PowerMizzou - Q&A with Jim Sterk
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Q&A with Jim Sterk

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Director of Athletics Jim Sterk met with a few local media members on Thursday afternoon.  Here is the transcript of the conversation.

Opening Statement

"It's nice to take a breath this week a little bit and catch up. I don't have any opening statement other than just to say I think we're having a really good year. When wrestling's disappointed with being 6th and women's basketball is disappointed in not advancing and they're still ranked 17th in the country, that's pretty good expectations and great results. Sometimes coaches have to take a step back and reflect on the whole body of work. I think overall things are going really well."

Q: If you had sat here a year ago, would you have expected to see an NCAA Tournament team in men's basketball and what are your thoughts on that season after being able to reflect on it?

"I had the hopes of that. Expecting, I wouldn't have expected it probably, but I was hopeful that we could show improvement. I think it went above and beyond that as far as results in men's basketball this year."

Q:  What were your thoughts on how Cuonzo handled everything both on and off the court this season?

"You guys have sat with him. It's like nothing phases him, he'll make hard decisions and tough decisions, but it seems like he doesn't linger and tries to get the best out of every situation that he's dealt. I think that's great for all of us. I think he relates a lot of things to life. You're faced with a lot of difficulties and things, but he's looking at moving ahead and I think that's a good philosophy to have."

Q:  How do you measure what Michael Porter Jr. contributed to everything even though he didn't play very much, but just the excitement and selling out games and everything?

"Like you said, he contributed to the excitement around the start of basketball and then I think the team took on that responsibility of creating excitement and I think they did a heck of a job. I think people at the start were disappointed, but then as the season went on, I think people were excited about what was truly happening on the court, not what could have been or should have been or that sort of thing. I think the players and the coaches did a great job with that and the fans did too. I think they created a really good atmosphere."

Q:  Obviously there's the ticket sales, but do you have a time period for when you think you'll see just what the impact was in revenue overall for the program?

"I haven't dialed it all in and did that. We could probably put up in a few weeks, do some generalities. Things like concessions and things like that take a little bit longer to figure out, it might be a month, I don't know, but we could do a before and after."

Q:  I assume this is the first time you've had a one and done player?

"Yeah, Kawhi Leonard was two and done."

Q:  Everybody expected that's what Mike would be.  Having gone through it and everything that's involved with a player at that level, would you like to see the rule changed?

"Yeah, I've mentioned it before, I think the baseball rule would be good. If the NBA would come, they are allowing them right out of high school if they are prepared and ready to do it, it's not a good situation for anybody to be forced into a year. I think with three years, then the student-athlete gets a chance to progress towards a degree, they're pretty close at the end of three years because they go to summer school, take classes, some of them even have degrees by that time. I think that gives them something that can help them the rest of their life beyond basketball so that's why I'm for that type of rule."

Q:  What was it like when the news came out that Michael got hurt?  Obviously it's on Cuonzo and the players at that point, but from an administrative standpoint, does that change your outlook on the season?

"It was disappointing to hear and surprise I guess was the biggest thing. No one really knew anything like that. Probably the trainers that he was doing physical therapy, but other than that, I don't think there was anything. As far as all of us, we were like you, we were kind of blindsided by it."

Q: Do you feel like the women's basketball team took a step forward this year?

"They really did. What did they end up, 24 wins? Three postseasons in a row and I don't know how many 20 win seasons they've had. That's why it hurt so much, I think, for the coaches and the team because they had high expectations. They'd won a game in the tournament, they wanted to go beyond that, like a Sweet 16, make a good run. I think they felt like they could have. I think they're going to continue to progress. I think it says a lot that the community showed up and set an all time record with 11,000 people coming to a game. That's a great target long term is to continue to build that attendance level with women's basketball because it's a great sport to watch and we have a great team."

Q:  Since everything's been pretty positive so far, going back to the situation with South Carolina and Dawn Staley, is there anything you'd change?

"I can't really comment on that right now."

Q:  You can't comment on the status of the legal situation?

"Yeah, I just can't comment on any of that. I know you had to ask."

Q:  You said you were blindsided by Michael's health situation.  Was anything handled there at the time that you wish could have been handled differently?

"I don't know. I think that's probably the coaches and Michael and his dad and all that. I wasn't really in the middle of all that. A heads up that day would have been good. But I think that was a last-minute (decision)."

Q: Anything new on the South end zone?

"For the next couple months it probably won't look like much is going on. More of the infrastructure, the utilities and those kinds of things. I think in June there will be a construction crane so you'll see some action as far as starting to build it up instead of digging down and tearing down and things like that. That will be more visible and then people will be able to see it throughout the season as it rises up. I think the construction crane disappears by November or December. So I think by that time the shell of the stadium will be pretty much in place."

Q:  Will that end of the stadium be enclosed during the season?

"No. I don't think it will be enclosed. I think it will start here and then start to go up."

