Q&A with Bruce Van De Velde

With the 2003-04 school year about to get underway, Iowa State athletic director Bruce Van De Velde decided to sit down with CN to offer his "State of the Cyclones" address.

CN: Let's begin with your overall assessment of the ISU athletic department.

Van De Velde: When you look at the overall status of the athletic department we are in good shape in a lot of areas. Academically we have never been better. You measure that by team grade-point averages and graduation rates. We continue to be right at the top of our peers and getting better every year.

Financially we are in good shape. Even with the basketball transition we are going to take money to our reserve, which is a good thing. We are also continuing to improve our facilities.

Competitively it was not as good a year as we would have liked overall. I think we're going to be on the upswing next year. I expect our football program to challenge for another bowl game. I expect our men's and women's basketball teams to challenge for postseason play. I think our gymnastics and wrestling teams will both be ranked in the top 10 nationally. Our women's indoor track could be nationally ranked. Our soccer team is really coming on and starting to be recognized as a force in the Big 12.

CN: Can you provide a progress report on the facility upgrades?

Van De Velde: The biggest project we have going on is the Steve and Debbie Bergstrom Indoor Practice Facility. It is on schedule to be completed sometime around Thanksgiving and it's going to be a beautiful building. I really appreciate all the donors that supported that project because it will make a huge impact on our programs, especially football.

We have also been doing a lot of smaller projects. We're installing permanent lights on the soccer complex and we're installing permanent seating and doing some other work to the softball complex. Those two projects are probably about $400,000 together.

We have continued to do work on Jack Trice Stadium. If you walk up on the concourse you'll see all the stairs leading to the upper deck have been replaced. We have torn out all the old stairs and replaced them. That was about a $300,000 project.

We are working on a plan to gut the restrooms next summer and do all new restrooms, which is a million-dollar project. I am hoping that we can find enough funding, if we can have a good year in football, to replace the fencing around the football stadium and redo the entrances. We have also remodeled and made some improvements to the men's and women's basketball offices. Now you'll see some trophy cases when you walk in the entrance.

We've just finished our feasibility study for a new academic center. We're going to go to the Board of Regents this fall for approval to initiate fund raising for a $5 million academic center. We have the three proposals we're looking at. That will be a project we can complete in the next year or two.

CN: What's the status of a Pete Taylor memorial?

Van De Velde: I did a written proposal to the university asking for permission to name the press box and sky suites at Jack Trice Stadium in the name of Pete Taylor. That has made it past the first round of approval and now we have to go to the Regents.

They have a policy in place that you cannot name a facility after someone until it's been five years since they left the university. With Pete it was obviously an untimely death so they may waive that and hopefully we can name those in Pete's honor. Nothing is official but it's in the works.

CN: Are you pleased with where football season ticket sales are at?

Van De Velde: I am probably as pleased as I have been. When I arrived here we were selling about 18,000 season tickets and this year we're going to shatter 25,000. So that is an increase of 7,000 season tickets over three years. I am happy with that but not satisfied. I do not want to put any limit on where we need to be. I would like to see us sell the stadium out with season tickets. I would like to see 45,000 season tickets because it's possible here and realistic.

Financially, if we want to remain competitive in our conference we need to sell a minimum of 28,000 season tickets. I want to commend our fans and alumni for where they have taken us, but there is still some work to do.

CN: Can you comment on the recent legal problems some of your student-athletes have run into?

Van De Velde: We have stubbed our toe a little bit on that recently, but it's hard to bat 100 percent in that area when you are working with student-athletes. We're not going to have them all doing the right things all the time. They are going to make mistakes. We should not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Our student-athlete population is 450. In men's basketball we have had three student-athletes that have had problems. We have had one women's swimmer, one wrestler, and two in football. That means you've only got seven student-athletes that have had a problem with either alcohol or marijuana out of 450. About 98 percent of out student-athletes are trying to do the job the right way. Let's not condemn the whole program because that many athletes have an incident. Let's look at the big picture and try to see what we can do for those kids.

