Selgo reflects on time at GVSU
Athletic director to step down in July after two decades
GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Tim Selgo is honored at half time by GVSU athletes. The Lakers defeat the Cardinals of SVSU with a final score of 76-73 in Allendale.
From 1977-80, Tim Selgo was a standout basketball player at the University of Toledo. During his career with the Rockets, Selgo partnered with four future NBA draft picks, and helped Toledo advance to the Sweet 16 in the 1978-79 NCAA Tournament. Selgo was inducted into the Toledo Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001.
“I had a great life as a college basketball player. I made myself into a pretty good player because I wouldn’t say I was dripping with talent. I played with so many great players,” said Selgo, a shooting guard. “I had big guys inside that took a lot of pressure off me. My jobs were to throw it inside to these guys that were really good and then when the defense collapsed, which they often did, knocking in the basket when it came back out and thankfully I could do that very, very well.
“I was fortunate then to have been surrounded by highly talented, highly competitive, highly successful people. Likewise, here at Grand Valley I’ve been fortunate to have been able to surround myself with the same.”
When Selgo was appointed as the fifth athletic director in Grand Valley State’s history on Feb. 12, 1996, he switched from shooting guard to point guard. He again surrounded himself with a wealth of talent, and piloted GVSU to unprecedented success.
“When I came here, everybody in the athletics field described Grand Valley as a sleeping giant. I said, ‘Alright, let’s wake the dang thing up, then.’”
Prior to Selgo’s arrival, GVSU had just 45 GLIAC titles. Over Selgo’s 20-year career, the Lakers have secured over 150 GLIAC titles, and earned 19 team national championships, 10 Learfield Directors’ Cups and a host of individual national championships.
Despite GVSU’s rousing athletic success in recent years, it hasn’t always been that way. In the 1998-99 athletic season, the Lakers won their first GLIAC Presidents’ Trophy in two decades, awarded to the top athletic program in the conference. GVSU has gone on to win 17 straight. In the fall of 2000, the Laker volleyball team won the school’s first regional championship. In 2001, the football team won its first playoff game in history. In 2002, Laker football secured GVSU’s first national championship.
Since then, the floodgates have been pried open and jammed with doorstops. So, how did Selgo manage to successfully rouse the sleeping giant? He just replicated his days at Toledo.
“It starts with people. In college athletics it’s like anything in higher ed. You have to have good people. You have to hire the best and brightest and most talented people you absolutely can,” Selgo said.
When Selgo stepped in to his post, he had a trio of legendary coaches already in place with Brian Kelly, Deanne Scanlon and Doug Woods. Even the best coaches, however, are little without a talented roster. So Selgo got to work, petitioning then-president Arend D. Lubbers and vice president for Finance and Administration Ronald VanSteeland to increase the athletic funding so GVSU could offer more scholarships. Today, all 11 women’s athletic programs are at the NCAA scholarship maximum, though most men’s sports are still short of the threshold.
“You can’t be successful in this without talented student athletes,” Selgo said. “And in order to get them in the competitive world of college athletics, you have to have more athletic scholarships.”
The next order of business was to make more of the coaches hired on as full-time staff, as many coaches in the 1990s were only employed part time. When coaches are part time, they don’t have time to recruit. When they can’t recruit, top talent won’t come. When top talent won’t come, programs won’t win. Selgo saw this, and pushed to remedy the problem.
“We had to add some assistant coaches as full time, because again you’ve got to be able to recruit if you’re going to be successful in college athletics,” he said. “You need athletic scholarship money, you need people out there beating the bushes, banging on doors, convincing kids to come to your school.”
GVSU’s overwhelming success, however, has brought questions along with it. Namely, will GVSU go to Division I? Not if the Selgo mentality stays.
When Selgo compares GVSU in 2016 to the GVSU he arrived to in 1996, he sees improvements across the board. Athletics have skyrocketed, yes, but so have many other facets of the university that affect more students. The university added and continues to add residential space for students. New buildings are being erected, and the renovations never seem to stop. The jump to Division I would require bigger athletic facilities, taking money away from the academic focus of the university. If GVSU were to go Division I, it would be transforming from a shark in a pool to a goldfish in the ocean.
“I played Division I athletics, I coached Division I, I was an associate AD in Division I. I was around that world, so I didn’t need that world. I felt that it would be a huge mistake, and I still feel that today. It would be a huge mistake,” Selgo said. “In addition to all the academic buildings, downtown and here in Allendale, I figured out it’s probably roughly three quarters of $1 billion in that 20-year period. I would argue with you that had Grand Valley been Divison I, we wouldn’t have had all those things built. I would argue because Grand Valley was Division II, this institution rose to the top of the chart in the state of Michigan.”
Selgo’s tenure at GVSU has boosted the university to likely the most dominant athletic program in Division II. After his retirement in July, Selgo plans to spend more time with his soon-to-be four grandkids, and to spend weekends with family, rather than with GVSU athletics. He plans on stepping away from campus for some time following his retirement, letting his successor, Keri Becker, take over and implement her own style of leadership. Becker will take over on July 18.
With a number of GVSU spring sports still underway, the closure of Selgo’s career hasn’t truly begun to set in yet, he said. When it does, however, and he starts to box up his belongings, he might have a chance to reflect on the impact he’s made on generations of GVSU students, faculty and fans. Selgo’s tenure is reaching its end, but his impact won't ever fade.
“I feel fortunate because this is such a great school, and West Michigan is such a great area, that we’ve been able to have stability on our staff,” Selgo said. “It’s pretty tough to leave West Michigan. You got a great school you work for, you’ve got a chance to be successful in your chosen profession and you live in a great area. What more do you want?”