The following is a Q & A with Ole Miss Athletics Director Pete Boone about some of the current issues on the table in Rebel sports.
Q: Did the newly renovated baseball stadium come in at or under budget?
Boone: Other than it being a little late getting completed, which did not hinder us being functional this year, it came in just a little over budget. We are still doing punch list finishing touches and may have to spend a little more money on some overtime masonry work, but it's been pretty close to budget.
Q: Are you satisfied with the baseball stadium?
Boone: It is absolutely fantastic. Outstanding. Architect David Lemons did a fantastic job of creating a new stadium from an old stadium. He designed the original stadium as well. All-in-all, Panola Construction did a good job of building it as well. It is a show place, as anyone who has come to a game will attest.
Q: Give us a progress report on the BPF (basketball practice facility).
Boone: It will be delayed from 30-60 days it looks like because there are some issues regarding the curing of the courts. We've got to get the facility conditioned - sealed off, heated and cooled like it's going to be when completed - before we can put the hardwood floors down and get them right. There are a couple of structural things we are also having to change that will take a little time, but other than those things, it is going along beautifully. Yates Construction is a first-class outfit that knows what they are doing and it looks like that project will come in at budget as well.
Q: What is next with you in regard to facilities?
Boone: Tennis. We are talking to potential donors now about adding locker rooms, study areas, more office space, etc. Our tennis plant is in a great location, we just need to spruce it up and expand it for the benefit and convenience of the coaches and the players.
Q: Are there any discussions about changes or additions to the Indoor Practice Facility?
Boone: Houston (Nutt) has talked about several things. At one time, he wanted a locker room closer to the field, but after having gone through a year like it currently is, I think that priority has changed for him. He's talked about increasing the weight room size. To do that, we will have to reconfigure some other things. He's also been very consistent with his desire to change the team meeting room into more of an amphitheater type of room where he can look all the players in the eyes instead of being so spread out and divided. To do that, we will have to redesign the existing team meeting room because the chancellor does not want to give up the green space between the stadium and the IPF and there are not a whole lot of options of where to put a brand new team meeting room. The team meeting room change seems to be important to Coach Nutt. We have gotten some preliminary ideas about it.
Q: Are these things doable?
Boone: Yes, but they are definitely fundraiser types of projects. We will have to raise the money to do these types of improvements, but that can be done. We feel like we have built the things we need in most areas to help our coaches and players win championships. Now we have to prioritize on how we want to enhance those facilities. Some things are a need and some things are a wish list. Which ones will help us win? That is what we all have to get together on and then determine a plan to get them done. I am not at all against doing any of those things as long as they will help us win. I think the longer Houston is here, the more he will get a rhythm and idea of what he really needs to win and that is what we will attack.
Q: What is your personal priority of facility improvements, within reason?
Boone: Something I think is important is a memorabilia room or building. When you bring in recruits, there should be a place where they can sit and see the tradition we have here in all sports. We have trophies, it seems, stuck all over the place. There is not one place we have that recruits or fans can really get a 'wow' affect. There is not one place where we can show off our tradition. We don't just need trophy cases either. We need interactive video and an area to relax and we need it to be inclusive of all our sports and their traditions. We need a place where fans can come and see the accomplishments of our athletics programs under one roof, something we can all be proud of and showcase. To me, the best thing to do would be to build a new building for all of our sports memorabilia.
Q: It seems you have in mind a few scattered ideas for the IPF area. Correct?
Boone: My thought is instead of doing one small thing after another is to really think this thing through and try to get everything we need in that area done in one big project. I believe if we can put a good plan out there that fans can be proud of, they will embrace it and provide us with the money we need to get a project like that done that will cover all our needs, but it will take good planning and marketing to create the excitement we need to fund it. This is a good time to start putting those plans together because by the time the planning is done we might have a better economic environment to raise the needed funds.
Q: Shifting gears a little, are you pleased with where we stand in our overall salary structure for coaches, etc.?
Boone: We are very competitive in the SEC across the board. We get real time information from the SEC now about salaries and we have been able to keep up. The two areas we have tried to shore up here are facilities and salaries and I think we are right on top of those issues.
Q: What is the financial health of the athletic department right now?
Boone: We are OK. I don't think it will ever be great, but it's OK. We always have to look for new revenue sources and be mindful of costs, but we are OK right now. We will be getting new money from the new TV contract with ESPN that will really help us starting next year. Having said that, we have a lot of debt, but it's all manageable. Every debt we have has revenue or cash flow attached to it, so we are solvent. We are in good financial shape, but it's a struggle every year. For example, our travel and utilities are growing at double-digit rates each year.
Q: How do you keep up with those types of rising costs?
Boone: The real key is football season ticket sales. Baseball and basketball can make up a little money with ticket sales, but the truth of the matter is that we need football season ticket sales. Football is where the big revenue lies. We will continue to grow in marketing and rights areas and in other smaller areas, but those are small increases in a budget our size. Football season ticket sales are what put you over the top. We need to sell 50,000 season tickets.
Q: What do you anticipate for 2009?
Boone: We are optimistically hoping for a 10% increase from 39,000 a year ago and we are ahead of that pace right now. I would be pleased if we could get 42,000 this year in a bad economy. We do not want to raise ticket prices so in order for the athletic department to remain financially healthy, we have to sell more season tickets to our fans. We could sell out some games right now if we turned some tickets loose to opposing fans, but we don't want to do that yet. We want our fans to buy our season tickets.
Q: Is there a fear or concern of yours with the new ESPN package, where fans can see every game on television in some form or fashion, that it will keep fans away from the games?
Boone: It is a concern, but not an overwhelming one. If you look at the successful programs, someone like Florida, they were on TV almost every game last year and they still sold out all of their games. If we put a good product out there, our fans will want to come to the games and enjoy not only the game but the Ole Miss atmosphere. It's an experience you cannot get at home watching TV. But we have to put a good product on the field, which I feel we will.
Q: What are your thoughts on this past athletic year?
Boone: All-in-all, I think it's been one of the most successful years we've had in decades. The good news is that with the coaches we have and the players we have returning in most sports, we are poised for a pretty good run the next few years. Winning two SEC Championships (tennis, baseball) is monumental to me. For us to have done that is very good, but what we have to continue to cultivate and foster is for our fans to expect that every year. It's not easy, and won't happen every year, but we want our fans to expect to see us win when they come to campus. Baseball is a prime example of that. Our fans expect us to win every weekend. Sometimes we don't, but they expect it again the next weekend, so they come back. I want the expectations of our fan base to be extremely high in every sport. I think we are getting there, but we still have work to do. I want our fans to get so used to winning that they expect it every time they step on campus. Certainly, I want us to deliver on those expectations as well, but gaining that type of fan confidence that we will win will change the whole mindset of what's happening here now and ultimately draw more fans and more avid fans. That will result in more revenue and will keep the ball rolling in a positive direction. We have a chance to do something really special here. All the pieces of the puzzle are almost in place with our facilities and our coaches. Now, we just have to win, create more fan enthusiasm and capitalize on those things.
Q & A with Pete Boone
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