MIAMI SHORES, Fla. – When Sr. Jeanne O’Laughlin asked Dr. Eileen McDonough to serve as Barry University’s Faculty Athletics Representative over 31 years ago, the one-time chemistry professor had one question for the school president at the time.
“I said, ‘What is that?’” McDonough asked.
“Sr. Jeanne never wanted to go into details. She said, ‘Oh honey, call the NCAA.’ I called, and they said, ‘Oh, we’ll send you a little book.’”
Some 30 years later, McDonough has her handle on the appointment O'Laughlin gave her over three decades ago for a school that began as Barry College for Women.
“Actually, it’s been 31 years,” McDonough was certain to clarify. “I started a year earlier in the fall of 1983.”
In the 30-year anniversary of Barry University athletics, McDonough is the only Faculty Athletics Representative Barry has ever appointed. She began her career at the school as a chemistry professor in August of 1970. Still going strong, McDonough, who works out during her lunch periods, has helped carry Barry athletics and its eligibility requirements into the new millennium and beyond.
“In the beginning, I did everything, but we had fewer athletes than we do today,” she said. “My job changes as coaches change. Each new coach goes through a training period dealing with paperwork. Today the NCAA Eligibility Center is much more complex.”
As the Faculty Athletics Representative, McDonough is responsible for making sure all of Barry’s student-athletes meet academic certification requirements. She works with the NCAA Eligibility Center to facilitate the necessary paperwork to get Barry athletes cleared so they can perform on the playing surface.
In 1992, when Hurricane Andrew hit the Miami area, with McDonough responsible for all of the eligibility requirements – she since has received assistance at Barry – a volleyball player from Coral Gables High School needed clearance in a hurry. Problem was, most of Miami-Dade County was without electricity.
The NCAA informed her it needed to receive something in writing from Coral Gables High that the student-athlete had completed all of the requirements. With nobody in the office at the high school, McDonough helped coordinate a plan to have the coach and the high school's administrator meet at the school – in the dark, mind you – to get a signed letter, stating the student-athlete in question had completed the requirements.
The NCAA accepted the hand written letter on Coral Gables High letterhead, and the student-athlete was cleared to play after McDonough sent it on to the NCAA office in Indianapolis. It was until late October that year that Barry finally received the student-athlete’s transcripts.
Today, that student-athlete would never be cleared as quickly and easily.
“That’s just an example of how things have evolved,” McDonough said, sitting atop her third floor office in the university’s student affairs suite in the Landon Student Union building as part of the School of Human Performance & Leisure Sciences.
“I think values and ethics enter into it. You have to follow the certification rules.”
The NCAA abides by a good standing policy, where freshmen must have a 1.8 cumulative grade point average. Sophomores must have a 1.9. Barry’s standards are a tad more stringent. Students at Barry must have a 2.0 and must complete a minimum of 24 hours during the fall and spring semesters in order to compete.
“I give my best opinion to the coach whether a transcript is going to cut it,” McDonough said, adding she will make recommendations and advise the student-athletes and coaches on which courses to take to meet requirements. “I don’t personally turn away anyone.”
An NCAA study revealed the greater number of credits a student-athlete has the more they are retained by the institution. That has always been Barry’s intent.
“I’m happy when students get awards, they’re successful and they graduate,” McDonough said. “I, personally, think they have to go out of their way to not be successful.”
Barry has never exempted a student-athlete, although there are certain exceptions when McDonough assists the student-athletes acquire waivers through the application process. When McDonough, then-Athletic Director Ed Coletti and then-women’s soccer coach and current Director of Athletics Michael L. Covone sat down to devise policies for Barry’s student-athlete academic standards, they didn’t want to give any free passes.
“Sr. Jeanne said, ‘We’re in Division II, we’re a Catholic university. The press would love to get something on us. I want to make sure the students you bring in are good students, and will get their degree,’” McDonough recalled.
Hence the reason Barry has always maintained a policy of mandating students to carry a 2.0 cumulative GPA to remain in good standing in order to compete.
“The toughest part of my job is telling a kid and a coach that the kid is not eligible. That’s No. 1,” McDonough said. “No. 2 is trying to get the Eligibility Center to hurry up and get the kids eligible because they have competition coming up.”
McDonough works with roughly 60 new student-athletes each year. Barry signs roughly 25 of them on a yearly basis, not because they’re not eligible, but because they sometimes decide on other schools.
“What I like to happen is the coach brings the prospect to me because I like to talk to them,” McDonough explained. “I just explain the process to them. If they have their high school transcripts with them, I can talk to them about what they might be missing. The high schools had a five-year transition where they were going from 14-core courses to 16, so sometimes they get lost in the shuffle.”
Couple that with the international policies and regulations, and McDonough has her share to keep up with for each new student trying to get admitted to Barry University.
“A lot of my time is communication between the coach, the prospect and what is missing,” she said.
McDonough, who earned a bachelor’s of science in chemistry from Chestnut Hill College, a master’s of science from Marquette, a master’s of business administration from Barry and a doctoral degree in higher education administration from Nova Southeastern, still teaches in the school of education. She instructs courses for master’s and doctoral students in higher education administration.
“I just believe Barry is a good place that a marginal student coming in can be successful,” McDonough said. “I think Barry was balanced before the NCAA talked about the balance.”
Maybe that’s the best way to describe the chore McDonough oversees in steering a student-athlete in the right direction.
“When prospects and parents come in, I show them this,” McDonough said, holding up a photo of a group of student-athletes at Barry’s graduation ceremony, decked out in cap and gown. “It’s just as important to us as it is to them that they graduate.”