Scoggins: Next AD needs the Midas touch

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 3, 2012 - 11:59 AM

Topping the list of candidates should be a savvy fundraiser whom Gophers supporters welcome with open wallets.

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Athletic director Joel Maturi after the Gophers beat Air Force 20-13 in the inaugural game at TCF Bank Stadium in 2009.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune file

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The Gophers held Joel Maturi's retirement news conference Thursday in TCF Bank Stadium, a practical yet symbolic decision, because that structure represents the shining achievement of his 10-year tenure as athletic director.

As Maturi exits office, university President Eric Kaler listed a set of criteria that he desires in a new athletic director, which includes "good business acumen." Frankly, that characteristic should be the primary qualification he's looking for in candidates. College sports function in the vortex of an escalating arms race, particularly football and basketball. Big business rules, and schools -- whether they agree with that philosophy or not -- must keep pace or they'll get left behind.

The Gophers cashed in with their on-campus stadium, but that's just a start. The new athletic director needs to bring new energy, ideas and vision to the fundraising side of Gophers athletics. It's time for the Gophers to think and act differently in terms of raising cash and how they disperse it.

Maturi's record includes a number of significant successes and a few major mistakes. He traveled the country scrounging up every nickel possible to build TCF Bank Stadium, but you never got the sense he viewed fundraising the way a CEO would or should.

Three university officials at different levels used the same exact word to describe the athletic department's fundraising methods: a mess. One person compared it to a mom-and-pop operation competing against giant retail outlets. They lack big thinkers. Their approach seems stale. They operate in a major metropolitan area filled with alums and Fortune 500 companies, and they struggle to break even every year. That doesn't make sense.

The Gophers need a new strategic plan for fundraising that is designed to create new revenue streams. If that requires wholesale changes and fresh ideas inside the department, so be it. If that means crawling on hands and knees to billionaire alum T. Denny Sanford and begging him to sign one of those jumbo-sized checks in exchange for splashing his name all over Dinkytown, it's worth a shot. If it means knocking on more corporate doors or seeking out new donors, any and all options should be on the table, if it can help boost the bottom line.

We can wax poetic about the virtues of intercollegiate athletics and the "student-athlete experience." Or we can deal in reality. Money drives college sports at the highest level.

To be clear, the Gophers don't want an outlaw program that is determined to win at all costs. That's not what we're suggesting. But they need someone who can excite their fan and corporate base in a way that promotes more financial commitment.

The new athletic director walks into the job facing important and expensive issues. The university needs to build a new baseball stadium. It needs a basketball practice facility. As much sentimental value as people possess for Williams Arena, the school needs to replace The Barn at some point, preferably sooner than later, but that's another discussion.

Those are just the big- ticket items. Financial commitment is manifested in other ways: coaching salaries, facility upgrades, budgets. High-profile coaches -- Jerry Kill and Tubby Smith, specifically -- should have easy access to private planes during their season for recruiting purposes. That might sound excessive or spendthrift, but everything is relative in the college athletics arms race. You either compete or you don't.

Fundraising often is tied to the success or failure of those revenue programs. Gophers football has struggled for so long that it lost a generation or two of fans. There's not a deep-seated emotional attachment to the program, which makes it harder to entice people to open their wallets. The Gophers somehow need to tap that market, get younger boosters on board. Perhaps a new voice will bring new energy and ideas. That's their hope at least.

About 30 minutes before the Gophers played at Michigan in football this past season, Maturi walked out of his suite and looked out a large window at the sea of people flooding into the Big House. Rows of cars stretched as far as you could see on a golf course near the stadium. Game day at Michigan reeks of big business.

I jokingly reminded Maturi that he was viewing his competition down below. He just nodded and smiled.

He's leaving for retirement, but the arms race isn't slowing down anytime soon.

Chip Scoggins ascoggins@startribune.com

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