This past summer, LMU Athletic Director Craig Pintens had a lot on his plate. After capping off his first year at the University with a historic NCAA Tournament run in baseball, the Wisconsin native had just a few days before he began the national search for a new head baseball coach. Just a few days after the Lions’ tournament exit, 11-year head coach Jason Gill had left the program for USC.
Pintens spent a major part of the summer searching for a replacement, and on July 2, LMU Athletics announced assistant coach Nathan Choate would take the position.
While this was a hefty responsibility for the first-year athletic director, Pintens is not new to the world of athletic administration. Pintens arrived at LMU in 2018 after working as senior associate athletic director at the University of Oregon, where he served a seven-year tenure, according to LMU Athletics.
And in his first year here, Pintens oversaw major accomplishments in a number of sports. In the fall, women’s volleyball defeated U.S. No. 1-ranked BYU to earn themselves a spot in the NCAA Tournament. In the winter, men’s basketball registered a 22-12 season, the most wins for the team since the 1989-90 season. The men's and women's team both qualified for postseason tournament competition. In the spring, the women’s beach volleyball team won the West Coast Conference (WCC) Championship, the University’s first conference championship of the academic year. This feat was replicated by the baseball team the following month, giving the Lions their second conference championship of the year and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Despite all these high marks, Pintens says there’s even more that he can do, like continuing to build a culture.
“A buzzword in college athletics is culture,” commented Pintens. “Everybody talks about it. In fact, there's been funny memes created when a coach is hired, [as people] try to [count] how many times somebody says culture in one press conference — it’s funny, but it’s true.”
Despite its overuse, Pintens says he really believes that LMU can build a special culture around athletics — and with culture comes one of the most important aspirations of the athletic department: winning.
Now with his first year complete, Pintens says what he has learned the most is not actually on the field of play, but outside of it. “The thing I learned the most is the passion that people have for LMU,” said Pintens. “There is a lot of passion for athletics here — I would say in some cases, it’s dormant. And so we have to find a way to wake some of these people up and get them back and get them involved ... We can do that because I think everybody who is affiliated with this school loves this institution, and that is a really special thing.”
Pintens understands that some students see LMU as a school without a big sports culture or a lack of pride in athletics.
Sophomore physics major Andrew Bruneel commented, “I think the sports culture at LMU could be a lot better. The only team that really gets support is the basketball team, so there are a lot of sports that go unnoticed."
"I know there is an issue with student attendance at athletic events," said junior international relations major Jack Palen. "I feel like LMU isn’t branded as a sports school, but rather as a film or arts school."
But Pintens hopes to change this. “Students create [a passion for athletics],” said the director. “We can't manufacture that — that has to really begin with our students, and we have to provide a great atmosphere for them at our games.”
Pintens's department plans to continue to build a welcoming and prideful environment to encourage the school to support its athletic teams as they aspire to improve.
And to increase fan support and move LMU into the mainstream college sports conversation, Pintens knows a lot of work needs to be done.
“You have to win at a high level in sports that are nationally recognized [and] have a lot of national coverage,” said Pintens. “And when you do that, you start to get the benefits that are associated with that — whether that's a bigger fanbase [or] more students coming to games, all those things kind of factor in. I think we have to continue to lay the groundwork and make sure that we provide the resources for our programs [so] that they are able to compete nationally ... then you do start to get that recognition.”
Looking towards his sophomore season as athletic director, Pintens is excited for the future. New changes include the project inside Gersten Pavilion, which, when finished, will include a new floor, lights and painting. Additionally, a Hank Gathers statue, which will commemorate the 30th anniversary of the death of LMU men’s basketball legend Hank Gathers, will be constructed.
Pintens also admitted on the record that LMU basketball players will wear the now-leaked throwback jerseys for a game this upcoming season. Finally, Pintens hopes that his Lions continue to compete nationally and hopes that will drive fundraising for enhanced facilities.
But Pintens knows there are still improvements the department could have made in his first year.
"We have to do a better job of connecting with campus, and with the campus community,” he noted. “Our biggest flaw is not doing a good enough job of really connecting with faculty and staff ... I'm not sure that everyone that is here understands what we have.”
And what LMU Athletics has may be affected in the future, with the passing of a recent California bill. Last Wednesday, the California state legislature passed Senate Bill 206, which would allow college athletes to "earn money from the use of their names, images and likenesses," according to the L.A. Times. Gov. Gavin Newsom has 30 days to either sign the bill into law or veto it.
"I think it's a very interesting topic and it's very complex," said Pintens. "It's not as easy and cut and dry as people say. I do believe, in any given year in college athletics, there are a handful of student athletes who really would have an opportunity to probably make a profit off of their name, image and likeness. I don't believe that number is as significant as people believe," he said.
Overall, regardless of the national politics of the NCAA, Pintens knows that the LMU athletic program can attain significant success.
“I always feel like there's a lot more we can do,” said the director. “So to me, there's a few things that we did well over the course of the year, but in my mind there's so many more things that we can improve on. That's the exciting part for me.”