Q&A with Jim Sterk
Mizzou Director of Athletics Jim Sterk met with a group of local reporters on Monday morning. Here is the full transcript of Sterk's session with the media.
I know you anticipated the budget being what it was publicized as. Do you see that changing going forward? Is it an issue that you were at a deficit?
"When I came, when I looked at the balance sheets, it looked like it was at like two and a half million dollars (deficit) and I think this year it might be a little bit more. We've had some reserves and we've been looking at how to work this long term because a lot of the fixed expenses continue to rise--the operational of benefits for employees and salaries and travel and food and all of those things. When you have 550 student athletes eating, they do pretty good damage with that. What we've asked our staff to do is what do we need to do to continue to move forward and grow, but are there areas that we can adjust and not spend? Be prudent with our money. It's not like we're in the poor house. We are, overall, probably in the 30s as far as nationally where we are with our budget. It's just that the SEC has just continued to accelerate as far as our competitors in the league. What we've looked at doing also is compare where we are with our peers budget-wise. We look at North Carolina, Virginia, Florida State, that group, when we're looking at different things throughout the department. Try to keep it in perspective. I think that we can continue to aspire to be a top 25 program. We tied last year's record of 33rd. We were higher than that headed into spring, we didn't finish quite as high, or set a new record. I think overall with our programs and competitiveness, I'm really excited about where we are and moving forward. We have a lot of resources. We're mobilizing, continue to mobilize. Nick (Joos) is working across the state with our ambassador program. We've made a lot of advances in a lot of areas and I think we will continue to do that."
So just to clarify, do you anticipate a slightly bigger loss than previously reported?
"Every metric's a little bit different. I'm not sure on that. It's about the same I think as far as the year before. What I shared with our staff, so if we're doing it two years in a row that's a structural thing that we need to really address. At the same time, also grow our resources. We have our outbound ticket sales group, IMG/Learfield, that's working and our season tickets, they've sold closing in on a thousand new season ticket holders, and really going to work on groups. We've got to look at the changing dynamics of the consumer, what do they want? The South End Zone is part of that. I think it will really engage a lot of people in different ways, different experiences at a football game. There are ways to do that. We had 11,000 at a women's basketball game. Can we build that and maintain on the men's basketball side? There's ways we can grow it too."
Do you anticipate those revenues overcoming the deficit within a year or is that more of a multi-year process?
"It's probably a couple years, but I'm hopeful that we can balance it this coming year. That's making sure that we stay within our means and invest wisely, but then grow our revenues at the same time."
Safe to say the quickest way to increase revenue in major college sports is having a successful football program?
"Yep. That's safe to say. As far as the growth, yeah, that has opportunity. But I think in all our areas, our annual fund set a record last year and it's up a couple hundred thousand this year, so that annual fund for scholarships needs to continue to grow. Engaging people here and alums across the country I think is something we want to continue to grow too."
You said you're up a thousand new season football tickets compared to last year?
"A thousand new people have bought tickets. We're still not quite where we were last year, but they're still working with that stuff. I think we're down a little bit with those folks."
So there are fewer season tickets sold at this point?
"At this point. I think probably when you count all told."
You're talking about costs continuing to rise. Where's the saturation point where people say we just keep pouring money in and we've got to stop?
"We're spending prudently, not going crazy. Some people have really put themselves in a tough situation and the University in a tough situation with resources and spending and all. I think we're in a good spot. I think nationally, I think that it could, but then people are speculating there's new buyers in the marketplace with Google and others getting into the television and live sports media. People have an appetite for that so I think that continues to grow. It's not a doomsday, but I think we need to be realistic."
Beyond pure attendance, what is your gauge for measuring fans' interest in football?
"I think a good indicator is our annual fund, for instance. Not everyone can make a Saturday, or they have kids or whatever, but if we can continue to grow that in a way that's significant and can help us pay for our scholarship bill each year and grow beyond that, I think that's a good indicator people are interested in supporting the program. I think, overall, really excited about the University overall. We've made really, really great strides with President Choi and Chancellor Cartwright and I think that's shown up in the legislative support and across the state and I think we're a part of that, we play a role in that along with teaming up with extension across the state."
Do you have a goal for the football program this year?
"I think, you know, last year was the first time since 1981-82 that football and men's and women's basketball all made post-season. That's certainly a goal for us to do that. As we look at our director's cup, can we continue to make strides overall with our programs. With football, I expect it to be really an exciting year. I think it sets up, tough schedule, but I think it's a really good one. I think the culture of the program is in really great shape. Put 110 minds together and coaches and staff and you have an opportunity to do fun things."
Big picture, last year was a step forward obviously, but the way they got there was a little strange...
"I would prefer not to do that again."
You've got a guy you're promoting for the Heisman at quarterback, a guy who could have gone and been a high pick at defensive tackle. Is this the year you have to see significant proof from Barry for hope for the future?
