Looking up at the Litehouse Center, including the Bud & June Ford Club Room on the second level, and Luxury Suites and Club Seats below.|
ABOUT THE KIBBIE DOME UPGRADES
You just completed a massive upgrade to the ASUI Kibbie Dome. Can you talk to us about how it is going to impact your program - your operation - and what the new capabilities of the Dome are now that you did not have before?
"This was another step in the process. I am proud that we have accomplished something every year during my tenure. So it has kept the streak going! First of all I want to thank our donors for making this happen. Their support was outstanding! The next thing this is going to do for us is it will allow us to be creative and move forward. The old building had so many life-safety issues that it was impossible to move forward, be creative, or think about doing something outside of the Dome, because you had this massive structure that was utilized by so many entities on campus. We had to fix it – we absolutely had to fix it – before we could move forward.
"Another thing that's going to happen with this project is that I'm very hopeful that when people see it, they're going to be impressed and they're going to say, ‘You know what, they really did do something, this is a positive thing for the program.' I hope that you can tell me that when you looked at it today during the tour, that's its transformed the look of the Dome with the natural light and the quality of what is in there.
"Now, certainly we need to continue to move forward, and what that next project is will depend upon our people getting behind it. But I think that when people see, again, what we've been able to do, and how we've been able to do it, it will excite them to get them ready for the next project."
View of the Club Room perched out over the grand stands, with Loge Boxes situated out in front of the Club Room.|
How does this facility affect your fund raising efforts?
"Well, it will enhance our fund-raising efforts because as you know, one of the things we did with this project, unlike what a lot of other schools do, is we made sure we were "green" before we started it. What that means is we raised enough money to pay for the construction costs and pay for that project, so that the money we receive from seat-back requirements on an annual basis is going to go into our operating budget. What that is going to do is really help us "maintain" our current operating budget. Five years ago that wasn't the case. We viewed money we would generate from those premium seats would enhance our budget -- create a pool funds that we could use to create excellence in our programs. Well, with the economy, the state holdbacks, the University reductions, and the increased costs of tuition and fees, which are borne by the Department of athletics for all of our scholarships, it's really probably just positioned us to sustain our financial operations, rather than enhance them right now."
How does this facility impact what Dr. Nellis is able to do at the University level?
"Well, he's been very supportive of the project, and I think it is a very positive thing in his eyes, because as we all know, and we've talked about this many times about the multi-use facet of the Kibbie Dome, he sees that. I think it's going to enhance the atmosphere having to do with the Jazz Festival, certainly with commencement, and I think it opens up some other opportunities to be creative and bring other functions in here. It brings the University another space to utilize for other type of events, like that Club Room we were just in, you start thinking about the opportunities up there and what you can do outside of athletics that will benefit the entire institution, as well as our department. We were very careful in our negotiations that we control that Club Room, we control rental of that space, and we control all the food and beverage sales that occur in that facility. So, again, it's going to help us generate a little more revenue. But to really answer your question -- because it's benefitting the entire University, certainly President Nellis is excited about it."
View of the Club seats, with Luxury Suites (including the President's Box at the 50 yard line) situated just behind the club area.|
Are all the Premium Seats sold out now? What is still available?
"Well, we had 217 premium seats. At one time the original plans had 232 seats for the Club seating area, but we decided that we wanted to install a seat that was a little bit bigger, so we incorporated that into the plan and it shrunk the Club seating down to 217 seats. Out of that 217 we've sold about 200, so there are about another 17 for sale.
And the Loge boxes, I think those are the best seats in all of college football with how they're positioned and oversee the stadium. There are eight of those and we've sold six of them. All the suites are purchased and ready to go. So we need to finalize those Club seat sales and again sell those two loge boxes. We're hopeful that once people get into the facility and see it, that it will excite them and get some people excited about purchasing those two extra loge boxes and the remaining Club seats."
View along row of Loge Boxes, showing view of field and access to Club Room.|
If you look at everything you've accomplished here at Idaho, you must be feeling proud of what Idaho has built in the last 6 or 7 years. Every sport has been affected, including tennis and now track. On the football side, you've added practice fields, completed the weight room, built new locker rooms, new meeting rooms, new training rooms, installed a new modern field in the Dome, and now this - The Litehouse Center. The football program in particular is night-and-day from what you inherited. Is it progressing at about the pace you expected it to?
