Getting this out a little early this week since I will be away for a few days after today. Not too much to report. The Mensah-Bonsu soap opera continues at GW, more fallout from the coaching change at Richmond, and there’s a “new” Hawk at St. Joe’s.
Reports: Mensah-Bonsu to stay in draft and lose collegiate eligibility
[b][b]URI success? It's all about the money, says A.D.[/b]
By Bill Reynolds
May 22, 2005
SOUTH KINGSTOWN – It’s been just about a year since Tom McElroy became the new athletic director at the University of Rhode Island, just about a year since he came here to try and move this athletic department into the new millennium.
For an athletic department is like a company these days: you’re either going forward, or you’re going back. There’s very little status quo. Especially in an era where it’s all about fundraising, college sports’ version of the arms race. Gone are the days when the athletic director is the old coach who tells a few war stories at the alumni dinner.
“Athletics is a business in an academic environment,” McElroy says, “and we are judged by three criteria: the won-loss record, graduation rates, and how we comply with NCAA rules.”
Business for sure. Twenty-two intercollegiate sports, teams which always are flying somewhere. Fourteen club sports. Intramural sports. A budget of $14.5 million.
And there’s no question men’s basketball is the public face.
You can talk all you want about student-athletes, talk all you want about all the minor sports and how successful some of them are, have all the seminars you want about the role of athletics in a university. The reality is if men’s basketball does well, the perception is that URI sports are doing well. Whether this is good or bad is irrelevant. It’s the way it is.
Rest assured McElroy knows this.
If he didn’t learn it in his two decades in the Big East office, he learned it during his three years at UConn, the state school that once upon a time was URI’s big rival, a so-called sister school, similar in many ways.
In a sense, UConn is the role model. Not in the sense that it’s realistic to expect URI to actually become UConn – a school which was the national champion in both men and women’s basketball and now also plays Division I-A football in a new stadium – but to learn from the way UConn transformed itself from a state university in the middle of nowhere to a major player on the national stage.
But how did they get there?
And what are the lessons URI can learn?
In McElroy’s view, UConn’s ascension into the rarified air of college sports is more than just a sports story, started because some of the state’s business leaders and politicians wanted to make UConn into one of the top 25 state universities in the country.
“Sports gave UConn the front porch, what was visible to everyone,” he says, “but there was a total commitment from everyone to significantly change the university.”
That’s his gameplan here.
To change the way things have always been done, including a variety of byzantine state guidelines and regulations that slow everything down.
To change the vision.
To change the culture.
It’s not the easiest of things to do. Almost by their very nature, universities move slowly, and URI always has suffered from the perception that it’s in the middle of nowhere, out of sight and out of mind. Always suffered from the perception that half the members of the General Assembly couldn’t find the campus if you gave them a map, and couldn’t care less. No matter that it’s only a half-hour from Providence, in the middle of a booming South County. Perceptions die hard.
“We are significantly underfunded for what we’re trying to do,” McElroy says. “This an institutional problem, not just an athletic one.”
So fundraising is key.
Or as McElroy says, “any athletic director who sits in his office all day is not doing his job.”
The subtext to what he’s trying to accomplish is to establish a Division I mentality, one poised for a changing future and the ability to deal with a sports landcape that’s constantly changing, evolving. One that recognizes that this is a big business, with little margin of error. One that centers around the Ryan Center.
“If the Ryan Center hadn’t been built I wouldn’t have had any interest in this job,” he says.
Which gets us back to basketball.
There’s no question that the Ryan Center changes the equation at URI, gives the school a facility that allows the Rams to compete in a competitive college basketball world. McElroy believes there’s no reason why the building can’t be routinely full for the men, and crowds of 3,000 for the women, no reason why these two sports can’t challenge for the top of the Atlantic-10 more years than not. He feels women’s basketball is going to be a hit at URI, that the right coach is in place in Tommy Garrick. They already have the best radio and TV package in the league, and the future is bright.
There’s also no question that getting people into the Ryan Center is big.
That’s the reason why teams coming in next year to play the men’s team already have been announced. Providence College. Boston College. Ohio University. Manhattan. Eighteen home games. With DePaul, Houston, and Utah coming in the following year.
The public face.
He is trying to create a buzz, get people’s attention off last year’s disappointing season and on to next year. Get people to buy season tickets. Get people on board for a future that starts now. Get people into the Ryan Center, get the place rockin’ ‘n’ rollin,’ and everything will look better.
Tom McElroy’s vision of the future.
One he wants to change the culture of URI athletics with.[/b]
Link: URI success? It’s all about the money, says A.D. [NOTE: site registration required]
http://www.timesdispatch.com/scripts/isapi_srun.dll/servlet/Satellite?pagename=RTD%2FMGArticle%2FRTD_BasicArticle&c=MGArticle&cid=1031782823411&path=!sports&s=1045855934844&DPL=JPsPDSL7ChA75gkNJuA7&tacodalogin=yes]Changes at UR[/url]