"I think when you look at it, yeah, I think we can make great progress this year. But you guys have been around. You never know. Something happens to players or things that occur, I think you have to take into account all of those things when you look at the end of the season was this a successful season? So I try to do that when I look at it. It's not just wins and losses, but do we want to make postseason? Yes. Do we want to win our division? Yes. We want to do that. It just depends on how things go."
What are some of the non wins and losses aspects that you look for? One thing is that last year a lot of the numbers came against teams that didn't have good seasons. Would you like to see more competitive play against winning teams?
"I've always been a win's a win's a win. I'll take any win wherever they come, but preferably not all in the last half of the season like last year. But I think, yeah, those guys over in the MATC are looking at that. How do they match up offensively and defensively and special teams? I think that's what they look at more specifically, but I think overall it's the culture, are they playing well, what are they doing as a team? And then I think engaging the community and the support of the state is important. I think that's something that we can do this year."
What did you learn about Barry as he weathered that storm last year?
"He's not one to shy away from challenges. He took over a program that when he took it over was in a state of flux. I think he's done a really good job of developing the culture of the team, the players and the coaches. I think we have an opportunity to have that all come together this year."
To have a kid that wins the Heisman you almost have to start promoting him in June. But what thought process went into that and how will you do that throughout the year?
"I think overall that everyone felt comfortable with what we were doing. Both Drew and his family and the coaches and the team. Our players are mature enough to know that if they have a quarterback win a Heisman, I think the linemen can be damn proud of the job that they did. I think overall if the team is winning, they're embracing that. You've got to have the right situation and culture to be able to do that. I think it's not a me type of team. I think collectively they want to do something very special. As far as promoting, I think Nick can talk more about that."
Nick Joos: "I think now it's obviously more about the awareness and building off of last year's success that he enjoyed. We're going to take some of the bobbleheads and our core group of media in this room as well as some of the national folks just to create some awareness and keep his name out there. As he performs at a high level, there's other elements of our plan that we'll roll out. You don't want to start with everything in July, then August and September you've got nothing. We've got a well thought out plan that we'll roll out as he plays well and as he plays at a high level, there will be more intensity, more prongs to that. If he doesn't, if it maybe doesn't go as well, we've got adjustments as well. We've got it covered from all angles. I think he's a unique student athlete that does a lot in the community, does well in the classroom and obviously also on the field."
This is not unique to you guys but one of the things that always comes up is athletes being able to profit off their likeness. You are using a Drew Lock bobblehead to promote your football team and Drew gets nothing off of that. What is your opinion on that?
"I think if you ask Drew he feels like he benefits a lot from this experience and also that it positions him well for the next step. And hopefully he has a long career in the pros that this kind of helped step up and give him an opportunity to do that."
I know what the rule is, but do you think it's worth having a conversation about changing it?
"I think yeah, and they are looking at the whole likeness issue. It gets back to, and maybe in the future, I think they can somehow. It's a very complicated one with the amateurism. Then if you really take true value of every player on the team, how do you do that? How do you do it with baseball or track and field? We've got an all star like Karissa Schweizer. Hopefully she has a long pro career as well but I think she really was a great representative of the institution as a student athlete."
How did you feel about the SEC transfer rule that they can transfer within the conference?
"I think it's evolved to that. I supported it because I think with the graduate transfer, they've fulfilled as far as the academic obligation within their institution. It remains to be seen how it all works out, but I think it's overall good for a student athlete to be able to do that once they graduate."
Have you looked at the Condoleezza Rice recommendations as it relates to college basketball?
"I haven't. Actually I have a meeting later today and tomorrow to go through that. I was on vacation last week. You'll have to give me a timeout on that one. We're going to be talking about it. I'm going to be talking to Cuonzo (Martin) and get his feel for it."
Having some distance from it, what did you learn about Cuonzo and how he handled, I guess, a unique situation?
"It was. I think I've said before, better than advertised. He's mature about his approach. I think he utilizes his experience as a previous head coach to deal with situations. I don't know if he's, I don't think he's ever had a projected first round pick play a few minutes and then not play and then come back. I think he was open and honest with the players, not only Michael, but I think the rest of the team and I think they had good dialogue so they maximized the opportunity that they had."
There's a new athletic director at Kansas that comes from the SEC. Would you be interested in talking to Jeff Long about renewing that exhibition at least?
"We'll talk. I sent him a text of congrats. He's got a daughter here that works in the media area, taking photographs and stuff. So I think there's a good relationship and what comes of that I'm not sure. Overall, it's not just an athletics thing. It's a University thing."
We're six years into the SEC and every time we ask you about a rivalry, it's about Kansas. At what point does that change? And who is your rival?
"I think it depends on the sport. I asked our coaches that and it was a variety of opponents that they felt maybe were their top two or three. I think you have long memories. The Kansas rivalry was a good one and Norm Stewart's still around to promote that and tell stories. I enjoy those and I think that's good."