"I never feel it's enough. I'm always thinking we need to be able to do more and we need to continue to improve our facilities. But I'm a person that realizes you can't go from A to Z right off the bat. You have to go from A to B, B to C, and I think we've done that. We've been very focused and strategic in how we've done that and have been able to accomplish something every year during my tenure as AD. We've taken care of the student-athlete on a day-to-day basis with some of the facilities you just mentioned. That was a priority for me.
"Now the priority for me is to take care of the game-day atmospheres for all of our programs. The first step was the Kibbie Dome renovation. Then there will be a second step, a third step, and we're going to keep going. We just have to find out what that next project is. I think I know what that next project is, I just need to get that position to be a priority for the University of Idaho."
What is the relationship like now between Athletics and the rest of the University?
"You're always going to have a bit of a disconnect with some individuals on campus. I think it's the "33-1/3rd Rule". For instance, 33-1/3rd are never going to like athletics, 33-1/3rd are always going to appreciate and like it and support it, and the other 33-1/3rd you're going to need to educate and get them on board. I think we've done a good job educating the middle section to get them on board, but there are still a lot of things that we can do. I'm always very vocal about the contributions this athletic department gives back to the University of Idaho.
"The first thing is tuition and fee revenue. We have 207 scholarships that we pay in-state tuition on, and we pay it every single year. As tuition and fees increase – they've gone up roughly 16-17% in two years – we give the University of Idaho, taking into consideration those 207 scholarships plus the walkon student-athletes who I think may not be here if it wasn't for athletics – that's another 140 of them – we give the University of Idaho back $4.5 million. I think that's a pretty good revenue piece, so I'm always educating people that we pay our way. We actually pay our full way.
"The University is looking right now at discounting of tuition. There's a thought on campus that we (as an overall institution) discount too much tuition. Well, it doesn't happen here in Athletics, we pay our full rate every single day. And I'd like to argue we over pay, based on what some of the other students that are paying in-state tuition pay because of the discounting that they get. Well, we've always paid our full share.
"Long answer to your question, but at the end of the day we still have a lot of work to do. We need, as an athletic department, to be very supportive of other events the University sponsors and attend those. We need to make sure that everyone is supporting one-another. I think we've done a pretty good job of that here, but we always need to do better. It is something we are aware of and we work on it every day."
Was there ever any doubt that a project of this magnitude would be completed?
"Certainly there was some doubt, because I think a lot of people were skeptical that we were investing so much money into an aging facility. Hopefully we talked about that and explained why it was so important to get that project done and get it off the table so we could move forward.
"But on the other hand, the passion of our alums, the passion of the people that attend the University of Idaho, is, at times, overwhelming. And because I felt that, I felt anything was doable. And I think we can move forward with additional projects.
"Maybe the Dome wasn't appealing to everybody, but people bought into that and made it a lot better and moved us forward. Now I think we've built some confidence, and now it's up to us to continue to pick the right projects and get the rest of the alums and donors involved so that we can create a better athletic department and a better University of Idaho."
Has there been any sea change among the donors about how they perceive the department, or how they perceive that you can actually go out and do something based on these projects?
"Probably yet to be determined. We've been focused on getting this project done and approaching people with an emphasis on this project. But I am hopeful that when people see it that they will really feel good about the Kibbie Dome and the venue it's become. There are plenty of facility opportunities out there to continue to move this program forward. I think it's so important, whoever is in this chair now and in the future, that you always have to have a plan. That is one of the things I am proud of when you look back, is actually having a plan and how we can move forward.
Now, has that plan varied over time? Yes, but at least we had a plan. I can show you right now where the new events center would go. That wasn't in existence seven years ago. And I can tell you where a new track complex would go. I could tell you a lot of different things. I could probably tell you where a new outdoor football stadium would go, if we get to that point in the future. But it's important to have that plan so that if you come across the person that has an interest in developing something special that's going to make a difference to a lot of individuals, we have the plan to show them."
Have there been any changes among the faculty, or has the relationship with the University changed because of the completion of this project?
"I think it's a little bit indifferent. I think some people respect what we've done and are excited about what we've done. Some people probably think we wasted a bunch of money on that facility, but then again that's probably the 33% that we could never convince that athletics is a good thing, or that what we've done with this Kibbie Dome is a good thing."
Any cost breaks on the construction given the economy?