We will discipline our student-athletes and try to help them. At some point, after we've invoked discipline and tried to provide support and counseling, if they still do not get it they will not be a part of our program.

CN: Academically you have a lot to be proud of.

Van De Velde: Over the last two years we've had over 200 student-athletes named to the Big 12 honor roll. That means they had a 3.0 grade-point-average or better. We've had nearly 40 Academic All-Americans as well, which is really staggering because you don't see that promoted a lot.

Ninety percent of the kids that come here and exhaust their eligibility graduate. That's tops in the Big 12. Overall, our graduation rate is 64 percent, which is higher than the student body.

CN: What's your early read on new men's basketball coach Wayne Morgan?

Van De Velde: I think it is a work in progress and it's still too soon to really draw an assessment. The key is to take care of the fundamental things that are important like hiring a quality staff, recruiting outstanding student-athletes, investing in facilities, and doing a great job with academics.

Wayne has to come to work and try to do better each day. He has assembled an excellent coaching staff. Now he has to exercise diligence, perseverance, persistence, and hard work on those fundamentals. He has to recruit quality kids and make sure that they're getting the grades.

He has been received well by the public. The media will find him to be a breath of fresh air. He will be an outstanding role model for our student-athletes. He is very well rounded and relates so well with young people. He plays the guitar, speaks foreign languages and has interests outside of basketball. He is an intelligent guy and I have a lot of respect for him. I think you can see he is a player's coach.

Previously, I don't think our kids were having any fun as I visited with them when they left the program. You want to win, but you want to do it in a manner that allows the student-athlete to have a positive experience along the way. I think Johnny Orr did that.

CN: Are you still struggling to generate men's basketball revenue?

Van De Velde: Our revenues for men's basketball have been down the last two years. We are down about a $500,000 in revenue from ticket sales. Our budget is 11th in the Big 12 behind only Baylor's, so that is a factor. We have still finished in the black overall because of football, which made up for that and more. But we've still got to get that back up in order to be successful for our entire athletic program.

People love Hilton Magic. If we do not let them down and try to do things right, I think the fans will come back. I have cut season ticket prices in the balcony over a hundred dollars for next year to encourage people to come back. You can buy a season ticket up in the balcony for $299, compared to $410 the last several years. Also, we have not raised prices in the lower bowl in two years. We are trying to do our part to attract people back.

However, if you look at our combined attendance for men's and women's basketball we are fourth in the country out of over 300 Division I institutions. Number four in the nation in Ames, Iowa. That is staggering. But very few schools draw 10,000 people to a women's basketball game.

CN: The circumstances that led to you hiring Morgan, and the firing of his predecessor Larry Eustachy, led to some strong feelings about your leadership from some ISU fans. How do your respond to that?

Van De Velde: We tried to say this is what we stand for as a university and athletic department: character, integrity, honesty, work ethic, and discipline. And we want to reflect those values within our program. We made our decision based on those qualities. Some people agree with that because of the circumstances and some do not. I do not think you can please everyone. We try to do things right for the overall best interest of the institution.

An athletic director has to make tough decisions, but I will say that I have been open about those decisions and tried not to do those by myself in a vacuum. I have sought input from our president and administration. I feel very comfortable about the decisions we have made in the best interest of the university and our student-athletes.

That does not mean that it has not impacted my family and I. It has been very difficult on us, but that comes with the territory. With success comes problems and challenges. With growth comes success and challenges. As an athletic director who has been involved in intercollegiate athletics since 1980, I don't think there are many tougher issues for an athletic director to handle than what we have had here the last few years.

I think the overall support for our athletic program has never been stronger and the numbers reflect that. Our membership to our National Cyclone Club is at an all-time high with over 5,300 members. Just three years ago we had 3,800. The revenues we generated three years ago were about $19 million and next year it will be close to $30 million.

 

 

 


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