Planning For The Future

There is a five-year strategic plan for Ole Miss athletics. According to Athletics Director Pete Boone, it should be unveiled in its entirety this summer.

"It's a part of our mission as to how to make decisions going forward at every level," said Boone, the AD at Ole Miss from 1995-98 and since 2002. "There are 11 strategic areas that have been defined."

They are 1) academic support, 2) finance and budgeting, 3) revenue generation, 4) governance and rules compliance, 5) communications and public relations, 6) marketing and promotions, 7) school spirit, 8) staff enhancement and human resources, 9) student-athlete health and well-being, 10) facilities and maintenance, 11) diversity and equity.

Those areas are detailed in a lengthy strategic plan. The plan isn't necessarily a five-year one. Part of it is a three-to-five year plan. Then there is a part of it that looks beyond five years.

"It is much more detailed than ever, and there was much more thought put into it," Boone said. "We need accountability and goals in every area. There have been a lot of people involved in this throughout the university."

Boone said there is transparency in the plan.

"Everybody will know what is going on," he said. "We are saying that we have a plan for operating efficiently, a plan for success, and here is how we're doing it."

He also said it will be a fluid plan.

"It's a good, definable plan to get where we want to go," he said. "Each year we will be updating it going forward. It won't necessarily stay where it is, but where we need it to be."

Boone, a former Rebel football player, said Ole Miss is enjoying a lot of success in a lot of areas of athletics.

"The last few years have been some of our most successful years for our sports that we've ever had," he said. "We've got soccer, men's and women's golf, men's and women's tennis in postseason. Baseball surely will. So many teams in the postseason. That's good for this athletics program. So by that measure, which is generally what we're all measured by, we've had success."

Boone said it's all a collective effort to get where the Rebels are this era.

"Certainly financial considerations are a big part of it. The SEC TV package has helped us be able to continue to pay the increasing salaries that we are paying and helps us provide the facilities. The donations that we've had either through priority seating or basic philanthropic giving to help build facilities and that sort of thing is at an all-time high. The last several years it's gotten better and better and better. And we'll have a record this year."

According to Boone, some immediate needs are attempting to be met as far as facilities.

The day the IPF officially opened in 2004

"Tennis offices and players' locker rooms are in need of expansion, and we're putting together a plan for that. If we could get that started after next tennis season, that would be my goal. I think that's doable. We're also looking at doing a practice facility for golf to be able to have bays in it to practice in inclement weather or cold weather and still be able to video and do the things they need to do.

"And we're going to do some renovation to the Gillom Center. It's still a very, very good facility, but we need to do some things there. We need to add some more offices. All programs are getting a little bit bigger. There's a lot more involved as far as the support staff. Operations people that help put things together like travel plans to take that load off the coaches so they can really focus on coaching, scouting, recruiting. So you really need more office space."

Boone said he and his staff are always looking ahead to seek solutions to anything connected to Ole Miss athletics.

"The 10 percent of the time we're not solving problems and are able to look forward, I like to think of things like what can make something different? What can we do for any of our sports to make a difference in recruiting, to make a difference in attitude of the players? The new basketball practice facility with the lounge, the locker rooms and the whole facility there makes the players have more pride in practice, more pride in being competitive. I'd like to see all of our sports have those kinds of bells and whistles for the student-athlete. We're working toward that."

There are some areas that continue to be topics of discussion for fans. A north end zone expansion is one.

"And those are good discussions," Boone says. "The north end zone is a little bit difficult to conceptualize. General seating or grandstand seating or just reserved seating can't pay for an expansion like that. First of all, do we need additional seats? Last year was the first time we sold out in season tickets, and that's absolutely a start. Hopefully the same thing will happen this year. If you look at next year's schedule and the 2012 schedule, those will draw interest. Some of the SEC competitors draw more interest than others, even though all the teams are tough. There needs to be a reason why you expand other than just aesthetics. Right now that's all it really is.

"I'm not totally one of those "if you build it they will come" even though when we did that with the east side Rebel Club. That was based on really the pre-sales of the Rebel Club. That was going to carry the debt itself. So we get into how do you fund something like that, and it ends up coming back to priority seating areas, which are club seats or suites, something along those lines."

And what about doing some expanding or rebuilding of the sides of the stadium, especially at the tops where club and suite seats are now?

"That's something we've talked," he says. "But in the interim, we've talked about maybe adding some more bleacher seats into the corners (of the north end zone) so that when it is full, it has a unique look to it.

"When we put some numbers to (taking off the press box/west side suites), what you add is about $12 million in expenses and costs, and with no additional revenue, even though it would look more symmetrical. Last year was the first time we've sold out of tickets. There is no historical, statistical information that would say we need more seats. And it's a matter of how do you pay for it? It's one thing putting up a metal bleacher like we've got in the north end zone and bowling that in. That's not a lot of money. But it's another thing if you're wanting to take all of that (north end zone) out and then come back with just 2,000 more seats. And you've got $12 million more in debt to do that."

Boone says the key to the future is continuing to sell out the stadium, mainly with Ole Miss season ticket holders.

Devin Britton, NCAA Singles Champion

"You build your stadium for your people. You can look at some of our games last year. There were some non-conference games we struggled to get people in here, even though we'd already sold the tickets.

"Our deadline was a little harder this year. And for people who didn't renew, there are people in line for those. I don't get as excited about early ticket sales as where they end up. I'm glad they did order early. You go to a lot of places (in the SEC), and they're sold out way back during basketball season. But that's the mindset they've had at those places. There's a lot of enthusiasm here about our football program now."

There have been significant accomplishments, especially in the area of facilities, during Boone's tenure as AD.

"I certainly don't want it to sound like I've done anything. I think all you need is some catalysts. Give credit to Robert Khayat for allowing us to do some things that were a little nerve-wracking to do. But that's where you've got to be, and that's why I like to look forward. You enjoy the moments of success. But they are fleeting and they are gone and in a record book somewhere. When this season's over, it's over. Whatever success we had, that was last year."

Last year was the first year for the new ESPN contract with the SEC. It helped a great deal, according to Boone.

"It gives us a little breathing room. We've stretched our cash flow up to the limit with all the things that we've built. I don't want it to sound like we're in poor financial shape. We're not. But before that money was coming in, the concern I had was the ever-increasing cost of coaches' salaries, of team travel, and of scholarship dollars, all going up double digits. And our revenue was going up single digits. What that (TV) money helped us do was to make sure that we're able to continue to function in a positive way, cover the costs we have very little control increasing, and give us time to create other revenue sources. Certainly it was timely, because the economy crushed in the last 18 months. It would have been tough." Ole Miss is adding a new upper level position that will oversee marketing and media relations for athletics. Boone is excited about the addition.

"It's a senior level job, and I think that's really going to help us stay in touch with the new media and the heartbeat of what's going on out there," he said. "It will allow us to focus on the good things that are happening with our athletes and with our programs and with our department. And keep good information out there, not only locally and regionally but nationally. And also coordinate our branding. When somebody sees something about us, they need to immediately think "Ole Miss."

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