The UCSB Athletics Dept. recently selected Mark Massari as the replacement for Gary Cunningham as athletic director. Massari just left Oregon State after six highly successful years running the Beaver sports department. Massari brings with him a vision of making UCSB athletics as nationally recognized for excellence as Santa Barbara’s academics. His focus is mainly on athletic facilities. He feels that UCSB is already highly marketable, and that an increase in facility quality across the board is the main thing holding the athletic department back from becoming a heavy competitor in all aspects of Gaucho sports: winning national championships, increasing and supporting the fan base and especially in becoming a heavy competitor in the national recruiting scene. With this in mind, the Nexus Sports editors sat down to hear what Massari has planned for the future of UCSB athletics.
Coming from a big program, do you think you’re going to bring a more professional mentality [into SB]?
I think it’s professional already. I mean, the [Intercollegiate Athletics] building is a perfect example of just figuring it out and doing it right. This is just straight curb appeal, and it gets us looking big time, which, you know, we are. And when you’re division one, you have to stand up and be division one. This started it. This was the first big step… that hall of fame is just awesome. I kept telling them when I was being interviewed. I’m going, “We would die for that. That’s [Bowl Championship Series] standard.”
I don’t know if there’s much culture to be changed. I mean, the culture here is winning, and doing exceptional things. We need to find out, does exceptional mean winning the Big West? We do that. That’s taking care of business. I think this campus – I know this campus competes on the national level.
The next step we need to do here is to make it built to last, to be built up to do it more often… This athletic department is close. It’s there with men’s soccer. Women’s basketball gets close. We need to do it across the board. So being built to last, being ready to compete on the national level, that’s just going to come with improved facilities and more scholarship money.
[At Oregon State], I was part of a new regime in athletics that had come in a couple years earlier of changing the complete landscape. Outsiders, completely from the outside… they just said, “We need to set a structure of winning and build a culture of winning,” and it came from the facilities mandate and hiring the right coaches on top of that.
And my side of it, when I came in 2002, was to build a marketing angle… of how we recruit, how our collateral looks, how our media guides looked. We couldn’t say championships, but we started saying things like “tough kids,” and “passionate fans” and “gritty teams.”
What was it about UCSB that attracted you here?
An athletic director or administrator … I think it’s the same with the academic community … you want to go somewhere where you can win. Even if it’s a sleeping giant, like maybe UC Berkeley … you want to go somewhere where they expect to win.
So I kept coming down here for the interviews, and I kept going through it, and I was like “Santa Barbara can do it; I mean they do it already: I just want to win on the national level.” That’s what attracted me the most. It’s definitely special. You want to be somewhere that’s special. And I kept leaving here and saying that to my wife – that I forgot how special Santa Barbara was. It’s different; it’s a recruiting angle, and I love that. It recruited me that way.
I’ve noticed since I’ve been here that our sports department has been increasing to being nationally recognized, but it seems like we’re still not there. What do you think it’s going to take to push us over the top?
Facilities. Facilities and people. Those are the two things you win with; those are the tangible things you win with. Great things happen in great venues.
We just need to have a master plan with the university to say, “Kids are going to choose this place on where they’re going to play and practice.” They’re going to walk in and look around at where they’re going to spend 70 percent of the day … we just need to have a master plan with that.
There’s two ways to do it: You’re either building it or you’ve got plans to build it, and we don’t have either … whether it be a completely new venue or just enhancements to a venue like baseball or softball or Harder [Stadium]. We need to work that out with the campus and the facilities’ long term plans, but great things will happen here in athletics with great venues. That will be the biggest thing to make us a national program.
At the end of the day, the more we compete with Cal Poly and Pacific for athletes, the more we’re just going to beat Cal Poly and Pacific. We’ve got to go against Cal, UCLA, where a kid goes, “You know what, I can play there. I was going to play at UCLA, but I can play there.”… That decision will be the T-Dome’s next look, and Harder [Stadium] and baseball and softball and the new swimming facility and all that.
Are facilities the next step to bringing more professionalism in the whole organization?
I think we’re recognized as having great coaches and a great location on the national level. I wouldn’t say it’s professionalism, I just think it’s having a vision and a strategic plan… The chancellor has to have the vision, so does rec [sports] and so do us and the campus – we’re just a unit of the university. It’s more about having that vision and saying, “If you want this athletic department to reflect the greatness of this university, academically – if you want athletics to measure up to that – this needs to happen.”
What immediate changes are you going to make?
My thing on publicity and marketing is that you need to do an exceptional job, a noticeable job… We’re doing busy work here, but that doesn’t mean we’re doing measured work. There’s not a bang to it, so we need to make a bang to it.
In marketing, you’re either off the charts aggressive or you’re not.
Those are a couple things that we’ll do going forward, but getting the storyboards out was just game awareness.