Can we guess who Robin Pingeton might have nominated as Missouri's rival?
"Maybe one of two or three."
You mentioned the Director's Cup. Is there a common thread for departments that are consistently toward the top?
"Stanford has 33 sports so in a given year they take their best ten in each male and female. They have kind of an advantage in that way, but also they do really well in the Olympic sports. Being in the PAC 10 at the time against them, in swimming, I'd go to the PAC 10 meet and the swim coach would say 'There's a world record holder there, there's a national record holder there.' There are those kind of advantages that they have and opportunities that they have. I think for us, I think aspiring to be in the top 25 overall, I think with each of our sports, is important to do. I think if we do that, we can enjoy some great success and I think the student athletes will enjoy that as well. That's part of creating a great experience for them to be satisfied when they graduate and leave."
In the spring you said game day for football was a work in progress. Is that more settled?
Nick Joos: "The portable locker rooms for the team will be built around August 1st on the site. They will actually run through, they'll go from the field to the temporary locker room through the construction site. The crane will be right in the middle of their run through area. We'll practice for that. That's all starting about August 1st. That will be built and they'll have a couple weeks and a couple scrimmages to practice their game day routine of going to the locker room. It's a very spartan locker room. It's like five trailers put together, there's no showers in there. It's more of a dressing area, meeting space for halftime."
Will you still do Tiger Walk then?
Nick Joos: "Tiger Walk will still happen."
And people that tailgated behind the south end zone will be relocated?
Nick Joos: "They'll be relocated. TSF will relocate them. They're working on that."
Sterk: "They've got a lot of work to do. The hillside where they dug into the hillside, that retaining wall being built up there, they're not really sure how many parking spots are back. It's a complicated issue because those were great tailgating spots and there's a priority as far as parking. Hopefully the first of August they can start allocating those."
There's been some talk in the past about flipping sidelines. Is that changing?
"Not for 2018."
Nick Joos: "But I would anticipate in 19 it probably will."
The situation with the track team and the lawsuit that's being brought against Coach (Brett) Halter, had you had any communications going back to when you were hired about complaints referring to Coach Halter?
"I'm not going to comment on that. But that assistant coach was here and I want it to be clear, he left on his own for a job at Tennessee."
What's your football game day like? What do you do?
"It depends on what game. Usually the night before they may be reunions with teams or donor groups that we meet with. Then it depends on the game time. Coming here, look at what we've got going and then I try to make the rounds and see as many people as I can tailgating before. Then depending on how nervous I am, I'll go up to the suite earlier and kind of watch games a little bit. I stay out of the way of football coaches and the team until after their game. That's kind of my rule is that's their time and their place to prepare. A little bit of walking around all over the places. Suites, getting from the east to the west side, I go and try to meet people in their suites and see people I haven't seen and great opportunity to engage with a lot of people that come in from Dallas or New York or whatever. It's a great time to see a lot of different people."
Is that during the game or do you try to be locked in by the time the game's being played?
"Sometimes during the game. First half especially. Second half usually, I try to stay and watch it."
I think the only significant change has been your softball coach. Larissa Anderson, when we talked to her, indicated it would be a little bit of a process. Do you have a time frame that it's reasonable to get that program back to where it was?
"I think she has opportunity to take it even further. You've got to give three or four years for recruits and players and develop. But I think they plan on winning right away. They're not gonna wait around."
You mentioned keeping the momentum with basketball. What sense do you have for the excitement around that program?
"I think it could certainly match last year. I think overall competitively we have an opportunity to be even better so I think that excitement should be around the program. I know that the team and the coaches feel that way."
Do you know how season ticket renewals look for basketball?
Nick Joos: "They're going well. It's the earliest they've ever engaged people to try to renew the last two years. I think it can be in the ballpark of last year."
That's a good statement that the excitement can stay after Michael leaves, right?
"Yeah, I think overall as a team they did well and then obviously it helps to have Jontay come back. I think he had made a decision a lot earlier than you or I knew. But I think it was good for him to experience that. I think overall, they're working hard now and I think the benefit for him too is having a whole summer of training with Nicodemus and the rest of the team. He didn't do that last year. I think they saw the transformation in Jeremiah Tilmon and I think that kind of transformation can occur with Jontay too."
Are you going to turf the rest of the baseball field this offseason?
"Don't have plans right now to do that, but we want to do that in the future. That's one of the laundry list of things that we would want to do."
Is it a financial reason to hold off?
"Yeah, we don't have a donor per se that's saying 'Hey, I have 1.4 million dollars, I'll turf that field.'"
Any new series in football or basketball you can share?
"I think you guys have the latest. We're still working on things, filling some holes."
Central Michigan announced something about a month ago. Are you guys waiting on details before you make an announcement?
Nick Joos: "Yeah, I'm trying to fill one more hole in 2022 and one hole in 2024 and then we'll be set through 2024. We'd like to do them all at once."