Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 | 2 a.m.
When the College of Southern Nevada launched its athletics department in the late 1990s, the goal was simple: to give Las Vegas athletes a place to play junior college sports without leaving the area.
Some 15 years later, CSN isn’t exactly accomplishing that mission. Sure, the rosters of its baseball and softball teams are loaded with locals. But new Athletic Director Dexter Irvin says they aren’t fully servicing all the valley’s athletes because they offer just two sports.
He hopes to change that.
He envisions the junior college expanding to offer anything from men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, golf or volleyball. On the department’s website, there’s a survey asking which sport they should add first.
Irvin started at CSN on Monday after five years at the University of Hawaii-Hilo, a Division II school at which he’s credited with establishing women’s basketball and men’s and women’s soccer as full-time sports. He’s also praised for his efforts in fundraising — when he arrived, the department raised $50,000 annually; in 2012-13 it was $310,000, according to West Hawaii Today.
Before Hawaii, he spent more than a decade at Dixie State College in St. George, Utah, helping them transition from a junior college to a four-year, Division II school. Dixie played in CSN’s Scenic West Athletic Conference, meaning he’s already familiar with the league’s other schools and officials.
“I’m a builder,” Irvin said. “We had gone to Hilo to re-establish their dynamics and build a base there. We saw the same opportunity here, the chance to build something. If you look at the high schools in Clark County and the population base here, there is an opportunity to do something special here if we have the right commitment from the community.”
CSN offered women’s soccer from 2000-02 before discontinuing in favor of softball. It also offered men’s and women’s basketball for one season but had to cancel because of a lack of funding.
That’s a lesson Irvin will use during his tenure. The men’s basketball team primarily featured athletes from out of state, giving locals few reasons to support the team — both on game day and with donating resources to keep the team in existence.
“I don’t know what’s next or what the timetable is yet, whether it is soccer, volleyball, golf or basketball,” he said. “Whatever it may be, whatever is economically acceptable, I don’t think there has been a real plan here that’s been acceptable to everybody.”
Launching new sports will be easier said than done. And not the first priority.
The CSN softball team has no formal home on campus, leasing field space from Henderson for games and practices. Irvin’s office resembles a utility closet and is located near the financial aid office and registration desk at the Henderson campus. His secretary is in the next building.
Yes, nothing about making over CSN will be easy. Before they can expand, funds need to be raised to upgrade the sports they already have. He said open land near the baseball stadium at the Henderson campus could be an ideal home for softball and soccer fields.
While leaving a Division II program for a junior college could be considered an odd move, Irvin said he was ready for another challenge. Also, he wanted to be closer to 16 grandchildren, including some family in Las Vegas.
When he talked with CSN administrators during the interview process, he knew they were serious about growing the program. They had been without an athletic director for about six months and frequently operated with part-time athletic directors in past seasons.
“Maybe for the first time in history they’ve made a real commitment to athletics here,” Irvin said. “Maybe I’m the first step in this by hiring a full-time athletic director.”
Expanding the department to offer more sports will require a significant increase in fundraising. Baseball coach Nick Garritano raises more than $200,000 annually to keep his program operating, and that’s getting by on the bare minimum.
Starting a program such as golf would require about $150,000 annually. Ideally, Irvin would like each program to be endowed, ensuring a new team would last longer than the one season of basketball or few seasons of women’s soccer years ago.
“We have to go about teaching young people in our country right now that winning is important. But it’s not the only thing,” he said. “Teaching them how to lose is as important as teaching them how to win.
“We can’t make excuses in saying we want to have (a new sport) and not be good at it. I don’t want to be mediocre at anything. We don’t want to add things to add things. Let’s be good at what we are doing.”