BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Longtime Bethune-Cookman University Athletics Administrator Robert “Tony” O’Neal is making history this year.
O’Neal is the chair of the NCAA Bowling Committee, which picks teams to play in the national tournament for the national title.
“I believe I am the first. It’s a great honor for not only me but for Bethune-Cookman University,’’ O’Neal said about being the first African American to hold the post.
O’Neal is the senior associate athletic director of Facilities & Strategic Initiatives at B-CU. He has held the post since 2015.
He has served on the committee for five years and previously was co-chair.
Central State standout
The committee chooses teams for the NCAA Tournament. The field was recently expanded from eight to 16 teams. O’Neal has played a role in the sports growth.
“The sport has progressed and grown tremendously. Our challenge is making sure that we are representative of the entire nation. We have automatic qualifiers in place like all other sports,” expressed O’Neal.
O’Neal is a former football standout at Central State who got into bowling. He started the program at Bethune-Cookman in 2002.
“I was in the Athletics Administration at B-CU…Athletic Director Lynn Thompson said we are starting a program. We got it going and while looking for a coach he told me I was doing it. My assistant coach, Sonya Hurt, was a great bowler and detrimental in our success,” recalls O’Neal.
O’Neal led the Wildcats program to success. B-CU won the MEAC title in 2005 and made NCAA Tournament appearances in 2005 and 2006. The Wildcats finished fourth at nationals in 2005. He left the program in 2007.
“It was a great experience in my lifetime. We had some talented girls who really loved bowling. Our first team was made up of walk-ons. After that, we recruited some talent. We had a great run,” expressed O’Neal.
Started with HBCUS
Actually, it was the HBCUs that started NCAA Division I Bowling.
O’Neal related, “The sport has grown and progressed tremendously. It first started with our HBCU conferences – the SWAC, MEAC and CIAA. It started as a Title IX initiative, which provides more women programs and opportunities in collegiate athletics.”
In the past, O’Neal was an assistant football coach at Livingstone College. He also held positions in Athletics Administration at Florida International, Delaware State, University of Maryland Eastern-Shore and Livingstone College.
He has spent 16 years at Bethune-Cookman. He was the AD for Compliance (2000-2004). He was also Savannah State University Director of Athletics (2004-2008).