Dear Dr. G,
As you know, this Friday we're scheduled to sit down for an in-depth discussion on Iowa State athletics.
I certainly appreciate the time you're giving our humble, neophyte publication and website. I realize athletics is just one of your many priorities as the president of a major, public university. I also realize you trust others to run the athletic department for you, and pay them handsomely to perform their duties.
Nevertheless, considering the budget constraints the university – and thus your athletic department is current operating under, those that place ISU athletics as a top priority for the university have some concerns that they will be left behind in the well-funded Big 12 Conference. Some of them are also questioning whether the right people have been entrusted with guiding ISU through such a crucial, trying time in its athletic history.
Those are just some of the issues I hope we'll get to talk about later this week. I have authored this letter to give you a heads-up on some of the key areas I hope to cover with you during our interview.
The first question I am likely to ask is about the job status of the person joining us for our meeting. That would be Bruce Van De Velde. Given your duties within academia, you may not be aware of the fact that just the mention of your athletic director's name on my radio program still evokes a strong reaction. Of course, most of this dates back to the Larry Eustachy affair, but some of it is also because of the tough decisions Bruce has been asked to make during his brief tenure in charge.
For instance, he eliminated the baseball as well as the men's swimming and diving programs for budgetary reasons. Then there was the men's basketball coaching search after Eustachy was rightly – in my opinion – recommended for termination. This summer some fans believed he should have broken his vow to high school football coaches in the state and taken the reported $400,000 from ESPN to move the Northern Illinois game to Friday night. After all, they argue, high school football coaches don't have to come up with creative ways to stretch a budget that is already cash-strapped compared to many of its Big 12 brethren.
Mr. President, do you support all of the crucial decisions Van De Velde has made? Do you have a say in Van De Velde's decisions? Do his decisions require your approval beforehand? Would you have taken the ESPN money and run, or would you have kept your word?
While we're on the subject of Van De Velde, might I inquire as to his employment status with Iowa State University? It seems a lot of other people are, just about everyday. At least once a day on my radio program I get an e-mail from someone passing on a Van De Velde is gone rumor or asking when he'll be gone. It's a frequent topic of discussion on the various Internet message boards frequented by your fans, alumni, and administrators as well. In fact, it's the question I get asked the most by sports fans in the state when I'm out in the public. The Van De Velde speculation has almost become a cliché.
Therefore, I just have three questions. First, will Van De Velde be your athletic director through the full term of his contact? Second, when does Van De Velde's contact specifically expire? Finally, will Van De Velde get a contract extension now that he is in the final year of his current deal?
Why are these questions important enough to ask up front before we even start discussing the other matters? The answer is simple, really.
Companies and organizations are only as good as the people that operate them. Thus, it is vital that as ISU looks for solutions to what is a rather turbulent time the right people are in place to pilot the good ship Cyclone through troubled waters. It is also vital that the people bestowed that responsibility are publicly supported by their superiors when they have difficult choices to make.
So, do you think you have the right people in place? That certain segment of the fan base which feels alienated by Van De Velde wants to know, and their loyalty to the athletic department is just as important as those who agree with me that Van De Velde has basically become a scape-goat for everything that ails the Cyclone Nation. As someone whose life work is public relations and gauging public opinion, it's hard to necessarily give Van De Velde high marks where that's concerned. However, his ability to use the bully pulpit and maybe win some skeptics over could be helped if you more publicly supported your athletic director.
Speaking of support, now that the Van De Velde speculation is out of the way, lets examine what you think the word "support" means in terms of the ISU athletic department.
In light of the $560,000 you ordered your athletic department to cut from its budget this year due to state government shortfalls, can you honestly look every Cyclone fan in the eye and truthfully tell them that ISU places a high priority on athletics.
Considering you already had the second smallest athletic department budget in the Big 12, how can you expect to remain competitive in the conference by cutting funding further? Your ordered cut was five times more than your counterpart in Iowa City asked the Hawkeye athletic department to take. This despite the fact the University of Iowa thinks it can raise nearly $90 million in private funds to renovate Kinnick Stadium. How do you reconcile that? What would you say to Cyclone fans that believe their administration is short-changing them, while the Hawkeyes seemingly more highly value the role of athletics in a university community?
And while we're on the subject of valuing athletics, how important do you feel sports are to Iowa State University? There's a lot of scuttlebutt among the residents of Cyclone Nation that I know and trust that you don't place a high priority on athletics, and are more of an academic indifferent to what goes on in the Jacobson Building. That buzz is somewhat surprises me, considering you previously worked at Penn State and Maryland, two schools with top-notch athletic departments. Is that a fair characterization or a rash judgement?
Last fall, your athletic director openly questioned whether or not Iowa State could remain competitive in the Big 12, and whether or not it should even remain in high-level Division I college sports, given the financial resources committed to making it successful. How would you respond to that sentiment?
What is your individual assessment of your major revenue sport coaches: Dan McCarney, Wayne Morgan, and Bill Fennelly? Given the current financial situation, how important is it for Mac and Fennelly to reverse recent struggles immediately? Are the mechanisms (i.e. tougher disciplinary standards, formal substance abuse counseling, etc.) in place for Coach Morgan to re-establish discipline in a program that has sorely been lacking it in recent years?
Can you assure prospective student-athletes who are being recruited by ISU in the various sports that they will have the necessary support to be successful both in the classroom and in the athletic realm? Just last week it was announced that $100,000 would be cut from the summer school program, for instance. Is the fundraising there to build an academic center?
Next, and you may consider this a minor point, but does Iowa State really recognize the power of the sound byte in this age of electronic media excess? For example, why announce you're cutting funding for summer school for athletes during the stretch run of the football recruiting period? Why make front-page news out of a silly, tasteless ad in a free weekly newspaper? Why not be more proactive in responding to the Des Moines Register story on Eustachy, since you were warned ahead of time before it came out? When asked to support your athletic director on TV-13 WHO, why not just unequivocally do it?
Considering the major issues facing ISU sports, I just don't understand the propensity for further stoking we in the media's infatuation for controversy and hyperbole by creating more reasons for scrutiny. While those of you inside the Ivory Tower may be insulated from such trite rhetoric, it certainly has an impact on the mentality of the fan base you market to it since they're the ones that are exposed to it.
Finally, let's focus on men's basketball and football. Obviously those are the sports that are the lifeblood of the entire athletic department, especially football. Are the personnel and resources there to compete for conference championships in those sports in the near future? Why or why not? What is your expectation for each program year in and year out? What would it take for ISU to be as successful in those two money sports as the University of Maryland, your last place of employment, is now?
Well, there you have it. I think that about covers it and I again do appreciate you taking the time out to answer my questions. I think I speak for everyone here when I say we're looking forward to your replies.
PS…we'll discuss your Research Foundation's silly rules for using the coveted word "Cyclone" some other time. J
Sweet 16 Seeds
Just for your edification, and because the college football season is over, I thought we'd add a new ranking element to this space. If Selection Sunday were today, this is how I would seed the top four teams in each region of the NCAA Tournament.
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio in Central Iowa each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network)