What kind of image are you going to try to sell?
For the athletic programs? Edgy – I believe marketing should always be edgy, you know? But safe, I should say. One of the things is throwing tortillas. The locos want to throw tortillas. Throw tortillas! But with guidelines… don’t be stupid about it. But if we score goals and tortillas fly, let them fly.
The Gaucho Locos need to meet with us. They need to work with our marketing director. We want them loud; we want them crazy; we want them as a sixth man… We want that winning edge. We want recruits to come to the Wake Forest game to see that atmosphere – that was beautiful; it was a great atmosphere. But they need to have some responsibility in it, too.
But back to being edgy on marketing: Don’t just put a commercial out there that’s boring. You’ve only got 30 seconds to show it off, so don’t try to show everything off to the world.
There are a lot of small [atmosphere-dampening rules] going on that I think are preventing fans from getting vigorous. Is that something that you’re trying to open up more?
I mean, I don’t know what the history on those are, if the campus has a no-tailgate rule, an open-fire rule, a no-alcohol rule. But the orange tape [on the front row of the Thunderdome] is kind of like the tortillas. There’s probably a Big West bylaw in this – that you have to have a buffer … but we’ll take it down and they’ll stand there, and the minute they go on the court or start reaching like it’s “Mad Max” … we’ll have to move it back. But just common sense: We want them loud, but we want them to have good judgment.
I want them to have fun. The students are our customers, and we’re here to serve you. But you need to govern yourself, too. There’s a responsibility when you come into that game to make it a hard place to play for the opposing team, but also to be first class, because you’re representing the university when you’re standing out there. Not athletics: You’re representing yourself and the university. As stupidity happens, we’ll deal with it. But we want you to come, engage. And when you’re in your twenties, we want you to come and follow us and be on the road … when we go to St. Louis for another college cup; we want you to be there, and then when you’re 40, we want you to build another building for us. Make a difference for your school. We want it to start at the games.
It’s a social responsibility with all the Gaucho Locos and the students to make sure that we have that edge about us, but we don’t embarrass the university.
What about working with the Gaucho Locos?
They have a responsibility with athletics to work with them on the game-day management and atmosphere.
I never want to have to put out a press release apologizing for the way the students acted. That’s stupid. We shouldn’t have to do that. But I want to make sure we’re talking about that before.
I love it man; it’s a great name: Gaucho Locos. And they sing “Olé Olé, Gauchos,” and I saw the video when they took the goalposts and threw it in the ocean. That was pretty cool. I’m not condoning throwing state property into the Pacific Ocean and catching dolphins or whatever, but I thought that was pretty good school spirit.
How do we translate men’s soccer’s success to other programs?
Coach Vom Steeg is a great marketeer and coach obviously, and fundraiser and representative for the school – and it’s a perfect storm when he did what he did. He maximized it; he’s made his program better and the athletic department better.
Athletics is a huge window to the university. It always is going to be; there’s no denying that. People’s point of entry to Santa Barbara during the national championship is through the TV. If that means they went on our Web site later that day, then the university benefits.
How do we get people into all sports instead of just one or two?
Gaucho Locos need to be everybody; every student needs to be a Gaucho Loco. Now if they want to buy the T-shirt and the extended benefits, we’ll have a plan for that too.
The best marketing we’re going to have is the students. Market to the other students. Market why it’s important. Market why we need the noise when we’re playing Cal Poly, Davis, North Carolina, but also when we’re playing Westmont in a scrimmage.
This is what it’s all about. You’re going to miss those days. Six years after school, you’re going to be like, “Man, I wish I would have went to more games.”
We also need to do extraordinary things. There’s a buzz on campus when soccer’s winning. It wasn’t because we put an ad in the Nexus or put storyboards up: You just kind of knew. And that will happen by itself.
Do you have anything in mind for the facilities that you want to change?
I know that we need a plan to upgrade facilities, with the campus and with rec [sports]… but facilities are the level playing field.
[Recruits] need to go and see the new venues, or the plans for the new venues, and say, “Wow, they’re not doing this at Cal or UCLA. They got a pretty good plan here. My dreams can come true here, winning at the national level.”
I have to find out what the analysis is on where we’re at, and the cost… if we can get private giving and philanthropic giving… but I’ll tell you what: We better do it. And we’re going to do it. We’re going to have a big ol’ plan out there with a big ol’ price tag, with the campus and say, “We need this to be great. We’re good right now, but we need to be great. And with it comes this.”
I can’t give you specifics, but I know every venue we play in will be part of it.
General closing thoughts:
If North Carolina rolled in here for a regional, just off their street cred, we’d probably say, “They’re probably pretty good,” in whatever sport. Stanford’s the same way. You expect excellence there. And I think we’re close there too. I think we’re close there too. We just need to do it on the national level more.