What you are about to read is the most important article that I humbly believe has ever been published in the short history of this website. That's why it's free for everyone to read. I feel that since the interview covers so many topics that have been discussed thoroughly within Cyclone Nation over the past year, that we have a duty here at CN to make the entire interview available to everyone who cares at all about the Cyclones.
Whether they choose to subscribe to our site or not.
Over the past year several of you that frequent this site, the Rivals' site, and call my radio program have expressed reservations about the direction of the athletic department—both in terms of policy and credibility. It is with that mind-set that I entered into this interview. My sole goal was to ask as many questions, that the time allotted me would allow, that I knew all of you would want to ask if you had the opportunity.
The interview was only scheduled to last 30 minutes, but it ended up going about 45 minutes. In that time, I hope you'll find that I did the best I could to get direct answers to as many poignant questions as I could come up with. I must say up front that the level of passion and energy exhibited by university president Gregory Geoffroy for ISU and ISU sports pleasantly surprised me.
It ran somewhat contrary to a lot of the whispers and innuendo I had been hearing from those close to ISU athletics. During the interview, Dr. Geoffroy both displayed a working knowledge not just of Cyclone athletics, but sports in general. In fact, we spent some before the on-the-record portion began discussing how football recruiting was going. Now, that doesn't mean that I think Dr. Geoffroy spends his spare time enjoying his NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV, but I did come away from the interview believing he has some level of appreciation for the vital role athletics plays within a major university community.
The interview took place in the president's office on Friday morning. Along with Dr. Geoffroy and I were athletic director Bruce Van De Velde (at Geoffroy's request), sports information director Tom Kroeschell (at Van De Velde's request), and our very own Bill Seals (at my request). President Geoffroy spoke with only one sheet of notes, never got testy despite the provocative nature of the questioning at times, almost always looked me in the eye, and was more forthcoming on the record about some things than I thought he would be. Especially when it came to the Larry Eustachy affair.
Geoffroy's office was elegant but not overly extravagant, and featured several ISU sports mementos, such as a Cael Sanderson Wheaties Box and a football commemorating five straight wins over the University of Iowa. The mood was relaxed and not intense, and he seemed poised and prepared to answer the questions.
I hope that when you're finished reading the full transcript many of your questions about the direction of the ISU athletic department, and the stewards currently in charge of it, are answered. What are those answers? That's entirely up to you. This week, I'm taking a break from being my normally opinionated self and am just going to let you the reader do the opining.
This week, I just report. You decide.
Deace: How vital do you feel athletics are to the quality of life here on campus and the image of Iowa State University both statewide and nationwide?
Geoffroy:I think athletics is absolutely essential. A successful athletics program is extremely important for a University. It impacts student recruiting, the overall campus atmosphere, the environment of the campus, the enthusiasm and excitement of the place, alumni relations, fund raising for athletics and in general, and the national visibility of the University. You can look at universities around the country and you wouldn't know anything about it if it weren't for their athletic program. Their academic program may not be that well known, but because they've had athletic success it creates a national visibility. It's a very important front door for a University.
Deace: Would you consider yourself a sports fan?
Geoffroy:Yes, I am. Going back to my young days growing up in Kentucky, I had my little basketball court outside. Kentucky is the land of basketball. I was a big U-K supporter and then went to the University of Louisville as a student. I went to every U of L basketball game and kept score during all of the games in my program. When I was at Penn State, I was a season football ticket holder. I went to the University of Maryland and never missed a football game, and went to the ACC Tournament. Here I go to every football home game, and every men's and women's home basketball game when I'm in town. I try to attend two to three wrestling meets. I like wrestling and took it as a physical education sport in college. I wasn't very good at it.
Deace: Amongst some of the Cyclone fans that call into my radio show or frequent our website, I've noticed a perception that you're more of an academic that doesn't necessarily place a high priority on athletics. Your previous two employers – Maryland and Penn State – certainly have outstanding athletic departments. Where do you think that perception comes from?
