With Athletic Director Gary Cunningham on the way out and the search for a successor beginning, I start to wonder what the athletic department’s future leader should do upon assuming the new position. Having spent an ungodly amount of time involved with our athletic department and looking at it with a very critical eye over the past three and a half years, along with plenty of conversations with coaches, players and administrators, I am offering a few ideas that have floated around my mess of a brain for the new boss to consider. But who am I?
Continue the support of what is good
One of the more obvious first steps the new AD needs to take is to continue to build on the success that the men’s soccer program has attained. Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg should be given access to everything he needs to maintain the soccer powerhouse he has built, and the athletic department should continue to expand the overwhelming community support the program has earned. The same goes for the community support of the women’s basketball team, as it is the nonstudent population that gives the home crowd a presence since students clearly have much better things to do on Saturday afternoons.
Schmooze with the locals
The combination of our Central Coast location – too far to regularly visit UCLA, USC, Stanford, Cal or most professional sports teams in the state – and the wealth of Santa Barbara makes the community the main target for income for the athletic department. Let’s face it. Most students wouldn’t even attend the games unless they got in for free. (Unless they served beer, but that’s a different story.) I’m assuming the new AD will be an outsider, so they will immediately need to establish ties with the local elite and boosters to continue and expand the income flow. It is this cash stream that will help pay for facility improvements and other enhancements in this age of university budget cuts.
Come up with a marketing plan that isn’t terrible
This is the one area that the incoming AD can vastly improve on what went on during Cunningham’s tenure. Having attended many games across several sports at other schools in the Big West, I’ve come to realize that our marketing effort – if you can even call it that – needs to be vastly improved. To start, the Thundermeter could be repaired in the Events Center, and in years like this, where the men’s basketball team is a legitimate conference favorite, spotlights signifying a game could be used like they were in the good old days. A five-on-five kids game at halftime of basketball games would energize the crowd, as would more contests to bring apathetic students into the stands to give our teams a true home court advantage. The current plan is aimless and needs to be overhauled and should be at the top of the new AD’s list.
In terms of the facilities, the main priority should be to improve or replace Campus Pool so it doesn’t seem like a hole in the ground. The pool is by far the worst facility on campus and any Division I athletic team deserves one that is at least better than my high school’s. Harder Stadium could use a real ticket booth, especially if the school hopes to make another run at hosting the College Cup, for which it came up short a year ago. An upgraded public address system for the Thunderdome would also greatly improve the atmosphere, since at times the blaring music or voices is barely discernable.
Cunningham is leaving the department in good shape, but there is clearly improvement that can be made to keep UCSB at the top of the athletic departments in the conference. Whoever the new boss is, the groundwork is already laid and they better not screw it up.