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Alumni Highlight - Michael McFarland

Courtesy: Naomi Hillsman

MACOMB, Ill. — Michael McFarland, the associate director of athletics at Bucknell University, is a 1994 graduate of the sport management program here at Western Illinois University (WIU). 

Prior to McFarland enrolling at WIU, he attended graduate school at West Virginia Wesleyan College (WVWC) and worked as a graduate assistant with the sport information office. However, McFarland decided to transfer and complete his master’s degree at WIU.           

From the beginning of McFarland’s collegiate career he was involved in sport, as a scholarship athlete in soccer. McFarland’s interest in the sport management field developed when he broke his foot during soccer season.  His soccer coach challenged him to stay involved despite his injury so he became motivated about working in sport information.     

As a student at WIU, McFarland worked as a volunteer, paid student, and graduate assistant in the sports information office.  After graduation McFarland became a full-time assistant, and then was hired as sports information director at WIU.  McFarland believes that the WIU course work and instructors gave him the tools to be successful in the sport industry.  However, he emphasized that getting involved was the extra step that prepared him beyond his expectations for the professional world.    

“If I would have not have walked into Larry Heimburger’s office and volunteered my time, I would have never advanced from a kid off the street to his eventual replacement as sport information director,” said McFarland.     

After McFarland’s career as the WIU Sport Information Director, he took a position with the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) working in public relations and operations.  McFarland eventually advanced with the NSCAA to the assistant executive director position.  

McFarland had many highlights working at the NSCAA.  He met some of his childhood soccer heroes, attended various marquee soccer events, and held the world cup trophy. An additional highlight was that he met his wife, who he identified as his true inspiration. 

McFarland felt that taking a job with the NSCAA was his biggest career risk.  By taking a position with a national governing body, he was unsure if he would be able to return to intercollegiate athletics due to the change in responsibilities. 

However, after a successful career with the NSCAA, McFarland returned to intercollegiate athletics. He became the assistant commissioner of the Patriot League.  Eventually he was promoted to associate executive director overseeing external relations, sport information, championships and league governance.     

“I knew a career in athletics was for me and I experienced the national governing body, and league sides, but I realized a college campus is where I wanted to be,” McFarland said. This had been his original plan when he entered graduate school.   

McFarland said, “Western prepared me well to ask the right questions, challenge myself and give me the necessary skills to advance.”               

As the associate athletic director at Bucknell University McFarland has many responsibilities. The most challenging of his responsibilities is facilitating the needs of 27 varsity sports, and 21 club sports, and overseeing the indoor and outdoor facilities. 

McFarland said, “The best lesson I have learned is that working in sports is a way of life, not a job.”

Despite his very busy work schedule McFarland finds time every summer to visit the beach with his wife and two energetic daughters.  He stated that his family is his support system during his long work hours.  They keep him going when times get tough.