Although she has been athletics director at Transylvania University for less than a month, Dr. Holly Sheilley is anything but new to the world of college sports.
Sheilley, the first female athletics director at Transy, most recently worked at the NCAA as an assistant director of championships for three years. She was in charge of nine NCAA championships in Division I and Division III.
Previously, she worked in her native Louisville for eight years as an assistant athletics director under longtime University of Louisville Athletics Director Tom Jurich. Prior to that, she coached volleyball and softball at Lindsey Wilson College where she was named the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year four times. She was also a three-sport athlete as an undergrad at Asbury College — playing volleyball, basketball and softball.
The Herald-Leader caught up with Sheilley recently to talk about Transylvania athletics, being the third female athletics director in Kentucky, and college athletics as a whole.
Question: How have your first few weeks at Translyvania been?
Answer: "Very busy. It's like running the marathon and wishing you had more time to prepare, you know? At least that's what I liken it to. There's a lot to get done."
Q: What is your vision for Transy in the next few years?
A: "Transy has always, whether they were NAIA or NCAA, have always had successful athletic programs. We've grown. We have 23 sports, which is way above the average for Division III which sits around 15 or 16 sports. ... My goal for the athletic department is for us to not only be at the top of our conference, because we've been there, been there done that, but to be contenders at the NCAA championships."
Q: How do you feel about being the first female AD here at Transy and the third in Kentucky?
A: "You know, I mean, I never really thought about it at first that I was the third. My coach from college and mentor was the first, Rita Pritchett at Asbury College, who was one of the most influential people in my life. So anything to put me in the same category as her would make me honored. But I hope I was not picked because I was female. I hope I was picked because they felt like I could be the best person to lead the department. ... Kind of funny, right? Translyvania is the Pioneers so people changing the world and pioneers changed America and hopefully I'll be able to help set that stage here at Transy."
Q: Are you satisfied with the way things have been done here? What are your ideas to take the athletic department to the next step?
A: "Even if I had been here my entire career I'm never satisfied with where we are. I'm one of those people who always say, 'We've got this, this, this, this and this to do.' ... So one of the first things that I'll do that's not currently in place for athletics is a strategic plan and what's our problem areas, what are our successes, our weaknesses, what's our opportunities? Then how do we move forward?"
Q: With overall college athletics, especially Division I, what do you think about the landscape and the business model aspect that it is going to? What are your thoughts on that?
A: "The state of college athletics is very interesting right now, because, especially in D-I like you just mentioned, it has gone to an extreme business model to survive or to keep up with the haves and the have-nots, you know like a Louisville or Kentucky. They're gonna have to go out and continue to fundraise, raise their ticket prices to keep the money that they need to keep up with the rest of the country, to keep in the conference they're in. It's a perpetual ball that's going downhill faster than I think they're gonna be able to keep up with, personally. That's one of the things that I love about Transy is that it is your traditional, it's the way that college athletics started, the student-athlete model. And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with a D-I, D-II model, NAIA, there's nothing wrong with that. It's just a matter of what fits best with you as an administrator or you as a coach or you as a student-athlete, and so this is a great fit for me."
Q: Do you think that big-time college sports is getting out of hand?
A: "I think D-I has gotten out of hand, and I don't know how. Obviously, if I knew how to fix it then I would be the genie in a bottle and I would be making lots of money telling people how to do that. But really, I don't know how they're gonna solve that. The one thing that Division I is pushing right now is this deregulation of the rulebook. But the rulebook got so big because they were trying to equal out the haves and the have-nots. So if you deregulate it have you made a bigger pool between the BCS schools and the mid-major to lower Division I? I think you would. I'm not sure what that's gonna mean."
Q: How do you see the relationship between Transy and the University of Kentucky? How does Transylvania benefit from it?
A: "We do play Kentucky, first game of the year (in men's basketball). I think it's great. It's an awesome opportunity. Well, one we can walk to the game from here so that has a lot of interesting value to it. Mitch Barnhart is a very, very good athletic director. His staff do a very good job with what Kentucky is about. I take a lot of pride in knowing they're right here in the city ... not just us and the University of Kentucky, but us and Georgetown College, us and Midway, Eastern Kentucky University, Centre, not only to bring championships in town where we can utilize each other's facilities but just how we can support one another."
Q: Why did you choose Transylvania instead of staying at the NCAA?
A: "I did enjoy my time there and learned a great deal but I knew in a very short amount of time that I missed the student-athletes, I missed the coaches, I missed the tradition of being on a campus. I always saw myself on a campus so at that point I said, 'I gotta get back to campus' and I kind of had a short list of schools and I've always had a short list of schools that I was interested in as far as working for them, and Transy was one of them. It was a school I visited when I was considering schools. I played against them because Asbury and Transy were in the same conference. I coached against them when I was at Lindsey Wilson. So I knew them very well from the athletics standpoint and when I came to visit them I knew their academic standards. So to me it was on my short list and then when I came here and met the people I was like, 'This is a perfect fit for me.' It was almost like a dream come true."
Q: The NCAA has recently been under scrutiny, and it seems like people just keep leaving the NCAA. What are your feelings on that?
A: "Anytime that you have change of leadership or you try to make the changes in enforcement that they try to make you can anticipate people, especially in the enforcement area, leaving, coming out the door. And I think people have to sit back and say, you know, 'Is what is going on at the NCAA, is that OK with me? Does that fit where I am?' I think people should do that in every job they have. They have to take kind of a look in the mirror in the morning and say, 'You know what, am I happy about what I'm doing? Do I feel good when I wake up in the morning? Am I excited to get to the job?' And if the answer to that is no then you have to move on. And President Emmert is a very different president than Miles Brand, and some people don't like his style, don't like his vision. And that's okay. They probably should move on. It'll be interesting to see how that goes. I would say more than ever in the history of the NCAA it's under scrutiny."
Leigh Dannhauser: (859) 231-3447.
Leigh Dannhauser: (859)231-3447 Twitter: @heraldleader