Nunez has a wide array of responsibilities within the athletic department but, particularly being a former collegiate basketball player, has a slant toward the hardwood, where he’s been heavily involved in decision-making for the program and in setting LSU basketball schedules.
Below is our Q&A with Nunez, touching on new teams the Tigers are scheduling, the student section in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and much more.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~Ben Love: With regards to scheduling next season, some things are known and others I’m sure are still being worked out. What all is on the books so far and what can you say about what’s in the works?
Eddie Nunez: The biggest thing is we’ve got a home-and-home starting with Wake Forest next year. Next year’s game will be at home for us. We also have the back end of the College of Charleston. We’re looking at a couple of in-state schools for some guaranteed games. And then we’re actually in discussion, I’d say right now, with two other schools within the Big Five conferences for home-and-home contests. (One of the schools is in the Big Ten, Nunez went on to say.)
On top of that we also have the Big 12/SEC Challenge that we should be a part of. We anticipate being a part of that Challenge next year again. That might be a home game, too. Our biggest thing is trying to balance out our schedule as much as we can to prepare ourselves for the conference. Coach (Johnny) Jones has been integral in kinda explaining what direction he wants to go with the season, what way he would like to develop it and that helps with some of the teams we’re looking at.
Besides that we’re looking into tournaments for the following year and the year after that. So we’ve got several tournaments pretty far ahead that we’re already in discussions for. We’re excited. We’ve got some really good things on the horizon. We really do.
BL: As far as the Legends Classic in Brooklyn next season, the other three headline teams aside from LSU have been released – Arizona State, Marquette and NC State. Any idea yet which LSU will play, and how does that tournament format work?
EN: That actually won’t be decided until roughly around April. The promoter will meet with ESPN and kinda determine how to best situate it. They’ll have input from all four teams. Here’s how it works: It’s two games at home first. So we’re actually getting two games at home, and there are four teams they’re talking about for us. One of them for sure we’re going to be playing is South Alabama. The other one hasn’t been determined yet; the promoter hasn’t told us that. In April we’ll find out the other team we’ll play against at home and then we’ll play two games (in Brooklyn in the “Championship Rounds”). They’ll be the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week.
BL: I want to ask you about the student section at the PMAC. For years it was situated on a sideline and in the recent past it’s been repositioned to its current spot behind the basket. What was the thought process that went into that decision to move it?
EN: When I first arrived at LSU (in 2003) they had moved around a little bit, and then they made the big push to move it on the sideline. I think what we ended up seeing was the actual attendance of the students in the section was just so volatile. Sometimes it was full, sometimes it wasn’t. We kept on looking and addressing how we could best give our fans, as well as our students, the best opportunity.
We heard from our students that they wanted to be close the court, but they also wanted to be standing. The PMAC is a unique structure from the standpoint that we, LSU, can’t have the sideline with people standing up and still have sight lines from the second level, the 200-level. So in making our decisions, we looked at all this. Without ripping everything out and starting from scratch, we looked at what was our best opportunities to do this.
At the same time we heard from our fans that they wanted premium seats closer to the court. The solution for us became moving our media to that corner to be a buffer between where the visiting team comes out and where our students sit. The SEC has provisions about how close the students can be to the visiting team’s bench. We had to keep that in consideration. That’s why we never took that whole end zone (for the students) because we had to provide a buffer, per SEC rules, and it also helped us with security with the visiting team coming in and out.
We are looking at some opportunities with the band, potentially just kinda reconfiguring their section and getting them a little bit tighter so that we can bring more students down. We’re also looking at the possibility of maybe opening up one more section above. The good thing is we always anticipated our fan base would start coming out for basketball. Johnny’s done a great job. Our fans are starting to come out. Now we’re starting to fill up the arena. The students, if they continue to buy in like they have for some of these games, we should really see that student section filling up.
BL: The team next year figures to be even more high-profile with some of the guys coming in. When you look at it from a marketing or promotional standpoint, what kind of things are you guys already doing and what’s the thought about how you can ramp it up to support the incoming talent?
EN: First off I’d say the SEC has a Fan Experience Committee, a working group that’s actually evaluating not just the football fan experience but basketball, baseball, women’s basketball, too. I’m fortunate to be on that committee. We’ve had a good overview of what’s happening, understanding our marketing department has really taken us here but knowing next year is going to be a step up. We’re looking at how we can really enhance the atmosphere, how we can make things even better for the fans – from the music to the video boards, anything we can do to really entice our fans and have them engage.
And not just on what’s happening on the court. The kids Johnny has coming in, the way we play and everything is so exciting, so that already is going to take care of itself. What we want to do is be able to build around it, be able to make the whole atmosphere from the point they get to campus until the time they leave very easy for them.
BL: The SEC now knows its new commissioner in Greg Sankey. Can you give a brief overview of why he may be good for SEC basketball specifically?
EN: In my opinion Greg’s done a great job for this league. He’s been involved in every facet or aspect of the oversight of the league, working alongside Commissioner Slive for as long as he has. He has a good pulse on this. Greg is invested and so is the whole conference, including every athletic director, in continuing to make basketball better in this league. I think you’ve seen a great example of that this year. The RPI has gone up. Our teams’ strength of schedules have gotten much better than they’ve been in a long time. So I think the emphasis is there, and I really feel with his leadership it’s going to continue what Slive had already implemented. I know, speaking for (LSU Director of Athletics) Joe (Alleva) and others at LSU, we all feel very strongly about Greg and his guidance.