Khayat: It's time to look ahead

The athletics facilities at Ole Miss hardly resemble the ones Rebel and Lady Rebel teams used in 1995. Ten years later, the landscape has changed, and Ole Miss is more competitive with its athletics facilities than ever.

The past 10 years have been some of the most progressive in the history of The University of Mississippi. Certainly that is true for athletics facilities.

Robert Khayat became Chancellor of Ole Miss in 1995. The Ole Miss football program had just gone on NCAA probation. Khayat served as interim athletics director in 1994 prior to Pete Boone beginning his first tenure as AD in 1995.

Under Khayat's watch, Ole Miss has moved forward in a big way both academically and athletically. The Phi Beta Kappa chapter, the beauty of the campus, record enrollment, the growth of athletics facilities, and an overall competitive athletics program are all highlights of the past 10 years.

"Ten years ago our (athletics) facilities were woefully inadequate," Khayat said. "During the last 10 years with Pete Boone's leadership, we have invested some $67 million in athletics facilites. We've added 20,000 seats to the football stadium and built an indoor practice facility. We've built a women's softball field. We've built a soccer stadium. We've built a track stadium. We've built an indoor tennis, volleyball, women's athletics administration building. We've made improvements to the tennis courts. We've built an indoor building for baseball. We've built a rifle range. And we've improved the golf course. We've replaced all the seating inside the coliseum with padded seats and built the men's and women's basketball coaches offices. We've added the parking lot on Old Taylor Road (almost 1,000 spaces) primarily for football games."

A long and detailed list of accomplishments for sure, but there is still work to be done.

"We're planning more improvements and making more improvements to our athletics facilities all the time," Khayat said. "We are making significant improvements to the women's softball facility (brick, new press box, indoor hitting facility). We need $5 million to complete the funding on the indoor (football) practice facility. We want to build a driving range and practice area for our golf teams. We want to renovate the former physical plant building at a cost of some $3 million to house our athletics administration. We want to work on the west side of the football stadium to make it match the look of the east side ($10 million). We want to expand the baseball stadium, as everyone is aware now. We want to make north end zone (football) improvements. And we want a practice facility for our basketball teams."

Another long and detailed list to keep Ole Miss athletics on the move as far as facilities. Khayat said Ole Miss must continue to pay off what it owes on several of these projects, particularly the indoor football facility, before tackling the others.

"We can't take on any more debt," he said. "We work on the debt every day. We've got to pay off that IPF. I am a little surprised somebody hasn't stepped up with a $5 million gift. I would have thought somebody would want to have a naming opportunity. And that still might happen. I just don't know when. But until we get this debt out of the way, other projects are going to have to wait."

Khayat knows the IPF, still only one year in use, has been valuable in a lot of ways.

"A lot of our athletics programs have used it," he said. "We even had two commencement ceremonies in there last May. It's a great facility. It was a giant step for us."

The funding for baseball stadium expansion has been at the forefront of the news lately. Ole Miss and Oxford officials will continue to talk about this and other aspects when it comes to the two percent tourism tax that was begun back in 1988 to fund Oxford-University Stadium/Swayze Field.

"The leadership of the city wants to be sure that the use of tourism dollars results in more tourism," Khayat said. "So there is a joint committee of university and city people who are looking at the ways the university can best use the funds that might come to us from the tourism revenue. We believe the improvements to the baseball stadium would be the appropriate use of the funds for a number of reasons.

"One, baseball brought 175,000 people to town last season. But another is that the original legislation, the reason the legislature passed that law, was to build that baseball stadium. So it's true to the purpose of the law. We'll let the committee do its work and see what they come up with."

Khayat said he is pleased with the leadership of Ole Miss athletics in all areas.

"Pete Boone has built a really strong department of athletics," he said. "He's gotten their salaries competitive. And our facilities are competitive. We've done things this way across the board. We're here because we're a university and we offer academic programs. Our academic leadership is also outstanding and we have a wonderful faculty and facilities as well."

Khayat says keeping things in their proper perspective is a key to doing it the right way in an academic setting.

"Balance is critical in everybody's life," he said. "Any university that participates in Division I-A athletics must balance the academic mission of the university with the athletics activities. We've really tried to do that at Ole Miss. We understand that athletics evoke emotions. It is something people can get really excited about. We believe that is good for the school. It really does build community for our alumni to keep in touch with the school.

"But it is so important to keep that balance. And that's what we try to do. If you are going to be in Division I-A athletics, you have to support it and give it the resources it needs to be successful. If not, then you ought not be in Division I-A"

Khayat says it is not only time to be proud of the recent past accomplishments in these areas but to look ahead and move forward.

"We're to the point now that we can build on this success of academics and athletics," he said. "We had a plan 10 years ago. We identified 21 key strategies university-wide, including athletics, and most all of those have been achieved. Now it's time to move on and get more accomplished. It's time to focus on the future and go from here."

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