Tag Archives: football

Why Athletics Is An Integral Part of the Aztec Experience

Something very special happened this past Friday night.  In a match-up of two teams undefeated in conference play,Aztec football players celebrate a score during the team's 48-14 victory over Utah State. our football team defeated a strong Utah State team, 48-14, in front of a crowd of 26,000 members of our community and a national TV audience.  Our team had faced significant challenges at the beginning of the season, and it was wonderful to see the team overcome these adversities.  While the game was a challenging one for our Utah State counterparts, they are a fine team and we know they also will rebound.  For us, we look forward to the remainder of the season, including our next home game – the Homecoming game against Wyoming on Nov. 14.

In many ways, our victory illustrated the best of college football.  Supported by our community, our players and coaches worked together, they persevered through adversity and their hard work and effort were rewarded.  It was great to hear our community’s pride in SDSU’s athletics’ achievements – the women’s soccer team won its fourth consecutive conference title on Sunday – as I traveled throughout the city this weekend.

Members of the women's soccer team hold their trophy for winning a fourth consecutive Mountain West championship in 2015.We are in a time of extraordinary change in college athletics, and this weekend of success and achievement provides an opportunity to reflect on three aspects of our athletics programs – the role they can play in supporting the broader university, the challenges they face in today’s environment and the incredible opportunities they can provide to our student-athletes.  Our tradition of athletics’ achievement is strong at San Diego State, and we are poised to seize these opportunities and to meet our challenges.

Turning to athletics’ broader role, our programs are a highly visible aspect of our university’s culture of achievement and excellence.  In athletics, our aspirations are to contend at the highest competitive level and to conduct our programs with the highest level of integrity.  Our successes are a powerful and tangible symbol of our entire community’s commitment to excellence in our educational programs, our research programs and our creative efforts.  This ethos of achievement is reflected in our university’s countless national recognitions and honors.  Thus, the aspirations of our athletics programs are part of our overall aspirations for excellence.

The primary challenge our athletics program faces in today’s landscape is that, fueled by media revenues, the expenditures of some top-ranked programs have increased dramatically.  For example, Ohio State now spends $114 million annually on its athletics programs.  These spending increases have reshaped the competitive landscape and, in some cases, they reflect a shift in university priorities.  To meet this challenge, we must balance the need to make financial investments to compete at the highest level with the fiscal prudence necessary to sustain the primacy of our educational, research and service missions. Attaining this balance involves generating revenues from philanthropic and other private sources to support our athletics programs, and ensuring that tuition revenues and state support are expended on our core missions. Similarly, we must ensure that our expenditures on athletics scholarships, facilities and personnel produce the greatest possible impact on our student-athletes’ development and our teams’ competitive opportunities – these cannot simply be automated efforts to attain parity in spending with other universities.

Finally, and in many ways most important, we have the opportunity with our athletics programs to reaffirm and dedicate ourselves to the ideal that the personal, professional and intellectual development of each student-athlete is the central purpose of these programs.  We want to be recognized not just for competing at the highest level, but also for providing the greatest possible support of our student-athletes’ personal development and growth.  Given the breadth and diversity of the academic and personal abilities of our student-athletes, this opportunity will mean different things for different student-athletes.  Some will participate in a co-curricular activity like study abroad or research, while others will take advantage of further academic enrichment to prepare for graduate school or obtain an internship to support career opportunities.  Whatever form they take, these opportunities for personal growth will have the common ingredient of helping our student-athletes develop their potential for a productive and meaningful life after their athletic careers end.

We are blessed at San Diego State to have an exceptional Department of Intercollegiate Athletics directed by Jim Sterk, and we are fortunate to have coaches, student-athletes and staff members whose daily focus is moving our programs and our university forward.  I am grateful to them and to all of the supporters in our community who are helping our programs and our student-athletes achieve excellence.

SDSU running back Donnel Pumphrey turns the corner during his 181-yard, two-touchdown game against Utah State.

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Conference Realignment

SDSU Aztecs Football fight songRecently, we decided to keep our athletic teams in the Mountain West Conference.  This decision has garnered significant attention, regionally and nationally, and I thought I would share some reflections on the process.  First, we are grateful for the input we received from our community.  Second, I wish to acknowledge Director of Athletics Jim Sterk and Vice President for Business and Financial Affairs Sally Roush and their teams for their collaborative efforts during this challenging period. Third, in response to a number of inquiries on how we go about making such decisions, I wanted to give members of our community some general insight into how we make decisions.

