The current state of the Torii Hunter Baseball Complex is not the finished product.

The current state of the Torii Hunter Baseball Complex is not the finished product.

The plan is, by the start of the 2014 baseball season, the Arkansas-Pine Bluff baseball stadium will be complete with seats and a press box as the facility enters its fourth year of operation.

When the fall semester commences, baseball players and other athletes at UAPB will likely have a place of their own for academic support.

Those are a couple of projects the school’s athletic director, Lonza Hardy Jr., is working hard on. As he winds down his second year at the helm, Hardy has a few more upgrades for the athletic department “on the radar,” but the baseball and academic center projects are of immediate importance to him.

“Facility-wise, at the top of the order is completion of the Torii Hunter Complex,” Hardy said Wednesday.

He added he’s had several meetings with “individuals assisting in the fundraising” and is hoping to receive some money from the state legislature for the completion of the complex, named after the Pine Bluff native and Detroit Tigers outfielder.

Games at Torii Hunter have been played without permanent seating or a press box since its opening in 2011. Also, lights have not been installed at the stadium, preventing UAPB from scheduling night games there. While there is a desire for lights, Hardy said the seats and press box are top priority.

Asked if both would be available before the start of next season, Hardy said, “That is the goal.”

Still ‘on the radar’

Among other improvements Hardy has in mind, but is not actively pursuing, include securing land for a practice range for the golf program, building an on-campus track and installing artificial turf at Golden Lion Stadium.

He said, for the practice range, he hopes the school can acquire some additional land in the same area where the baseball complex is located with the help of individuals who helped UAPB obtain land for the complex.

As for artificial turf, both he and football coach Monte Coleman have expressed a desire for such.

“Each year we have requests from different individuals for using our facility, and it’s always those requests that come around football season we have to turn down because we have natural grass,” Hardy said. “We could probably be a little more community-friendly if we had artificial turf. Even the soccer team could play out there if we had artificial turf.”

But his first priority, when it comes to upgrading facilities, remains finishing the baseball complex.

“Right now, it’s a matter of completing a major project before we move on to another,” Hardy said. “(The track) is on our radar as is getting a practice facility for the golf team. They’re still on the radar, but not immediately in our plans.”

Academic support center

More immediately in his plans is the establishment of an academic support center where student-athletes can concentrate on their academic work. The plan is to use an existing venue, which is yet to be determined, as the site for the center.

“Basically what we envision for the center is a computer lab, rooms for individual as well as group tutorial sessions, space for the director of academic support for athletics and a learning specialist,” Hardy said.

“Facilities that exist on our campus right now for the regular student body don’t necessarily cater to the student-athletes, based upon the student-athlete’s practice schedule and game schedules when those buildings close for the regular student-athletes. It doesn’t really adequately handle the needs of the student-athletes. What we are envisioning for this center is something that is open early in the morning and probably open until as late as 9 or 10 at night, even longer if necessary, in order to better accommodate the student-athlete’s schedules.”

The UAPB athletic department has obtained a grant from the NCAA for a learning specialist and has a grant pending with the governing body of collegiate athletics for a second, the athletic director said.

Hardy also said the learning specialist will work with teams challenged with Academic Progress Rate problems. The UAPB men’s basketball team is banned from postseason play for a second straight year among other sanctions, and the men’s golf team will lose practice time, which is to be replaced with academic activities, both for low APRs.

Other athletic teams that are on the borderline of reaching the four-year APR benchmark of 930 the NCAA will require starting in the 2014-15 season will be assisted by the learning specialist as well. (The current benchmark is 900.) Nine teams at UAPB scored below a 930 according to the latest APR data.

The athletic department in January implemented an academic monitoring system called GradesFirst, which allows athletic faculty to keep track of their student-athletes’ progress in the classroom.

“On a cell phone, professors can communicate with me, with head coaches with the student-athletes and give a real-time account of how students are doing in the classroom,” Hardy said. “If somebody falls into the category of being at-risk, that can give us real-time updates on how any particular student ends up in the classroom, if they miss class or miss an exam. While we’re traveling, we can still get those updates on our cell phone.”

Updates on athletic news

UAPB athletic director Lonza Hardy Jr. said there is still no timeline on the NCAA’s decision whether to reverse the postseason ban for the school’s men’s basketball team. The team’s APR data are under review, as is the case with fellow Southwestern Athletic Conference members Alabama State and Mississippi Valley State.

The three institutions, along with Grambling State, received postseason bans, to take effect starting with the 2014 SWAC tournament. This is the second straight year UAPB and Valley have been banned; Grambling State was similarly penalized for the 2011-12 season.

“We’re at the mercy of the NCAA,” Hardy said. “They have been corresponding back and forth, here and there, requesting some information on particular students that could affect the APR for men’s basketball. We’re basically on the NCAA’s time.”

Hardy said he thinks a decision will come much earlier than the end of the regular season because postseason eligibility is on the line.

Meanwhile, a new contract for football head coach Monte Coleman has not yet been approved by legal representation for the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees as of Wednesday afternoon, Hardy said. UAPB interim chancellor Calvin Johnson, Hardy and Coleman signed the most recent draft a week ago and forwarded it to the legal representative.

Johnson and Hardy had anticipated the new contract — the terms of which are not immediately available because it has not been approved — would get the final OK by the end of this week.

“I don’t see it being an issue because we did make some adjustments to wording in the contract as the folks in Little Rock (the board) requested,” Hardy said.