"I think so. I think we've timed it right in a lot of different ways. I would encourage you guys to get over to the outdoor track and check it out, because that facility is going to be phenomenal. It is going to be a lot better than a lot of PAC-12 facilities, I can guarantee you that. But that project is costing us about $2.5 million, and we heard the other day that if we went out to bid today, because of the cost of the petroleum used for the surface of the track, that it would have cost $4 – 4.5 million. We were lucky to get a better price, so that is one example I have, and I think some of that carried over to this project here.
"Whenever you have two cranes that were erected last fall and sat here for a period of eight months, that's a pretty good indication that the economy is not too strong."
How was the track upgrade funded?
"The University is funding it and rolling it into some debt financing based on a plan that we had for renovating that track as we get ready to host the WAC Championships next spring. There were a lot of issues out there with the subsurface being so poor, and no drainage, and it wasn't enough to just resurface the track. We had to totally gut it and redo it and make sure it's right, and take care of those old grand stands, because those were a liability.
"Universities and State Board's of Education don't like facilities that create liabilities. We were able to act on that and fortunately President Nellis saw the need, and we were able to roll that into a debt financing package."
FUTURE PLANS FOR ATHLETIC FACILITIES AND FOOTBALL SCHEDULING
Can you talk to us a little bit about the future? What is next on the horizon for your programs? We've heard discussions of focusing attention now on basketball. Is that true?
"But we also need a basketball facility, and we need to get basketball out of the Dome. It really impacts our ability to schedule quality non-conference opponents early in the year when the football field is setup.
"So that's a priority of mine. But you have to understand that none of that money is going to come from the University. It's all going to have to come from private sources, and it's up to me and my team to come up with a funding plan for how we might do that. I have some ideas for how we might do it, but it's more complex than just coming up with a plan. Again, I have to get that strategically positioned in the eyes of the University to be able to move forward. And even if that becomes a priority of the University, we still have to get approval from the State Board of Education for how we go about funding that project. So there's a lot of work to be done, but we're not going to stop. We're going to continue to pursue it.
"I just think once we're able to get basketball out of there, you create a lot more opportunities for what happens with the Kibbie Dome, and what happens for the football program in the future."
Can the University pursue three different major facility projects simultaneously?
"Probably not. The University would be opposed to that, with the economic times the way they are. You have to prioritize. But it's up to me to continue to push and communicate the need.
"I don't think anybody disagrees with the need. They probably have some concern with the overall cost of it, and whether we can get that done. But I do think it's important to have it out there, so that at the right point in time we can become successful and find a way to get that done."
Is a Memorial Gym remodel an option? Or do the needs for such a facility call for a new structure, and if so do you have a site identified for a new facility and a general idea for what it would be?
"In a perfect world you want a new structure, and I think our facilities people on campus would tell you they'd rather deal with building a new facility, rather than having to deal with all the gremlins they would find in an aging facility and trying to renovate it. Memorial Gym has a lot of history to it, it's attractive, and I think it's a neat structure.
"But the biggest challenge you're going to have there is parking. You just don't have adequate parking space -- Our campus architects are quick to point out that parking is going to be a challenge. And then of course when you start digging into the infrastructure of that building -- it was built right after World War I in honor of our World War I veterans -- you're going to face some serious challenges. So that scares everybody a bit.
"But I've been at this long enough to know you never say never. Never say never to anything. If it became cost effective to do some kind of a renovation to get that facility to where it can seat 5-6000 fans, in lieu of spending $60 million for a new Events Center [which is a high-end quote that includes all the bells and whistles of perfect acoustics, or could be scaled down to a more economical price depending on what the University would want in such a facility], you might have to do that. So, never say never."
Do you have a general time-line for when the basketball improvements will be completed or when basketball will be out of the Dome?
"I can't put it in a time-line. It all depends on money. Even if we had the money in-hand today, the whole process to get it approved, get it designed, and get it out for bid, you're probably two years away right there, even if you had the money today. It's going to be a long process."
Turning back to the Dome, there is little doubt that what has been done here so far is a dramatic improvement over what the Dome was before. It really is spectacular. But it is difficult for some to see what the bigger picture is for this facility. Can you talk to us about options that are available to expand this facility? We know that there is the potential for a dig down and the chance to add 3000 or so seats, but what other options are there?
"Let's be perfectly clear on something first…the dome is not getting expanded nor will there be talk about another football venue until we start selling the Dome out. Now, I think the dig down would give you about 4,000 and maybe even 5,000 new seats. Plus the endwalls were always designed to be able to accommodate more seating. For example, the West end where the Vandal script is was designed to be punched out to put additional seating in. On the East end, where the racquetball courts are located also gives you room to expand.