Geoffroy:I haven't really heard that perception previously. I don't think it's a fair characterization. Part of it might be my leadership style. My style is to appoint outstanding unit leaders for the University and then let them do their jobs. I've entrusted responsibility for the athletics program to our athletics director. I have entrusted responsibility for academics to the provost. My approach is to appoint the people and stay out of the way and let them do their job, then jump in and help whenever requested.
I help in recruiting student-athletes. Coach (Wayne) Morgan will tell you I have met with a lot of his recruits. At this last women's basketball game against Texas Tech, I spent halftime meeting with a recruit and her mother. I'll address the football recruits next weekend. That's because the coaches have asked me to do that. I respond to every request I get like that. Coach McCarney asked me to visit the team a couple times this year, and I did that.
But I don't want to be out in front of the athletic director and coaches, because that's their job and I want to let them do that.
Deace: You mentioned it's important to have good people. Any operation is only as good as the people that are running it. Can you tell Iowa State fans with confidence that they should believe the right personnel are here to continue to make this a viable program in the Big 12 Conference?
Geoffroy:I feel very good about our athletics department. You look at the department from top to bottom and the quality of people in it, and I think we have some great coaches. They're terrific individuals. Bruce can evaluate their coaching ability better than I can, because that's his job. But when I think about all of the other things that they do, and how they promote the University and represent the University, their level of integrity, and their communication skills, I am extremely pleased with our department. We've got great people like (pointing at) Tom (Kroeschell) and Bruce (Van De Velde).
Deace: Does that specifically include Bruce?
Geoffroy: Bruce is the athletic director and reports directly to me. I meet with him at least once a month formally and then we have lots of other meetings and phone calls to discuss issues as they come up. I think Bruce is doing a fine job. He's had to deal with some very challenging situations, which not many athletic directors have had to deal with. I think he has handled those situations well.
Deace: Specifically when does Mr. Van De Velde's contract expire, and can you unequivocally say he will be the AD at least until the end of the term of that contract?
Geoffroy: Bruce's contract runs through June 30th, 2005, so there are 17 ½ months left on that contract. The contract specifies that we are to enter into discussions about renewal of the contract no later than July 1st of this year. That's almost six months away. We will certainly start those discussions around that time. Bruce is our athletic director and will continue to be. The contract discussions will have to occur and we will make sure we meet that timeline. I do want to say that this is a personnel matter, an issue really between Bruce and I.
Deace: Can you foresee any circumstance, other than Bruce taking another opportunity, where he would at least not be here through the beginning of the notification period of his contract, which would be July 1st?
Geoffroy: I would certainly hope there would be no catastrophes that come along that would promote something like that. Bruce is our athletic director and will continue to be as we start these contract discussions.
Deace: Mr. Geoffrey, here's why I brought this subject up. As a member of the media I often hear speculation about Mr. Van De Velde's job status at ISU. I understand that Mr. Van De Velde has been at the center of some difficult decisions for the athletic department. On the other hand, athletic department total revenue has increased by almost 30 percent under his watch. Coach's salaries, which ranked near the bottom of the conference, have been increased. Marketing deals with national corporations like Nike and Clear Channel have been negotiated. Facilities have been upgraded across the board, including the long-awaited indoor facility for football. Your graduation rate among student-athletes that have exhausted their eligibility ranks second in the Big 12. Budgets, salaries, facilities, and scholarship opportunities for women are also up across the board. Are those achievements enough to earn Mr. Van De Velde a contract extension as the athletic director at Iowa State? If not, what else does he need to accomplish in order to maintain your confidence?
Geoffroy: Those things are absolutely true facts and situations. We're very proud of those accomplishments and Bruce has had a role in many, if not all of, those things. Again, when Bruce and I sit down to talk about this contract it will be a personnel matter. It's something we'll discuss together. I don't talk about people's job performance and responsibilities in a public setting. But those are clearly very strong positives.