Q:  How does that fit in with your vision of Memorial Stadium and what it will be down the road?

"I think it adds a lot to the fan experience. It will add a lot to the football program, but it will add a lot to the fan experience with different types of venues to engage fans depending on how they like to watch a game. Downstairs in the Touchdown Area or the Bunker Club or whatever we end up naming that, it will be something they can stand and watch the team go through and things like that. It's probably more of a social scene. Some people may stay there the whole game, some people may have tickets out in the stands and go down there during halftime or before the game. That's a unique experience that we don't really have right now. There's some club and general admission and suites and things, but then up on the top there's a couple decks that will probably be used on a game by game basis for people with smaller groups. So that will be good. The scoreboards will be updated so that will help with everyone's fan experience."

Q:  You mentioned back when we were talking about when that was approved that a smaller stadium isn't a bad thing.  Does that kind of go with trying to give people who show up a better product and more to do while they're there besides just watching the game?

"Yeah, I think it is. You're competing with the social scene and millenials or whatever. All of us I think, we're getting used to having high definition TV that you can see replays and things like that. To be able to offer that and still have the social side and watch a game is important. That's why I think currently we're about 97% sold out of our premium areas, the club ares and the suite areas. It's an event, not just a football game."

Q:  We're coming up on the time of year where the University is finalizing budgets.  I assume the athletic department is on a similar timeline.  I know you guys are funded separately, but is there any thoughts on compared to the last couple years where you'll be revenue wise and budget wise?

"We're looking at our budget really hard. I think we've had some reserves and have used them for a number of things, projects and things like that. We had to cover a deficit last year and we'll probably have something smaller this year, so we need to look at ourselves and look at what we can do more efficiently and effectively, but still continue to move the program forward and compete. It is interesting to be in a place or in a situation, I guess, where we're in the top 25 or 30 budgets in the country, but yet we're like 13th or something like that in the SEC. Some have $200 million budgets as opposed to $100 million. It's a unique challenge, but I also think it's an opportunity to do things in a unique way and effectively and compete against some of the best in the country too."

Q:  Have you guys been able to figure out how the game day atmosphere is going to be affected by the South End Zone construction?

Nick Joos, Senior Associate AD: "We're still trying to figure out all the details, but they will have trailers that they will dress in outside the stadium and they'll use those for pre-game, halftime and I guess at the end of the game. Then coach Odom would address them there. That will be their work space in game. There will be a walkway and a similar type tunnel situation to what we did last year. I think all the details haven't quite been flushed out yet. And obviously there will also be some parking that's going to be impacted by the construction as well. I've seen a map where they've got it kind of mapped out and come through the middle. It's early in the process."

Q:  With that budget, is there anything that you guys are doing differently to use that money wisely?

"A friend of mine is in the MAC and he has about a $23 million budget and he doesn't feel too sorry for us. I think what we are trying to focus on is that student-athlete experience. We try to make decisions based on that. If we stay in that mode, then we're okay. Sometimes you have to make tradeoffs on things, but I think that's the focus is trying to be as competitive as we can and providing a great experience. I've challenged each of the budget directors and we haven't gotten all that information, but I'm trying to drill it down to the people that are managing budgets, whether it's medical training, whether it's equipment or whatever and say 'Okay, what does your budget look like with a 7% or 10% or 12% or 15% cut?' A spectrum of things. Even if we stay even and grow our revenues a little bit, expenses are rising eight or ten percent on a lot of things. That's the challenge. To even do the same things, we're going to have to manage our expenses better."

Q:  Given the enrollment issues and state funding, even though you are separately funded, has there been any communication from campus about things they need you to do since you are a part of the University?

"We do provide a lot and I think I've shared with you before kind of the shopping list. It's upwards of $18-20 million dollars of stuff going back. We get charged an overhead and I think the University is looking at that broadly for every part of the University getting charged an overhead like athletics or the health care, things like that. We want to be part of the solution as well with the University. That's why we're being aggressive with our outreach, with extension, working with them and teaming up with them and Nick's doing a good job updating on a weekly basis with sports updates and I'm sending out to ambassadors across the state. I think it's starting to work. We're seeing enrollment applications up and I think the successes of our teams, having football and men's and women's basketball go to the postseason for the first time since 1981 or 82 and only the second time in history, I think that helps all of that. I think we can do, not only from a budgetary standpoint, but the external things as well."

Q:  With Brian White's position, are you going to hire somebody from the outside?

"Actually, I just sent out an email today with a work chart. Actually we're elevating and reassigning duties, people with direct reports that were to him are going to report to me and we're not going to fill that position per se with a new person. We're re-allocating duties and elevating people and giving more responsibilities. I felt like we had a great group of staff and both Brian and I agreed that he had hired some good people in those roles. It's an opportunity to give more responsibility to let more people rise up."

Q: And cost-cutting too?

"It helps a little bit that way."