"What's interesting is when you look into what was done in the Dome -- as we toured and I pointed out to you -- the new press box that we installed was probably the least expensive part of the entire renovation. If you look at how that was cantilevered out, you could certainly look at the four remaining corners and figure a way to add some seats there and expand that way, and it's something we need to review.
"People send me emails that you're not getting into this conference because you don't have this stadium size, or that basketball facility. My answer is simple: to get into another conference you have to win. Winning will take of itself, and winning will take care of whether the University of Idaho grows, continues to improve facilities and gets into another conference. When you start winning, the facility enhancement that comes with that becomes – I will never say it becomes easy – but it becomes a little bit more of a motivating factor for the University as a whole.
"Facility enhancement is already a motivator for me.
"I have high expectations of our coaches as we move into this new league that we will win. It's not a matter of if we will win, but when we will win. You look at the four schools we lost; Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State, and Hawaii. In football, in six years, we were 1-and-23 against those schools. So my expectations are that we are going to win in this new league.
"Now, I would love to be in a league with those four schools -- don't get me wrong -- because I know we're building a program here where we can compete with them every year. And despite what happened against Bowling Green, I still have high hopes for this football team. But, the expectations, as they always were, are that we would win. There's a little more urgency to it now, and I think that winning will take care of a lot of issues and position the University of Idaho to be successful facility-wise and conference-wise well into the future.
"Back in the day, when Boise State entered the WAC, their football stadium probably was not on par with some of the other programs at the time. Now it is, but they took care of business and they won [following years of winning adding the Steuckle Center and creating excitement around the program and near sellouts week-after-week, which generates millions in revenue for their program]. That is what the University of Idaho has to do."
What impact does stadium size have on scheduling more marquee, BCS-type teams?
"It doesn't! I could go schedule a BCS program tomorrow and enter into a home-and-home arrangement. Financially, it doesn't make sense at this point in time for us to do it, because when you schedule home-and-home with schools, you swap game guarantees. Usually that game guarantee is in the range of $150-175,000. So in that year when I'm scheduling that game, I'm either going to have to pay someone $175K to come in here, or go on the road and get $175K.
"So, I would rather go play a BCS school on the road for a lot more money than $175K, and then use some of that money to buy an FCS opponent to come in here, and then trade a home-and-home with a MAC school or a Mountain West school. From a scheduling standpoint, that's why we haven't scheduled any BCS schools in here, because it doesn't make financial sense for us to do it at this time.
"If we had the ability to generate more external revenue somehow, then maybe it would. But given the times we're in, and the pressures to balance the budget, and if you look at the revenues out there to help us balance the budget, a lot of it comes with football scheduling and being strategic there.
If we're playing that game in a home-and-home, I'm probably leaving $600-700,000 on the table, if not more. Plus it mandates we play another BCS school [or more] in that year."
Is the problem that you can't sell enough seats to pay the $175,000 guarantee?
"No. We have enough seats to sell, we just haven't sold them. Why should it matter who we play in order to fill the dome up? We've paid $175K for other schools to come in here, like schools from the MAC [and Mountain West]. But if you look at our non-conference schedule, assuming we have four football games, you have to be careful because you have to have those money games. To get those money games, you have to play at BCS schools. You can't schedule a home-and-home with a BCS school because you're not going to generate the revenue needed for the program. Again, if we did this, we would always be required to play multiple BCS games [on the road to make up the revenue short-fall].
"Right now, it's all about how we financially manage the program."
BSU has home-and-home scheduled with UW, and they've hosted WSU, Oregon, and Oregon State. Nevada hosted Cal. BYU will play at every WAC stadium except Idaho. What needs to change to bring these more marquee BCS-type teams to Moscow?
"Our goal is to try and schedule just one BCS game, period. Unfortunately, with all the additional costs to run a program and the loss of WAC revenue, we will need to play two BCS opponents in the short-term. To answer your question, I have to be willing to schedule them. We just talked about the challenge of financially doing it. I just don't want to swap out a game guarantee with these schools right now without the ability to capture additional revenues, because when you schedule a home-and-home we absolutely will need to play another BCS game [at a minimum] on the road.
