"We were just at the University of Colorado a few years ago competing," Love recalled the 2006 football game. "I will tell you that we had over 5,000 people at the tailgate in Bolder. It was one of my first biggest experiences with ASU as the Athletics Director on a road trip and it was awesome. I had been there not too long ago with the University of Southern California and enjoyed that environment. But the ASU model was 5,000 plus people at a tailgate.
"I'm sitting at the AD suite and look down to see where the Sun Devil fans are sitting and we owned the entire end zone, wrapped all the way around onto the 35-yard line and it was completely full of Sun Devils. I looked at Michael Crow, our president, and said ‘oh my gosh – we're huge.' So my impression of University of Colorado Sun Devil style is really powerful."
Love, following the directive of the Pac-10 leadership, could not comment about the rumors that five Big 12 teams will join Colorado and stated that: "our commissioner is charged into looking into all best possibilities for this conference. It's common knowledge that we are moving forward towards television negotiations and the terrain is changing one way or another.
"Right now it's a wait and see, but with a great deal of excitement just in general about change and we already moved in that direction with the University of Colorado."
Regardless of how the conference will ultimately be constructed, Love strongly believes that Sun Devil athletics can comprehensively be one of the leading programs in the league. She pointed to sports such as baseball, softball, track and field, golf among others being consistently among the nation's best over the last several years. She pointed to aspects such as weather, quality of life, and attractiveness for recruits as significant contributors to those achievements.
"But at the end of the day," Love said, "you'd like people to sit back as well grow even in the high market sports, football and men's basketball, to complete that picture so we have comprehensive excellence defined through all of our 21 sports and we are measured by how far we advance in NCAA championship play in each of these sports, what bowl we are competing in…
"If you think about the freshness, we were one of the two newest schools added to the Pac-10. We are the youngest university in the Pac-10. We completed successfully in the WAC and in the Border conference. But we moved since 1978 from not too long before being a university to joining the Pac-10. When you compare to the mature fan bases and mature presence of others in our conference, we're just like the younger brother growing up. What I'd like to see as a vision for us is that younger brother grows to 6-6 330, bench a ridiculous amount, run the fastest 40 you've ever seen and people sit back and say ‘they did it right."
Love, who in 2005 left an athletic administration position at USC to become ASU's Vice President of Athletics, confessed to being intrigued from afar by the potential that the Sun Devil athletic program possessed. When she arrived in Tempe five years ago she started to investigate the path that can lead to the grandness that the Sun Devil nation has been yearning for.
"You can look at a couple of Rose Bowl runs," Love said, "you can look at a couple of near misses at Rose Bowl runs, and you can think they are gigantic gaps in between. I'm looking at all of this and volatility of the market, and our basketball performance and the volatility of that. If you want to compete in the high end sports like football and men's basketball, with the success that baseball, women's basketball, golf, track has….if you want to muscle up then you have to muscle up in all facets including your competitive bank.
"If you are going to play big then you got to go big. You can't bluff your way into it and say ‘that was a good season 20 years ago.' If you want to sustain that kind of a level then you have to build your competitive bank and facilities to play hardball and that's exactly what we are working to."
Historically when compared to its Pac-10 foes, ASU hasn't been known as a school that enjoys a massive financial backing from its supporters. It currently ranks seventh in the conference in that category. In these challenging economic times, where the general population is being more cautious than ever with its discretionary spending, the level of monetary support ASU receives becomes even more of a pressing issue, as fans take a wait and see approach in terms of support.
"Our charge to our community," Love said, "is to provide absolutely great collegiate sports that are entertaining contests, marching band, student section, cheer squad…everything that presents college in its best form and creates that heartbeat for Arizona State.
"But in this economy we've got a lot of ‘ok I'm ready. If it gets going I'm there. But I need to make sure this thing is going because our household economy is so tight.'
"So in respecting that economy we work at pricing our tickets mid in the conference with a balanced perspective that allows access to our stadium but also helps build a competitive budget."
Arizona State, according to Love, operates under a traditional collegiate model when it comes to ticket pricing and the associated premiums they carry.
"If you sit between the goal posts or between the baskets," Love explained, "you pay a ticket price and make a contribution to the athletics department funding which of course provides you then with a tax benefit. You coordinate that effort with your premium seating and that supports the entire athletics program, not just football or basketball. Many of those programs don't make money, but we are committed to education.
"We've worked very hard since 2005 to have a pricing model which follows the one I just gave you. I said from the beginning that I didn't want to import the prices from the place that I left (USC), but that we would go mid-level in our pricing (Love noted that premium seating prices in 2005 was lower even than some Mountain West conference and WAC schools) and have a fair gift structure. If you couldn't afford premium seating, you can buy a ticket and also join the support group (Sun Devil Club) in whatever level you can.
"The biggest thing for us is stabilizing our ticket fan base and growing the Sun Devil Club membership. That will have the biggest affect. Television revenue, bowl revenue, NCAA revenue are all preset. What Arizona State has in its control is membership in the Sun Devil Club and stabilizing our fan base. That's our community support to play big."
One misconception is that the University significantly subsidizes the Athletic Department. However, the subsidy is actually less than 5 percent of the total department budget.
