Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
She probably didn’t need to go incognito. It’s unlikely anyone was keeping an eye out for her, but Lisa Campos donned a hat in her hotel room nearly two years ago, called an Uber, and headed across town to do some reconnaissance work on the University of Texas at San Antonio campus.
At the time, she was the athletic director at Northern Arizona University and she was in town interviewing for the same job at UTSA. Much of the interview process happened at an airport hotel, miles from campus.
After meeting with university President Taylor Eighmy and members of a search committee, curiosity got the best of Campos and she decided to take a closer look at the school. Earlier that year, Sports Business Daily named Campos to its 40 Under 40 list of top sports executives under age 40, in part, because she had a reputation for being thorough.
She walked around campus, talked to students, and liked the enthusiasm she heard. She saw a lot of school apparel being worn, which told her the place wasn’t lacking support.
But what her reconnaissance failed to show her was how behind the curve UTSA was when it came to athletics facilities. That realization came after Campos accepted the job as vice president for athletics and athletics director and learned her office wasn’t on the main campus.
She later learned of even bigger problems.
“Sports medicine is in a trailer right now,” Campos said recently. “We’re talking about a Division I program and that’s where we’re trying to keep our student-athletes healthy? Look at football last year. We had several student-athletes who could not get back on the field on time because we just did not have the facility to help rehab them correctly and to do preventative care.”
Shortly after her hiring, Campos set about addressing those facility problems by beginning to piece together a team to help her raise money, raise awareness of the problem, and ultimately raise the bar for UTSA athletics.
In November, UTSA will begin construction on an estimated $44 million, on-campus Roadrunner Athletics Center of Excellence, or RACE. The building will bring most of the department’s student-athletes, coaches, and administrators under the same roof for the first time.
This new central hub for athletics will include a new area for academic advising and sports medicine. The football program will have a new locker room and weight room, a covered practice field for all sports, as well as an uncovered separate grass practice field.
The project also features a separate facility at Park West off Kyle Seale Parkway, which will house the soccer and track and field programs. It will include sports medicine facilities, team meeting rooms, and locker rooms for those programs.
“I feel it’s an absolute game-changer,” soccer Coach Derek Pittman said. “It’s just going to be a massive upgrade that I feel is going to put us up there with the top teams, not only with Conference USA but also within the area and the region.
“I think it ticks off a lot of the boxes. That’s what I mean when I talk about it being a game-changer. It’s going to change everything, not just one aspect of our athletic department.”
The new facilities are partially funded from the City of San Antonio’s 2017 bond, which allotted $10 million to the school. The rest of the revenue will come from donors, including a public phase of fundraising that begins soon, and other sources such as ticket revenue, Campos said.
In just its eighth season, the Roadrunners football program is looking to rebound from last season’s 3-9 record. UTSA kicks off the 2019 season Saturday at 5 p.m. the Alamodome against the University of the Incarnate Word.
As she began fundraising, Campos said she found a lot of people and companies eager to be a part of helping UTSA build its athletic program. Now, as she approaches the two-year anniversary of her hiring, those fundraising efforts made by her and her staff are starting to pay off.
“There is such a giving attitude here in San Antonio,” Campos said. “One of the things I’ve been pleasantly surprised about is this community wants to support UTSA and UTSA athletics, and they have this mantra that what’s great for San Antonio is great for UTSA and vice versa. It doesn’t matter if they’re a Longhorn, if they’re a Mustang, a Red Raider, if they’re an Aggie. Because they are a San Antonian, because they live in this community, they are going to invest in UTSA athletics and this university.”
While building new facilities and raising money for her department are important efforts, they’re only slices of Campos’ job.
She oversees a department with 17 sports programs and hundreds of student-athletes. In addition to her role as athletic director, she is a member of the NCAA Division I Council, which helps make many of the most important changes in college athletics. She recently began serving on the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee and is a past member of the NCAA Football Oversight Committee.
Few athletic directors around the nation have a broader base of knowledge when it comes to college sports.
When Campos took over at UTSA, her first priority wasn’t tackling the facilities problem. Instead, she restructured the athletic department and developed a strategic plan. Neither of those endeavors was a minor undertaking, but Campos was able to complete both, for the most part, within her first year.
“The people I’ve known in the three-plus years I’ve been here now, they genuinely seem a lot happier and a lot more content,” said senior golf team member Collin Clark, who also serves as president of UTSA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
“It seems like they are much more aware of what they need to be doing and have better leadership as a whole. I would never knock the previous AD I had my freshman year, but I think the reins are a little tighter with Lisa, in a good way.”
Campos was born in La Junta, Colorado, a small community in the southeastern part of the state. She attended Colorado State in Fort Collins, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in student affairs in higher education.
Before becoming AD at Northern Arizona, she worked at the University of Texas at El Paso, first as the Dean of Students and then as an assistant athletic director under former UTEP AD Bob Stull, whom she considers a mentor.
While she’s invested a lot of time into putting UTSA on level footing with other Division I programs, it’s sometimes taken her away from moments with her husband and son, who recently started kindergarten. She said there are times she feels torn between her efforts to build successful programs at UTSA and being a parent.
“For sure, there are always things where I have moments where I feel like I’m missing out on something at work or I’m missing out on something with him,” Campos said. “We put him in organized T-ball last year, and I did have to miss some of those games because I had to be somewhere for work, but that’s just part of it.”
Campos isn’t ready to say what the next big project will be for her team at UTSA once construction on RACE begins this fall, but she’s looking forward to creating a different kind of lasting culture around UTSA athletics.
“We have an unbelievable opportunity to create tradition here because there is just not a lot of tradition yet,” she said.