"Now, if I knew that we were going to sell ALL of our games out -- and maybe charge a premium for that game -- then we might be talking a different situation. Without selling the stadium out [for the season], again I must schedule BCS games on the road for revenue. Ideally, if we sold out maybe we wouldn't need to schedule any BCS schools. Schools like Boise State shouldn't even be a comparison. They're going to sell that stadium out [for the season], 30,000+ people, and they're probably going to charge a premium. It doesn't matter who they're playing, they're going to sell it out. But when they play Washington or Oregon State, they'll have the ability to charge a premium on that game AND THEN sell it out and make more revenue.
"Now, people are going to say that it's all because you don't have the stadium size. It's not the stadium size. We don't sell out what we have now. If you want to help me increase stadium size, then start going to the games and help us sell it out. Because I'll tell you right now, I have NO LEVERAGE on this campus to go and start expanding the stadium or considering another football venue without us selling out what we have right now.
"Build it and they will come is not a strategy that I can use on this campus"
More than just one or two games a year, it needs to be consistent…
"The only game we've ever sold out during my tenure as AD is the Boise State game."
Right, but you can't go from having 16,000 in here one week and 8,000 in here the next. That's what you're ultimately talking about -- the massive swing in attendance is the issue.
"Right. We played San Jose State in here the last week of the year [final home game of 2010], and I was embarrassed for our coaches and kids. They worked hard and gave it their all. We might have had 4,000 in here. I would hope that if we had beat Fresno State the week before, and we needed that win to go to a bowl game, that our fans would have turned out.
"But, we need you to turn out all the time. When we have a turnout like THAT, it makes it very difficult for me to even try to approach the University or the President to say we need more seats [or hang the athletic budget on a "hope" that fans will buy tickets at the gate]."
And when you say we need to sellout "all the time", you're only trying to sellout 15,000 seats. You're not trying to sellout 25 or 30,000 seats. And just six times a year.
So why did BYU really say they didn't want to play here? Is it strictly the guarantee, or did they just not want to come here? And do you know why?
[pause] "I don't know the reason. Initially when the WAC brought them in and formed a scheduling alliance as part of our efforts to get them to join our league in all other sports besides football, they were going to play a home-and-home with every WAC school. Then when the possibility of BYU joining the WAC blew up, BYU said that they didn't want to play at the University of Idaho. We then tried to get them to give us a home basketball game and that did not workout either. I don't understand it. I think that they would be a good drawing card for us and for them, especially with the LDS population that exists in Idaho.
"BYU marches to their own drum, and we were stuck with playing them on the road. I wish I knew more about it."
Did they come to you and say they weren't going to play here for any reason?
"They didn't. It was the Conference office that negotiated that whole agreement."
The scheduling issue with BSU is complicated, but what are your thoughts about scheduling games with them? Are you open to a home-and-home agreement, where the "home" game up here is in Pullman or Spokane at a larger venue? Is such a plan necessary?
"I'm not interested in playing a game off our campus. I think those years where we played over in Martin Stadium, it wasn't the best situation for our athletic department. I understand why we did it, and why we had to do it, but I'm not interested in taking a game off campus. I think that you need to support the community that you're in, and you need to engage your student body, so you need to play the game at home.
"My stance with Boise State is – and I've been on record with this – is that we have to play home-and-home. But again, I'll never say never. Some people expect us to have a presence in Boise. We're going to try to play a basketball game down there every year to have that presence. Some people don't think that's enough, that we have to have a football presence. At the end of the day, if we're going to have a ‘true' rivalry, you have to have a home-and-home.
"It's going to be difficult to do that, in part because of the uncertainty of how many teams the WAC is going to have in the future. I was scheduled out through 2014 assuming a nine team league, and then the four schools left. So in 2012 we have to pick up two non-conference games, and in 2013 I have to pick up two more non-conference games. This is not easy because schools are already scheduled. What happens in 2014? Do I have to pick up two more non-conference games? Are we still going to be a seven team league, or eight, or nine? With the expectation that there will be four non-conference games in 2014, and the expectation that we'll get to nine football teams in 2014, it means my non-conference schedule is filled. So the dates just aren't out there.
"Now, there is one date possibly in October 2013 that we could arrange a game. Gene Bleymaier and I were in – and I will emphasize here – PRELIMINARY conversations about what might happen. That was a date that was thrown out. My expectation is that if we go down for that game in 2013 that there would be a return trip up here at some point in time in the future. Can I commit to that in 2014? I don't think I can, with the scheduling uncertainties in our league and how many teams will we have. Can I commit to it a few years out? I think I could."