College coaches' salaries across the nation, especially in the revenue sports, usually come under fire for being extravagant. In financially challenging times, that criticism becomes that much more amplified. Love stressed that the coaches' compensation at ASU is being paid at the very least at the mid-range nationally (in regards to their respective sport), yet the successes a coach may achieve do not go unnoticed from a monetary standpoint.
"We are not going to be where we once were, which is way down," Love noted. "But when you are successful your bonus structure is incredibly aggressive. If you knock it out of the ballpark you can earn your money. I believe that this is a very fair and honorable theme, because with success comes an enhanced fanabse, enhanced bowl revenue, everything…so it should run hand in glove. One blends well with the other."
Love remarked that if the school's fan base knew what it takes to build sustained greatness at ASU, then the support needed to accomplish that goal would be there. The level of sponsorship will unequivocally dictate whether the athletic department grows leaps and bounds or just battles and do the best it can under the circumstances.
"We have a very strong value driven market," Love explained. "They are going to watch closely how everything goes. We have 400,000 alumni. I've sat at Sun Devil stadium as a visitor and seen people pouring over the top of that stadium and never having a better home filed loudness that ASU can actually provide.
"With 400,000 alumni out there you do the math. The record right now for a support club is Texas A&M with 21,000 members. We can blow by that and doesn't require everyone to give $5,000 or $10,000. Those who support us at that level are wonderful. But if you motivated and flexed our massive muscle, if you had people thinking ‘my $100 will make a difference,' If I look at Texas A&M's numbers and say ‘I can recruit 10 people to join me", if the community decides that they want greatness you can see exactly what would happen at Arizona State. The difference would be startling."
Love is hoping the fanabse can see Arizona State athletics as a community asset that can dramatically expand with financial contribution levels that are lower than what fans would normally expect.
"The community is going to decide what they dream of and what they want, and what they decide to do," Love stated. "In the community it will be Devils recruiting Devils to share in this and make that change. If they want to make the change, they'll get on it and do it. Our responsibility is to take what we have and provide the kind of contests and environment that anyone dreams of and we can do that."
This fall, a campaign regarding recruitment into the Sun Devil Club will be introduced in order to expand the organization.
"We have fantastic community members right now that are set to coordinate and be the architects of this," Love commented. "It's been music to my ears to hear community leaders say ‘how can we help?' < So it's a joint endeavor with the community and the university you care so much about and want it to go big. They have a grand vision to achieve the greatness we all seek."
Love applauded the Sun Angel foundation that preceded the Sun Devil Club for its efforts which are enjoyed by all sports still to this day. Yet, that organization was defined by its exclusivity and five figure donations, and the support base in Love's opinion needs to become wider in the community to become a top tier school in the league in terms of donation levels.
"If we don't want to continue to negotiate in the market with pennies working to nickels," Love said. "Then we had to create an entity that was very inclusive and welcoming. So what's an easier way to identify when you say ‘what is the Sun Devil club?' You can pretty much guess without anything else than saying that this is the support system for Sun Devil athletics."
No matter how small or large a fan's donation is to the Sun Devil club, those funds go to a significant line item on the department's budget – supporting everything that goes into having 21 sports and over 500 student-athletes, and covering expenses such as room and board, books, fees, tutors, etc.
"You'd probably feel really good in knowing that this is what your money is going towards," Love said. "We have over 500 student-athletes, 21 sports – it's a standard size Division I athletic department. It's neither over nor undersized. In order to fund those student athletes in their sports you create this kind of support system annually to offset those costs of success."
With just a small fraction of its student athletes able to compete professionally after college, the accomplishments of the athletic department are not only measured in win-loss records, but also in its academic feats. Earlier this week, the NCAA's academic progress report (APR) revealed that ASU received a 974 rating which was second only to Stanford in the Pac-10.
"There is a sense here that we can do this the right way," Love remarked. "That can be a sustained, great athletics institution and that means everything. People may ask about ‘what does the Sun Devil Club support?' and I can go right over here and say that the culture at Arizona State is that you come here and get a bachelor degree, expert coaching, beautiful facilities, a great home advantage and you get the package. That is what we are seeking vigilantly
"Moving is into second place behind Stanford in a very academic oriented conference, should make anybody pause for a second and see that philosophically I can absolutely see where we are going. So if you have a vision and some kind of forecasting you can see where we are headed and what our goal is. This remarkable accomplishment academically sends a message that we mean what we say. There is no question that we need our community to adopt it and support it."
Love added that a "Rose Bowl effort" from its student-athlete development department that is led by former Sun Devil defensive back and the school's Associate Athletic Director Jean Boyd, has fostered a culture that makes a student-athlete realize once they arrive here that they have not only a plan to succeed athletically, but also academically.
Recruiting is naturally the lifeblood of every sport, and while coaches, academic support, a program's track record, and facilities are major keys in this area, the home audience plays a significant role as well in attracting prospects to the Sun Devil family.
"Every weekend when we are playing at home at Sun Devil stadium we've got dozen of recruits in sports," Love said. "We are showcasing Arizona State every Saturday and we want to do that in our best form. When you have that recruiting savvy you know exactly what it means to a 16-year old and family that are watching the game in that environment and either they get chill bumps or not."
Increased support from the community is the master key that will unlock all the doors of potential that many, including Love of course, believe exist at ASU.
"We will be what you want us to be," said Love.