I think you have to look at the overall success of the program. When you really think about what we've accomplished in terms of competitive success in the last several years, we have been very competitive in the Big 12 Conference. If you look at the total picture, I think it's highly unfair to blame Bruce for all of the things people are unhappy with and don't like. The AD has to be one of the toughest administrative jobs in a University because of all the constituents and the feelings that run very high. I don't the comments people have made are fair to Bruce.
Deace: Did you support up front the recommendation that Coach Eustachy should be terminated?
Geoffroy: Coach Eustachy's contract had a very well defined process that had to be followed that would have eventually required me to be the arbiter. The entire process never rolled out to completion, because we settled. I very strongly believe that Bruce made the right decision through that. He handled all of that very well.
Deace: When Mr. Van De Velde went out that afternoon of the dual press conferences to read the statement recommending Eustachy's termination, had he already sought your approval to do that beforehand?
Geoffroy: Absolutely. Bruce had discussed that with me and I supported him in moving ahead in that direction.
Deace: How did you feel about the way the coaching search for Eustachy's successor was handled?
Geoffroy:I was intimately involved with that search and can tell you that many of the press reports in what occurred during that search were inaccurate. The press reported there were a number of candidates who ruled us out, but the truth is we ruled those candidates out for various reasons. There were reasons that we felt they simply were not a good fit for us. Background checks and other things that we felt they were just not right for us.
I was very close to that search. I wasn't on the committee, but the committee kept me very well informed, almost on a two-to-three times a day basis. I feel that the outcome has been very good and feel extremely good about Coach Morgan and what he's accomplishing.
It would have been great if the search could have been a little quieter, less visible and behind the scenes. Some searches turn out to be that way. It wasn't and because it wasn't there was some wrong speculation in the media about why certain candidates were not on the final short list.
Deace: Next, let's talk about the decision not to play the game on Friday night with Northern Illinois. ESPN offered $400,000 to move that game. Bruce had promised the Iowa High School Athletic Association there would not be a conflict with high school football and Friday nights. How did you feel about that decision?
Geoffroy:Your principles are always very important. You've got to stick to your principles and be true to yourself, or else you're not going to have a very high integrity program. That's true in anything, no matter what you do. When all of that was developing, Bruce brought it to me and outlined to me his thinking. It was sort of a conclusion that he had drawn, we talked about it and I concurred with that conclusion. He had to weigh the budgetary issues versus making high school coaches in Iowa that work with Coach McCarney angry. He had to weigh all of that and make a decision.
Deace: It's obvious Bruce seeks your counsel before taking these stances in more of these high profile decisions. In a situation where your AD is taking some heat publicly for some of these decisions, is there a time or place when you feel it is proper to come out and end all of the speculation? Is there a time to say ‘Bruce is my guy, he made that decision, and I support him the whole way?'
Geoffroy: Yes. Every situation is different and you need to judge all of that. Many situations are opportunities that are naturally created to do that and you need to take advantage of that. Quite often, the opportunities are not naturally created and it's not clear how you can create them to make it happen. Certainly, the Eustachy situation was one. When opportunities do come along to make those kinds of statements, it is important to do that.
Deace: One opportunity, where we in the media and public observed some hedging on your part, is when you were interviewed by Keith Murphy on WHO-TV shortly after the coaching search. The strongest statement of support for Mr. Van De Velde was not necessarily made in that video. Can you clarify those remarks and what exactly you were trying to say when you made those remarks?
Geoffroy: I'll be honest, I flubbed that. I did not speak with the level of enthusiasm that I felt and that I should have. It was at the end of a day, the camera crew wanted to speak to me over in front of Hilton because that's where I happened to be coming from. The camera crew was there, but the person interviewing me was in Des Moines. I couldn't even talk to the person. That particular question came out of left field, because the line of discussion was supposed to be on another topic. It caught me off guard. Quite honestly, I didn't answer it with the level of enthusiasm that I felt I should have.
Deace: Here at Iowa State you asked the athletic department to absorb a $560,000 cut this year. Bruce himself openly questioned last fall if you could remain competitive in the Big 12 by trimming the league's second-smallest budget even further. Can you answer that question?