What is the possibility of reviving a home-and-home series with our neighbor and long-time rival WSU?
"It's almost an identical situation. It ties together with what I was talking to you about with our league and how many teams we're going to have in 2014. If we have nine teams, I'm filled. If we have less than nine, I'm open. Now, the PAC-12 has made a policy that states that they have to play their non-conference games in the first four weeks of their season. If you look in 2014, I have my schedule filled up in those first four weeks so I have no flexibility. They wanted to play -- and we've been having conversations -- they wanted to schedule in 2013, but I couldn't fit it into that window of early in the season, because I'd already scheduled it out. I offered to play outside that four week window and they said they couldn't do it.
"So there is a possibility in the future. I think it's a good thing for both schools to play the game, but we need to find some way to get it scheduled. But it's going to have to be early in the year."
Would it be home-and-home?
"It would probably not be home-and-home, but never say never. Again, if we play them at home we need to return the game for the same game guarantee so we would be faced with finding another BCS game guarantee. I could certainly negotiate that, but the expectation is that it would probably be played there."
Is that a stadium size issue?
"Not until we sell every game out will stadium size become an issue. However in that case, you'd probably sell that game out just because they would draw and you've got the two communities playing. But then again, I will still need to schedule other BCS road games for the financial payoff.
"Once again, it's not all about capacity. It's about filling the stadium and having people pay for those season tickets. We've done the calculations – if we sold our stadium out, and people bought season tickets, and showed up to the games, we would probably gross another $500,000 - $600,000 per year. And that changes the WHOLE dynamic about how we schedule.
"It changes the whole dynamic."
It opens up the possibility of realistically talking to these schools in a home-and-home arrangement?
"It would. But I also need to pay attention to the competiveness side and not over schedule BCS schools."
When you're talking about increasing your revenue by $500-600K, how many season ticket holders are you talking about?
"That would be 5,000 season tickets. Last year we were a little over 2,900 season tickets. Right now we're a little bit ahead of that pace, but I don't know if we'll sustain it. Some people bought season tickets last year just to ensure themselves good seats for the Boise State game.
"But simply going from 2,900 to 5,000 season tickets (plus the VSF seatback contribution) gives us that number, and it should be doable. This year we made 13,623 phone calls to individuals who had either purchased season tickets in the past, purchased tickets to a bowl game or purchased single game tickets in the past five years [driving Idaho's season ticket sales this year]."
Would things be different today if the fan-base had been more aggressively developed in the past?
"Believe me, my predecessors did the best job that they could, they did an absolutely great job, because this is not an easy job. I have all the respect in the world for anyone that has ever sat in this chair.
"I think having to meet the attendance requirement back in the day where we basically gave every ticket we had away to come to the games, created an expectation that people didn't have to buy.
"So we have been pretty good about saying there really is no more free. We have a business to run here and we think our business does a good job of bringing people to the community. In fact we did that study that shows the athletic department creates a $35 million economic impact to this local community, which is huge. So hopefully because of that people would start engaging and attending.
"All we can do is ask, and promote, and continue to move forward. But at the end of the day we have to win … we need to have that winning program."
ABOUT THE WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
Can you talk about the current status of the WAC? What are your thoughts about recently added members and how they impact the strength and marketability of the conference?
"The moves that we've made have certainly provided a level of stability for the WAC, but we desperately need to fix football. I do like the fact that we've added a team from Seattle, and a team from San Antonio – and really two teams from the San Antonio market – and recently adding Texas-Arlington which gives you that Dallas market, and then of course the University of Denver that gives you the Denver market. So, we have expanded our ability to be in big markets, and that's certainly a positive.
"I was a little worried about expanding again in the south and bringing on another Texas school. But it does balance our league out now, because we have five in the north and five in the south, or five in the west and five in the east, however you want to look at it. So, a ten team league is great for basketball scheduling, but our work is not done. We have to take care of football, and having football playing schools is critical to our future success.
"But to get that done we need more conference revenue, people really have to understand that we've really taken a hit with our TV contract. We were on target to receive about $4 million this year from ESPN. But because of the way the contracts are written, if there are any changes in the conference, they have a right to renegotiate the contract. Well, ESPN did and lowered that number significantly.
