Thursday, July 23, 2009 | 2 a.m.
- With exit of athletic director, UNLV sports heavyweights ponder future (7-22-2009)
- Who might take Hamrick’s place? (7-21-2009)
- Let’s be frank: This royal alienator of an A.D. stayed step ahead of ax (7-21-2009)
- Hamrick leaves Las Vegas with 'mixed emotions' (7-20-2009)
- UNLV athletic director emerges as likely Marshall candidate (7-19-2009)
- Near tragedy still weighs on UNLV athletic director (9-4-2008)
- Has he made the grade? (5-8-2008)
- On top of their salaries, some eye-popping paychecks (4-25-2008)
- Hamrick keeps it close to his vest (11-30-2004)
- UNLV picks Hamrick (8-13-2003)
To show how important an athletic director is to winning and losing at the NCAA level, Vanderbilt of the Southeastern Conference eliminated the position six years ago.
Last year, a feature story in USA Today proclaimed that Vanderbilt is “enjoying unprecedented on-field success” in both high- and low-profile sports. It even won the national bowling championship.
Vanderbilt eliminated not only the position of athletic director (a savings of about $300,000 per year and who knows how many rounds of golf on the school’s nickel), but also the athletic department, per se. A law professor and vice chancellor of university affairs was put in charge of athletics.
The reason for the radical restructuring was twofold. First, the president and athletic director didn’t see eye to eye. Second, the president thought Vanderbilt athletes were being insulated from the rest of the student body and were missing out on the college experience.
So, one might ask, does UNLV even need a traditional athletic director or should it follow a new business model for athletics?
Should the lawyers and bean counters run things?
Vanderbilt doesn’t have an athletic director and it’s doing fine. Colleges now teach athletic administration as part of business school. And the UNLV athletic department already is getting a huge chunk of its budget from the group that runs its facilities — and brings in rodeos, monster trucks, the Wiggles and U2.
It would seem that if UNLV were ever going to restructure or at least rethink its athletic department, now would be the time. If not the Vanderbilt model, then try something else, something better than the same old way of doing things.
The same old way is the 1970s way, when college sports still were considered physical education. Today, they are big business, where a successful major college football program can on any given Saturday generate revenue streams that would make Bill Gates raise an eyebrow.
And yet, most colleges and universities continue to adhere to the 1970s way of hiring athletic administrators. They tap former players, coaches or administrators to these crucial (or not so, in the case of Vanderbilt) positions, instead of people with backgrounds in business, law, finance or marketing.
Then every five years or so, a lot of them are forced to start the process all over again.
Jim Weaver. Charlie Cavagnaro. John Robinson. Mike Hamrick.
Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.
Two of the past four UNLV athletic directors were former linebackers. Robinson was an old end who chose to finish his illustrious coaching career here. Cavagnaro was an ex-sports writer. I rest my case.
Haven’t the past 15 years shown that the old approach to hiring athletic directors might not be the best one for UNLV?
UNLV is in a unique position because of the arena situation mentioned above. The Thomas & Mack Center is second only to Madison Square Garden in annual gross revenue; Sam Boyd Stadium will host U2 in October; and Cox Pavilion, even in its smaller-than-the-blueprint specification, was still adequate enough to attract one of the Democratic presidential debates.
Even in a flagging economy, they bring in the cash.
The facilities are such an integral part of the revenue stream at UNLV that they once were a separate entity, with a mandate to do as they pleased — as long as it resulted in a big, fat, black number on the bottom line. That’s what paid for the press tower and luxury suites at Sam Boyd Stadium, the refurbishment of the Thomas & Mack Center and the building of Cox Pavilion.
But the athletic directors mentioned above were shrewd enough to bring the facilities back under their umbrella. Then, when it started to rain red ink, they simply had the Thomas & Mack Center write them a check to balance their budgets. The facilities are the cash cow, the rainy day fallback that lets lazy athletic directors play golf when they could be out in the community raising money.
The encouraging thing about the local names popping up as potential (but as of yet unofficial) candidates for the athletic director’s job that opened when Hamrick accepted the AD assignment at Marshall this week is that many of them have marketing and fundraising experience. That’s a start.
I will defer to one of the posters on the Sun’s message boards who said what UNLV needs is “someone who understands that you lose more than you gain when you switch from ESPN to College Sports TV in exchange for an extra $500,000 — and lose untold millions by rendering your major sports programs invisible to all but their most dedicated fans.”
Newyorkrebel, it’s not too late to get your resume together.
If Provost Neal Smatresk is named the new president at UNLV, as many expect, he will have a fresh slate and the power to reshape the athletic program, if he so chooses.
If he can find a guy with a law degree from Harvard who might be interested, for whatever crazy reason, in taking a college athletic program at the crossroads to the next level, however you define it, at least there won’t be an outside linebacker occupying his chair.
At UNLV, that’s something you can build upon.