Geoffroy: The athletic department has been very competitive, even on a relatively small budget. If you look at the Big 12 budgets, there are a group of institutions that are grouped near the bottom with budgets in a similar range and positions that vary from year to year.
But we have been obviously very competitive within the Big 12. Look at wrestling, and men's basketball and women's basketball, with the championships we won a few years ago. We have done very well in the Olympic sports. We have done very well even with that small budget, and I think that's a credit to the talent in the athletic department and how hard our coaches and student-athletes work.
Let me talk about the budgets. These have been extremely difficult times for the University. We've had cuts in our state appropriations of $64 million over the last four years. We've had to give salary increases and the state has not funded those. That's another $15 million we didn't get the moneys for. Then we have all of these mandatory increases we have to cover. You add everything up and it's almost a $110 million cut.
We have had to cut places all over the University. Our agricultural experimentation and cooperative extension are the bedrock of this University and they've had their budgets cut by about 20 percent as a result of all these cuts. The College of Engineering has had cuts as well all over the place.
Even through those budget cuts, for the last four years we have increased the budget of the athletic department. We have given them salary increase money and helped out with the tuition increases for the women's scholarships that were supported out of the general fund. So while we were cutting budgets in other parts of the University, we actually increased the athletics budget with increases ranging from about 5 ½ to 17 percent yearly.
This last budget cut is right in the middle of the year and that's always hard to take. It came on the heels of all of those others. The flexibility in the University had just been totally lost of where we can cut. We were really down to the point of cutting classes for students, cutting critical student services and we made the decision not to do that. We made the decision not to do that and look at other parts of the University.
I didn't like cutting the University Museums budget. I did not like having to take every penny of state support away from public radio, WOI. We took everything they had. I didn't like having to cut athletics budget by so much, or Reiman Gardens. But given the circumstances we were facing, there just wasn't a lot of choice.
Let me tell you how I arrived at the $560,000. The total budget cut that we were applying to the University, on the base of state appropriations and tuition, was about two percent. I went to the Provost of Academic Affairs and told them to cut their budgets by around two percent. I took the athletics budget of $28 million, and two percent of that is $560,000. It was larger based on their state appropriation, but when you look at their total budget it was the same percent.
Deace: Comparisons between the University of Iowa and Iowa State are inevitable, specifically where athletics are concerned. Your counterpart over in Iowa City, Dr. Skorton, only ordered a $170,000 cut from his athletic department. Obviously, he faces the same burden from state government that Iowa State does. What would you say to Cyclone fans that wonder if the Hawkeyes more value athletics than their school does?
Geoffroy: I can tell you that even after those cuts, we still provide our athletics department more state appropriations than the University of Iowa does. We provide $2.6 million in state funds and the University of Iowa provides $2.2 million.
Most of the revenues come from the TV contracts in your contract affiliation, revenue sharing with your conference, and ticket sales. The Big Ten has a much more favorable revenue sharing plan. The Big 12 has some powerhouses in it that throw their weight around. Big Ten schools are in big TV markets. What rules everything and even the BCS are the amount of people sitting in front the TV, the commercials that you can have them see, and the value of those commercials to the networks. That's why the BCS wants all of these bowl games around New Year's, when people are a captive audience in their living rooms.
Deace: Let's talk about public relations. Why make an announcement when you are weeks away from football signing day that you are going to be cutting summer school funding for student athletes? The Autograph's ad was tasteless and silly. But maybe 15 people actually saw until they turned on the nightly news and read about it on the front page because ISU made such a big deal out of it. Then everybody went and picked it up after that. We already mentioned the WHO-TV thing. I wonder sometimes if the people that are actually working in an institution like this, because you're so focused on the task at hand, if you actually realize little chips in the armor and the impact that has on a fan base? How much consideration is there into public relations and how to present things to the public?
Geoffroy: There is a very strong consideration. All of the things that you mentioned are absolutely right and you can think of a lot of other things that aren't really related to athletics.
