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Eastern Michigan grad Charlie Batch likes Pitt's new AD hire

| Monday, March 20, 2017, 12:00 p.m.
John Altdorfer
Former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch and his wife, Latasha, were wearing the green during the American Ireland Fund Gala at the Heinz Field UPMC Club on the North Shore. March 17, 2016.

Charlie Batch, former Steelers and Eastern Michigan quarterback, tries not to miss a game when a team from his alma mater comes to town.

So, he was front and center at Petersen Events Center in November when Eastern Michigan's basketball team opened the men's season at Pitt. He didn't know it at the time, but sitting next to him that night was Pitt's next athletic director.

Eastern Michigan athletic director Heather Lyke, who was hired Monday to replace former Pitt AD Scott Barnes, was there for the game. She returned to the Pete on Monday for a 1 p.m. news conference in which she was introduced as Pitt's athletic director.

Batch, who is active as an Eastern Michigan alumnus, first met Lyke when she was hired in 2013, and he has stayed in close touch over the years. Batch was with the football team in December when it played in the Bahamas Bowl, the school's first postseason game in that sport in 29 years.

He believes Lyke will do for Pitt what she did at Eastern Michigan — build relationships, raise money and bring people together.

“There were a lot of missing pieces, and she was able to connect the dots,” Batch said. “She made people believe in her. They believed in her leadership.”

Batch said she was also successful as a fundraiser, identifying a $6 million donor to launch a $35 million facilities improvement program at Eastern Michigan. The initial contribution from an anonymous donor was the largest gift the school has received in its history, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Improvement plans call for a 70,000-square foot building with a turf field that football and soccer can use. There also would be a 300-meter indoor track and improvements to the weight room.

“She has raised a ton (of money),” Batch said.

Batch said Lyke also was instrumental in the university's ongoing efforts to bring together two factions of fans. One favored the former nickname, Hurons, which was eliminated in 1992, and another fell in line behind the current brand, Eagles.

“She did a great job of bringing people together,” he said. “Something that was lost.”

During her time at Eastern Michigan, Lyke often was forced to defend the football program, which has had only seven winning seasons in 41 years and was last in Division 1 attendance in 2015 with an average of 4,897.

Eastern Michigan's athletic budget for the academic year 2014-15 was $33.9 million, according to USA Today. Of that amount, more than $27 million (80 percent) was rooted in institutional support, including student tuition and fees, the Free Press reported. The percentage was the highest in the Mid-American Conference.

She steadfastly refused to eliminate or de-emphasize football, as some critics were demanding, and was encouraged when the team finished 7-6 in 2016. Attendance increased about 260 percent to 17,677 last season at Rynearson Stadium.

A year ago, with athletic donations up by nearly $430,000, she received a vote of confidence from interim President Donald Loppnow, incoming President James Smith and the eight members of the Board of Regents. In an open letter to the media and the university community, Eastern Michigan administrators said there would be no plans to de-emphasize football, the Free Press reported.

“We are 100 percent supportive of our current Athletics administration, particularly Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Heather Lyke,” the letter read in part. “She has assembled an outstanding support team and we already have seen positive results in terms of continuing Eastern's championship traditions in a number of our sports, as well as in many new initiatives to increase revenues. As an example, year-to-date, fundraising has increased by nearly $430,000.”

Batch said Lyke's personality helps her achieve goals.

“She is fiery,” he said. “One thing I love about her, she is a great communicator.”

In the face of disagreements, Batch said, “She is clear and concise. She'll make her stance as to why she doesn't believe in your points.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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