditorium.

Aaron Graff can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 256.