Building A Dynasty The Hard Way

Grand Valley State relies on hard work and fundraising to bring success to Allendale

Aug. 22, 2007

By Brandon Misener

Special to


Brandon Misener

Brandon is the Editor of and writes twice-weekly for
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Like any successful coach, Grand Valley State head coach Chuck Martin often gets asked about the secret to the Lakers' success.


After all, how can a program win four out of five national championships while playing in five out of six?   Does he cheat? Does no other team try as hard as Grand Valley State?


While most don't want to believe it, the simple truth of the matter is that Grand Valley State hasn't sold its soul to the devil and the players aren't on steroids, nor are the Lakers lining up to find ways to spend hoards of cash. They're taking the old-fashioned approach.




The NCAA allows coaches to mandate a maximum of 20 hours per week in which they give players tasks, such as practice or workouts or team meetings. Most coaches and teams maximize this time, but it is often what players do in their free time that makes the difference between winning and losing.


If the results are any indication, the Grand Valley State players work harder than their Division II counterparts.


"I think we work harder than some people," Martin said. "For us, preparation is everything. That's all we ever talk about, whether it's in season or out of season, whether it's film study or practice. How much extra time are your kids willing to put in on their own?"


That hard work results in smart players, which are often the difference when playing the toughest competition. GVSU uses tools available to most college students.


"Now with the days of technology the good players have stuff on their laptops," Martin said. "They're back in their dorms at night and have cut-ups on their laptops. A lot of our good players do that sort of thing. You can become much more of a student of the game than ever."


A common complaint by those in athletics about those in academia is that they do not understand the value of athletics to the university, but that certainly is not the case at GVSU. Beginning with Grand Valley State President Thomas Haas, the support starts at the top and gives the Laker football team a chance to excel.


"It starts above the athletic staff with the administrative staff," Martin said. "I just think Grand Valley is committed to being the best that they can be in everything they do. That's not just athletics - that's academics and that's facilities and everything else. That starts at the president and goes down."


While the president enables athletics to be successful, championships don't happen by accident. Martin credits Athletic Director Tim Selgo as another driving force behind the Lakers' success.


"I think Tim Selgo is the best A.D. in the country," Martin said. "Everybody brags about their boss, but I'm the one that actually means it. Grand Valley was very good on a regional and conference basis but no one could have imagined a GLIAC (Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) team would have chances in national competition."


With an undergraduate enrollment that continually hovers around 20,000, many try to claim that Grand Valley State is a Division I institution masquerading as a Division II school. While a large enrollment can certainly help a school enter Division I from a standpoint of paying for athletics with student fees, the most important factor is a school's athletic budget.


From that standpoint, Grand Valley State is no different than its conference counterparts.


"My budget is in the middle of the pack in our league, but no one wants to hear it," Martin said.  "Everyone wants to hear that Grand Valley has this and that. We fundraise it. When we have a major project we raise money to do it. It's not like the state of Michigan gives us any more money than any of the other schools, but we seem to have a lot more stuff."


Once again, Martin credits Selgo.


"It's been his vision of how to generate revenue through athletics to help support his programs," Martin said.  "A lot of it is because of his vision and his ability to execute his vision."


Support, hard work, and playing smart football won't result in wins without the talent. When it comes to procuring that talent, Grand Valley State might have the best geographical situation in Division II. 


Allendale is a stone's throw from Grand Rapids, Mich. That means Allendale is essentially in the 39th largest media market in the country, coming in ahead of places like Las Vegas, Memphis, Jacksonville, and New Orleans.


Plus, Martin says the area offers something for everyone.


"The location of our university is certainly an advantage because we're in Allendale and it's kind of a slow farm town," Martin said. "If I have to recruit a kid from a rural area they're not going to think `Wow, I'll never be comfortable here.' They'll think, "Wow, there are cows and chickens within a mile of campus, so this is okay."


But Grand Valley State's proximity to Grand Rapids makes players from large cities feel just as comfortable.


"It's not Chicago or Detroit, but there is at least a little bit of a skyline and there is a downtown feel," Martin explained. "It's not a very big downtown, but for somebody like me that's from Chicago - cows and chickens don't fire me and my wife up - but we do like to go to downtown Grand Rapids. We can legitimately recruit a kid from any area."


Right now, Grand Valley is the model program in Division II. They have great support from above and their football team is comprised of players who work hard and study the game of football. They make few mistakes.


It's almost impossible to imagine a situation in which the Lakers won't be successful. The Lakers simply have good support and recruit good players who work hard and play smart. Add those factors together and they equal a college football dynasty.