When considering any significant change at the university, our first step is to identify our choices and the positive and negative aspects.  In a case like conference realignment, we wanted to understand how each choice affects our student-athletes’ welfare, our teams’ competitiveness, our academic programs, our fans’ interests and the financial viability of our athletics programs, among many other factors.

The individual factors are themselves often quite complex.  For example, the analysis of the financial aspects of membership in a conference is much more than looking at two numbers (e.g., TV revenue for the two conferences).  It involves identifying all of the factors that influence revenues and costs, such as Bowl championship series revenue, Bowl revenues and expenses, TV revenue, NCAA basketball tournament shares, Conference basketball tournament revenues, and expense differences.

Herein lies the answer to one of the most common questions we received: “Why did it take a month to make the decision?”  In short, additional time is a small investment that ensures we are thorough in examining all of the relevant factors.

A big part of our review is to understand the stability of the positive and negative aspects of each choice.  This is especially important in the case of conference realignment; we didn’t want to base our choice on factors that would be different next month.  For example, a conference’s overall competitiveness across many sports is likely to be stable.  On the other hand, a conference’s competitiveness in an individual sport can change much more rapidly. Our efforts to understand stability provide us with a much more thorough understanding of our choices.

Once we have a thorough understanding of our choices, we pursue mitigation efforts.  Through mitigation efforts, we try to shape our choices – to reduce the negative aspects of any given choice.  For example, if a particular conference schedule were viewed as too easy or too hard for our teams, we could alter our nonconference schedule.  Mitigation allows us to create the best possible options from which to choose, rather than simply accepting options as presented.

Many mitigation efforts take place in negotiations with partners.  While negotiation is commonly viewed as a process in which we have to “be tough” or “play hardball” with our partners, it also is a process in which partners search for mutually beneficial approaches (e.g., approaches that help one partner without hurting the other significantly).  This was the rule for our conference realignment discussions, and we are grateful for the cooperative spirit of all partners.

When all this work is done – all factors identified, positive and negative aspects of choices analyzed, stability considered, and negative aspects of choices mitigated as much as possible – we are ready to make a decision.  If we have done our work well, and I believe we did so in this case, the work clarifies the choices and makes the decision an easier one.

Often, most of the significant known factors point to one choice over another.  When some factors favor one choice and others favor the alternative, we can place these factors in a broader context – such as overall university goals for the athletics program – to determine which factors should predominate.

None of this work guarantees that all outcomes will be positive for the indefinite future.  We live in a dynamic world.  What our work does guarantee is that we will have made the best choice we can, given our values and the information available today.  Based on this foundation, we will be prepared for an informed, proactive discussion should circumstances change and consideration of a new course required.

MBasketball2013-Screen_#1  Ashley WBB

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On the Road with Aztec Football

I just returned from two days in Ann Arbor, Michigan with our football team.  While there are significant issues and challenges with college football, our time in Michigan illustrates just how much is right with college football today.

While much of the pre-game media attention was focused on whether or not we could beat a “big time” program, I saw a very different perspective in Ann Arbor. Our hosts were gracious and welcoming. They even played our fight song – a tradition we should adopt for visiting teams.  I met alumni who had traveled from all over the country to support our football team and have a deep appreciation for the education they received at San Diego State. I spoke with parents of our players who, rather than emphasizing a future in the NFL, are focused on their children’s academic and professional development.  I heard former NFL player and Aztec alumnus Kyle Turley play a pretty mean guitar at our pre-game event.

Most importantly, I saw a game in which, despite extraordinary adversity, our players fought on every play and comported themselves with sportsmanship and dignity. Likewise our 1,000 fans cheered relentlessly in a stadium filled with 109,000 Michigan fans. (I can’t say I would mind if I never heard their fight song, “The Victors” again.)

Afterwards, behind the stadium and away from the cheers of the crowd, a ritual occurred that takes place at countless stadiums across the country every Saturday. Families waited for their sons to exit the locker room and board the team bus.  In that brief space and time, hugs were exchanged, consolation was given and effort was recognized – a moment of comfort on a very challenging day.

Some days it is not your day and, for a host of reasons, Saturday was not our team’s day. Nonetheless, a full and complete effort was given by all of our players, coaches and staff and that, to me, is big-time college football.

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