There are a couple of things that are important. First of all, because of where we're located here in Iowa, we are under an intense media spotlight. It's more than you would find in many places around the University. The universities in Iowa are among the biggest things in the state, so any move we make is newsworthy.
When I was at the University of Maryland, we always complained that we could never get the Washington Post or Baltimore Sun to pay attention to us no matter what we did. Here, it's absolutely the opposite. Every memorandum I write I have to think about how it's going to be interpreted by the media. There is a much greater media spotlight here, so that means we have to be even better at dealing with that. In athletics, it's magnified because there are no professional sports teams. Athletics at the universities are the big thing.
A couple of items you mentioned came out of the athletic department, but I don't want to fault the athletic department because we've done other things ourselves that haven't been very smart in terms of media relations and public relations. I think we're getting better at it. But it's clearly a tough area to stay on top of here.
Deace: You came to Iowa State from Maryland and Penn State, two schools with outstanding athletic departments. Is it a reasonable goal for Iowa State to ever be considered at that level?
Geoffroy: I think we can do the same thing here. I have thought a lot about what our expectations should be for our programs. For wrestling, I think our goal should be to win the NCAA Championship every year. That's what Bobby Douglas works for, and we can do that. For men's and women's basketball, our expectations should be to be competitive in the conference and compete for the conference championship. We know we can do that because we've done it. The expectation should also be to get a bid to the NCAA Tournament ever year. For football, our expectations should be to beat Iowa, get an invitation to a bowl game, and in time move toward competing for the divisional championship and conference championship.
Deace: Final question. I know the Des Moines Register gave the University a heads up of several days before the Larry Eustachy pictures actually ran in the paper. One question a lot of people that didn't agree with the decision to terminate Eustachy have is this: if Eustachy's behavior before the pictures were released publicly wasn't enough to recommend his termination, then why was it enough after the pictures were released? The gist of that is did you buckle to public pressure and why weren't you more proactive in responding to the fact the paper was going to come out with those pictures?
Geoffroy: A key issue that played out was the alcoholism factor. There was no indication, including from Coach Eustachy, that he was an alcoholic. That was a key factor that played out in that week of intense media coverage. He never spoke about that.
Deace: Are you questioning the voracity of that claim?
Geoffroy: I'm not a medical expert and there is no way that I can tell that. There are all sorts and types of alcoholism and individuals. Medical experts have to make those judgements. Certainly we didn't have any knowledge of that.
(At this point athletic director Bruce Van De Velde became involved in the discussion)
Van De Velde: We were working with attorneys and human resources people on something like that. There was a due process issue in Coach Eustachy's contract. Sometimes it prohibits you from moving as fast as the public wants you to move, because then you stub your toe legally. We had to work through the contractual issues and due processes.
Deace: So can it accurately be said that the wheels were in motion to terminate Eustachy before the story actually came out?
Geoffroy: Part of it was the fact we did not know when the Register was going to publish that story. We anticipated that it would be the next day. They didn't tell us when they were going to publish the story. They delayed it. As I recall, they delayed it because of the Drake Relays. That created a big sports event. They delayed it. We didn't anticipate that and thought it was going to happen right away.
Deace: Public opinion – after the pictures came out – in no way, shape or form had any impact on the decision you guys made about Coach Eustachy?
Geoffroy: Coach Eustachy damaged the University's reputation and image. That's public opinion. But clearly the behavior in the photographs were damaging to the University's overall reputation. In my own mind, that was the most critical factor.
Deace: As it played out in the media in the days afterwards, that didn't have an impact? The minute you saw the photos you were already considering that a change had to be made?
Geoffroy: I can't recall what kind of conversations we had around that. I don't think that we actually had conversations about…
Deace: (Interrupting)… When did those conversations begin?
Van De Velde: It happened over time. It was something we evaluated throughout the process, but more information was emerging that helped us get to that point.
(Geoffroy nods in agreement to Van De Velde's statement about more information emerging regarding further nefarious behavior from Coach Eustachy beyond just the published photos. After that our interview time concluded.)