The way of Dr. Michael Cross

When asked about his favorite sport to watch, Dr. Michael Cross, director of athletics, doesn’t hesitate in answering, “basketball.” In the next breath, he volunteers that basketball is also resoundingly his favorite sport to play. 

The former State University of New York at Buffalo student-athlete says he’s not a basketball expert, but he does know just enough to get himself into trouble. And although his two sons are too young to play on their grade school team, they have attended camps and are “getting their shots up.” Jennifer, his wife of 15 years, was not a sports aficionado when they first met; however, with three basketball players in the family, she now appreciates the game. Sitting in his office surrounded by Bradley paraphernalia, he adds with a laugh, “How could I not like basketball? It’s certainly an infectious piece of the equation on this campus.”

Cross kicked off his action-packed two years on the Hilltop by leading a redesign of the Department of Athletics’ website and hiring five head coaches. He also is a key player in the planned rebranding of Bradley athletics. 

Every action he takes is based on building the culture he is intent on sustaining in the athletic department. “Our mission and our five core values [below] are the building blocks of our program. The mission is very straightforward: Provide every student-athlete the opportunity for both a distinctive education and a championship experience.”

Cross emphasizes that the mission’s educational piece is critical. “We expect the competition and practice environments to be an extension of the classroom. Our coaches are teaching life lessons, and we want that to be carried throughout the day in how we go about our business. It’s an education beyond what happens through the faculty, and we think that’s important.”

Another significant piece of the mission is opportunity. Cross says the athletic department provides opportunities for “200 student-athletes who are on a remarkable campus with first-class faculty.” He wants them to take advantage of the myriad learning and leadership opportunities offered to them by accepting, appreciating, and buying into the mission. “The best teams will do this seamlessly and be able to carry on the mission each year in a self-sustaining manner. It will become part of the team culture.”

It’s essential to Cross that the Bradley community understands how he wants the department and athletes to strive for excellence in a way that upholds the core values and stays focused on the mission. “Keeping laser-like focus on our mission and values gives us a purpose and a sense of identity.”

The mission and core values also resonate effectively with families who are concerned about the coach their children are going to be learning from and playing for during their college careers. As a parent, he understands a family’s desire to know that their student-athlete will be mentored and have the best coaching and training possible. 

Core Values of Bradley Athletics

Everyone associated with Bradley athletics will embrace and support five core values:

Accountability – Accept responsibility for your actions and decisions. Acknowledge, correct, and learn from mistakes. Seek excellence, not perfection. 

Courage – Challenge yourself to uphold Bradley’s standards and expectations of excellence while demanding others do the same. Speak candidly. Take risks. 

Diligence – Commit to persistent, tenacious, and attentive effort. 

Integrity – Act with honesty, candor, virtue, ethics, and honor at all times.

Respect – Be mindful of the time and talent of others. Recognize, acknowledge, and appreciate diverse perspectives.

“In a college athletic environment where we see various problems happening at schools across the country, student-athlete welfare should be paramount. Coaches should not abuse authority and must have the best interest of the student-athlete at heart. All our coaches understand that clearly. This is an expectation in the athletic department and the University as a whole,” Cross says. “When I meet with parents, I talk about the coach and the program, but the vast majority of the time is spent talking about our mission and core values. We want families to understand our philosophy.”

With that thought in mind, Cross is well aware of Bradley basketball’s legacy and its powerful impact on the University. He and basketball coach Geno Ford speak almost daily. Cross is adamant that the way to build a successful program is “selecting players to fit into what Geno does, what Geno wants on the floor. The type of people you surround yourself with is incredibly important. It doesn’t matter where the players come from — straight out of high school or as a transfer. Any of these routes are fine as long as they want to commit to our program and understand expectations. They should represent the team well and be willing to be a part of something bigger than themselves. All of that, of course, presumes the requisite talent. Coach Ford is finding the players who want to do this.”

While confident about improvement for the upcoming season, Cross says the MVC competition will be difficult. “Creighton will be better; ISU, Wichita State, and Northern Iowa are going to be very good. We have 14 feet of talent that sat on the bench last season as redshirts; NATE WELLS ’15 and WILL EGOLF ’13 will make us bigger this season. Our measure will be making progress towards the championship experience. We want to keep making definitive progress.”

— Karen Crowley Metzinger, MA ’97 Photography by Duane Zehr