Q: Speaking of personnel, with Gina Fogue being the interim softball coach, are you going to wait till the end of the season to fill that?

"We'll probably try to do something before the end of the season. That's something that I think the team really, as we spoke to them, kind of subtly on what direction we were going to go before the end of the season so that they knew as well."

Q:  I know surprises can happen, but outside of softball do you feel like you're pretty stable with all your coaches?

"Yeah. I think we have a great group of coaches that are doing a really good job. 12 out of 13 made postseason play thus far and so it might be around 17 of 20 by the end the way things are tracking. I think that says a lot to the job that they're doing. I want to retain and keep and continue to help them be successful."

Q: What are your thoughts on how Gina is doing with softball so far?

"I think really good. I was looking back, last year we ended up 29-28. The SEC is really tough. She's headed into a gauntlet now, but I think she's really managing and doing a good job with the team she has. I think last year and this year were impacted by pitchers transferring and that's a challenge, but I think the pitchers are getting better and better and the team overall. It will be tough because Georgia and LSU and all those top 10 or 15 teams. That's going to be the challenge to compete and I think we can. She has 11 or 12 freshmen on the team and a lot of them are playing so that's a challenge but I feel like she's doing a really good job with them."

Q:  Do you feel like she's managing the culture and developing the culture you want in that program?

"I think she's developing her culture and I think she has good communication with her team and they're performing. They've missed some here and there and some inconsistencies a little bit, but I think they're working through that and competing very well. They'll lose one and then bounce back. I think last weekend they were ahead of Arkansas in the series tiebreaker and then they had a bad inning of seven runs or something like that."

Q:  Back to football, how much of an impact does it have not just on football, but on the entire athletic department having guys like Drew Lock and Terry Beckner come back?

"I think it helps create excitement for it. We're tracking a little ahead of last year with our season tickets and a lot higher with our new season tickets being purchased. I think that gives us an opportunity to have a very good year. I think we need to out of the gate start a little better than last year. I think everyone would agree with that and that gives us an opportunity to really engage the community and the state and nationally."

Q:  Going off the one and done rule, there's some talk about the NCAA changing the transfer rule to have guys play immediately.  Do you have a stance on that?

"I don't have a stance. That's a strong position. I'm open to hearing, and I think they're working on that and having really good discussions of trying to standardize it across all sports so it's not different. But if they do then how does it impact the sports that are maybe outliers to that type of situation? I think they'd love to get rid of the applying for waivers on situations, but they've been wrestling with it for a while and I haven't heard of any great solutions coming out of that other than once a kid wants to transfer, having that opportunity to transfer and not having to request it, I think that's something that we'll probably see, but beyond that, I really don't know where it's going to go."

Q:  Not speaking directly to any situations that might have occurred this spring that you can't discuss, but how much differently, and how proactive to you have to be in handling Title IX issues and sexual assault accusations than you had to even maybe five years ago?

"I think institutions overall have been better at integrating the Title IX office into processes and having someone within your department that is a liaison. Sarah Reesman is ours. If we hear of something then she'll immediately inform the Title IX office so that they're aware or if they hear something they'll talk to her or me or both. I think that's a healthy communication that works pretty well. But still, they need to keep their privacy and there's a lot of rules that people don't understand why can't you do this or that? There's a lot we don't control at all which is good and bad, but you may not know. They're maybe doing an investigation you don't know everything about that. We're informed. I think there's good communication within the University and the system with that so it's as good as it can be on those tough situations. Unfortunate, you don't want it to happen, but I think that ours is as good as it can be."

Q: Is the NCAA still investigating the Yolanda Kumar situation?

"That's still out there. That's to be determined."

Q:  People have talked about the Hearnes Center.  Is there a long term vision for that?

"I looked at that and looked at all the functions and the uses of the Hearnes Center. Overall it's a building that's not ready to fall down. It's like a fortress. We're investing back into it, if you will, with a heating and cooling system that works better, spending money that way trying to make it more efficient. We're continuing to improve special areas. I don't know if you've been up to wrestling, but he's created, he's envied across the country for what he has up there. His weight room keeps getting better and better and I keep looking at that, who's making that happen? It's a great spot for them. I think volleyball has done a number of upgrades in creating team rooms up there. So we're investing back into it and there's a lot more that could be done, but it's a building that's irreplaceable as far as the functions. I would hate to try to guess to replace everything that's in there right now, what it would cost to try to replace that. I think it's more cost effective to make improvements."

Q:  Turf was installed in the infield at the baseball stadium, it's going to be the outfield next.  Are there any other improvements planned?

"Not in the short term. Right now, I think there's opportunity there to continue to improve it, but the field was the most important as far as Coach Bieser was concerned and I think he's doing a great job. I think it's an equalizer. Where we're not able to get out as much because of the weather, it allows teams in a more Northern situation to get out on a more regular basis and get consistent work done on their skills. That's why the artificial turf really helps."