"I am hopeful that with the additions of Denver, Seattle, Dallas and San Antonio, they will see that there is value in the WAC, and we can get that television deal back up to where it needs to be. Without that, there's really no incentive for some schools to join our league, especially some of the FCS schools because in some cases they have to add sports, and they have to increase football scholarships, they need a revenue source to be able to do that. So, the media package that the WAC has in the future will dictate the football membership that we're going to have in the future.
"Even with that challenge, we're going to be able to move forward and entice, most-likely, another FCS school (one that already has 16 sports), to come our way and continue to work on creating that balance in the league, from a geographic standpoint."
Back a few years ago, when BSU, La Tech, and then Idaho, USU and NMSU were added, the WAC wasn't exactly a marquee conference. But they put on a good show that people wanted to see, and they sold it.
"You touched on that winning piece that is so important. You have to make yourself attractive. And it's even more important in this day and age to be a winner, with all the exposure you have with all the difference multimedia opportunities. When you start winning at the FBS level, you become noticed, and that is what has to happen here at the University of Idaho, and I think it will all fall into place.
"We're putting the pieces together. I am very excited about the football program and what we've done to upgrade our athleticism. You guys watched practice the other day, and I think you got an appreciation for our size and the physicality of this football team. I think it's certainly a Division 1 team, from a physical standpoint. It stands out now.
"I know some of the numbers that I see in the weight room absolutely stand out to me. We had 41 guys clean 300 pound from the floor without straps that means you're pulling 300 pounds all the way from the floor up to you shoulders. That is significant, and because of this improvement, I expect big things from the football program. When I first became the AD I think we had 12 guys that could clean 300 pounds. We have a come a long way athletically and that is a credit to Akey and his staff."
What are your thoughts about future conference additions? Can you talk about a couple scenarios for the conference?
"I think it's premature to talk about it. Everyone talks about the Montanas and Montana States, and I think they'd be great additions. But again, we have to be attractive to them. We have to be able to provide the revenue to make themselves better to fund those extra scholarships and the extra coaches they'd have to hire, and in some cases an extra sport to add.
"If you look at the two Texas schools we added, they already had the 16 sport minimum, so they weren't faced with adding another sport. They were already there. It's whole different ball game when all you have to do is add 22 football scholarships and a couple coaches, versus 22 football scholarships, a few coaches, and then add a couple sports programs to get to the 16 sport minimum."
Texas A&M is making a push to join the SEC, and the Big East is looking to add one or more football teams to their conference. How do these changes impact the WAC, and how is Idaho positioned to ride out the next round of conference realignment?
"I can't speak on behalf of what the SEC is going to do, but certainly whenever there is any movement the domino effect starts. I am sure the SEC will add members because supposedly their TV deal can be renegotiated when they add teams. With the Pac-12 getting all that media money, the SEC is saying, ‘What about us?'
For the WAC to be impacted, it all will depend on what Conference USA does, in my opinion. We were prepared for the Big East to take a school from Conference USA, which would have opened up a window for a WAC school like Louisiana Tech or maybe North Texas from the Sun Belt to enter Conference USA. Of course, if we lose a member in the WAC where do we go? You have to find a school to replace them.
"So any movement right now, any program that we would lose that was a football playing school would hurt. It wouldn't be the end-all, but it would really require us to maybe add some schools that wouldn't be currently on our radar screen, but would become a priority out of necessity.
"I have told our coaches and our staff that we need to control what we can control. We can't control what's happening with conference realignment. What we can control is how we're perceived, how we perform on the field, but again winning is going to be crucial to that. If we continue to win, continue to improve facilities in the manner that we have, we will control our own destiny that way."
Does the WAC have a long-term agreement with the Idaho Famous Potato Bowl, or are those discussions ongoing?
"Right now, when we get to 2012 that is the only bowl game the WAC has a tie to. I think we have a three year agreement, so we will continue to be a conference that supplies a school to that bowl game. I know that the Famous Potato Bowl is very interested in the University of Idaho, and if we're bowl eligible they will consider us every year.
"I know that people will say that we used to be tied to four bowl games, and now we're only tied to one. Well, I know that we're going to be able to sign backup agreements with other bowls. Which means that if another conference didn't have enough bowl-eligible teams, the WAC would provide a backup team to the bowl. From a conference perspective, we have to have teams hit that six win number so we can be bowl eligible and field enough bowl eligible teams to get the WAC affiliated with more bowl games. I think that over time, once we get this football situation stabilized, I think we'll have more options to play in a bowl."