home sitesearch contact fan about
  Submit/Update Profile  

Search the Network:

New UL president feels football is a key

New UL president feels football is a key

New UL president feels football is a key

BATON ROUGE – The UL System Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Thursday for Joseph Savoie to return to his alma mater and become the school’s sixth president.

Savoie, currently the commissioner of higher education, won’t assume his new position until sometime this summer. But with questions swirling about the current and future state of UL’s athletic department, the 53-year-old sat down Friday with The Daily Advertiser in his offices in the Claiborne Building in Baton Rouge to address some of those issues.

Question: What are some of your connections to UL’s athletic department?

Answer: (UL athletic director) David Walker and I started work at the university on the same day in 1978. We were both in Student Affairs. We became quick friends. I have a great deal of respect for his administrative abilities. When David is in charge of something, he always makes it work. He’s one of those go-to guys. When you have an issue that’s challenging and needs special talent, you go to David Walker and he gets it done.

Q: How much involvement do you think a college president should have with an athletic department?

A: Just like any other area, you should make sure you have the best people responsible for the program. You need to support them and expect them to perform. If you’re going to have an athletic director, then you need for him to be the director of athletics. The university should try to provide adequate resources, policy and direction that can help them to succeed.

Q: In six years under coach Rickey Bustle, UL football is a combined 26-44 with one winning season. Two days after the Cajuns recently finished a 3-9 season, Walker released a statement affirming the school’s commitment to Bustle, whose current contract runs through Jan. 31, 2011. In your mind, what’s the current state of UL football?

A: I don’t think it’s fair for me to comment on that. That’s Mr. Walker’s responsibility, and I haven’t had the chance to discuss that with him. His opinion would be the guiding opinion. But you’re also talking to a (former UL) student from the early- to mid-’70s, and I think it was two or three years before we won any games. I’ve seen the ups and downs of the program over the years. It’s more fun to be up than down. But it’s important because the fanbase is so important to the financial viability of the program. Support often depends on the record. And when the team is doing well you have a great turnout, and when they’re not (successful) you don’t. And so that affects your ability to improve because you don’t have the resources. If you’re going to compete you ought to be competitive.

Q: In your mind, is a 3-9 record good enough for the UL football program?

A: That’s not a fair judgment for me to make because I don’t know any of the details or background. I’ll be dependent on Mr. Walker’s advice in that regard.

Q: How do you think UL should deal with improving the visibility and financial issues within the athletic department?

A: I think marketing is real important. You have to build a good, solid donor base. You have to have significant ticket sales. You have to put a quality product on the court or on the field. You need to be free of indiscretions and run a clean program, a program people can respect. And you need to be competitive to build that base. Some of that is resources, and that’s where donors come into play. The gravy is ticket sales.

Q: What do you think about the newly formed Ragin’ Cajun Athletic Board, a foundation whose primary goal will be raising outside funding for the program?

A: I’m not familiar with that, but I do think that’s a good focus. I think it’s a very good idea. I remember back when Toby Warren was the athletic director. He was very successful in generating a lot of community support. I remember going to the rallies and ticket sale campaigns. It was an exciting time. People were engaged. They felt good about their participation. They were very successful. I think that’s important for a variety of ways, not only for the financial support, but also for the enthusiasm that you can generate. I’ve had the opportunity here to work somewhat with the (LSU) Tiger Athletic Foundation, and I’ve seen how they’ve used that fund-raising organization to supplement funds to support athletics. The meteoric rise of LSU athletics, I think, is connected significantly to the success of the Tiger Athletic Foundation. So I think it’s a great idea, and I’m glad to see (UL) doing it.

Q: How would you describe your vision for how UL’s athletic department can improve?

A: There’s always room (for improvement). If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind. There are some very successful and strong programs – baseball, softball. Basketball is going through kind of a regrowing, maturing phase, but they’ve consistently had a high quality there. Football has been more inconsistent. There are some excellent programs. The girls basketball team last year had a wonderful season. With a new coach (Errol Rogers) I think there’s a lot of potential there and a bright future. I think it’s important if you’re going to have a team that the team ought to have the resources to be competitive. At the same time, if you put in the resources, then you ought to expect a competitive performance.

Q: How important is it to have a football program people can rally behind?

A: Football, in a financing model, is the most important ingredient (to a successful athletic department). Basketball can come close, and sometimes generate a small profit. But football feeds everything else. You can be lucky enough to be in a successful, long-standing conference with huge TV contracts. You don’t necessarily have to be very good, but you’re going to have plenty of resources because football’s going to generate that, and that can pay for everything else. But if you’re not, then you’ve got to be as successful as you can. Football drives the rest of the sports. It’s the one (sport) that can generate fanbase, produce revenues. It’s the one that can get the lucrative TV contracts. It’s the one that has the largest-guaranteed payments. Football is central to being able to fund everything else.

Q: What’s your response to people who argue that UL lacks the resources to regularly compete for a conference championship, especially in football?

A: I think there’s some validity to that, and in some ways I have to accept some responsibility for that. The Board of Regents has a policy that limits the amount of state dollars that can go to supporting athletics. We developed that policy about 10 years or so ago when there was significant criticism in the legislature on spending for athletics. That’s when money was much tighter. So we put in place a fairly restrictive cap on the use of state dollars to support athletics. We’ve recently loosened that up this past year. The universities made a viable case that it might have been a good idea 10 years ago, but that we had been starving them for years, so we loosened up a little bit. We’re continuing to review that policy to make sure that we’re providing a responsible level of state support. Now the other side of that is that, there’s expectation that you’ll generate private support as well. But if you want to have a good library, then you need to make sure that you have an adequate collection of journals and magazines and books and access to databases. If you want to have a viable athletic program, you need to make sure that you have resources necessary to get good coaches, competitive students and attractive facilities. If you’re going to have athletics then you need to have a quality program. If you’re going to compete, you need to be competitive.

Q: How will the state’s new funding formulas, which eliminate the cap on athletic spending, have an impact on the UL athletic department? Will some of the concerns be alleviated?

A: Well, it should. It gives you a larger base to start with, and on that base you build game guarantees, fund-raising, ticket sales and you can get to a more competitive budget level. You can always point to examples that have better resources, but our responsibility in the use of the public’s dollars is to make sure that we have a total view of what everyone is doing. Unfortunately, those are very difficult numbers to gather. The NCAA has been working for the last three years, and we’ve been working with them, and I think this upcoming year they’re going to release their first comprehensive analysis of athletic expenditures. That will be very helpful in guiding policy. Then we’ll know what the market is and how to be competitive in the market. The truth is athletic programs very seldom break even. Depending on who’s counting, anywhere from 10 to 18 athletic departments in America break even or make money. Now we happen to have within 50 miles of us one of the most successful athletic programs in the country (LSU), and people assume that that’s the norm. But it’s not. It’s a rare exception. It has a lot to do with long-term, lucrative TV contracts with the SEC, and it has a lot to do with the Tiger Athletic Foundation generating that success. People who say athletics should pay for themselves don’t understand the financing of athletics. Hardly any programs break even or pay for themselves.

Q: How do you think UL’s athletic program can carry the success of its spring sports into the fall sports, notably football?

A: Like anything else, you have to analyze where you are and try to be truthful with where you are. You have to build strategies to improve where you are. You have to be insistent on reaching those expectations. I’m a strong believer in performance and accountability. You have to set goals, and either you get there or you don’t. And if you don’t get there, you sometimes have to make changes to get there.