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Sunday, July 18, 2010

An extended Q&A with Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs

I sat down with Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs for an interview this week, armed with reader-submitted questions. The abridged version ran in today's newspaper. But fear not, the full transcript is right here on the blog, with proper attribution for questions in parentheses.

I apologize if I didn't get to everybody's question. I only had a limited amount of time for the interview. But I'd like to thank everybody that wrote in.

And don't forget to follow the blog on Twitter.
Q: You took a lot of criticism for the Gene Chizik hire. Do you feel any vindication a year and a half later with the forward momentum the program has made? (Chris K., RC, Mark Daily)
A: "No. I wasn't in search of vindication. Like I told that football team that Thursday night after Tommy (Tuberville) quit was that I was going to hire the best coach for them. And having played here and coached here, I knew the quality and the caliber of the man that we needed to coach this football team, so I'm very pleased with what went on last year. We overachieved, winning eight ballgames and getting a chance to play in the Outback Bowl, which was really exciting, as we all know, with three overtimes. But Gene and his staff are building this program back up, but we're still a couple signing classes away from getting the quality of athletes that we need to have to get back to Atlanta. And that's what the goal is is to get back to the SEC championship game. But specifically to answer your question, no. I don't feel any vindication. I wasn't after vindication. I was after what I thought was best for this team and for Auburn. And we still have a ways to go, but what Gene has done is exactly what we talked about in his interview. He had a plan. He stuck to his plan and we're just building this thing back a brick at a time."

Q: Many readers were curious about scheduling philosophy. It seems like every year Auburn schedules one BCS opponent in its non-conference schedule and three lower-tier opponents. Why doesn't Auburn schedule more quality non-conference opponents? (Anonymous, JaSteveFC, Abraham Belt, kinchler)
A: "When LSU won the national championship with two losses in the Southeastern Conference, that was a great example of how strong our league is. And to play eight SEC games and then four others, the whole key is getting to Atlanta and winning the SEC championship and get a chance to play for the national championship. And this league has done that better than any other, particularly over the last 20 years. But our philosophy is that we'll play those eight SEC games and then when we went to the 12th game, we, unlike some of our other institutions in the Southeastern Conference, we didn't have that ninth game that was a traditional non-conference BCS opponent. Georgia-Georgia Tech. South Carolina-Clemson. Florida-Florida State. We didn't have that. So when you go to 12 games like that, for the players, playing four teams that you don't necessarily hear a lot about or maybe get real excited about, it's hard to do. And it's also hard for our fans.
"So when that 12th game came about, we decided what we had to do is play that BCS opponent that those other institutions have. So each year we're going to play a West Virginia or a Clemson or whoever it may be, because it's exciting for our players and it's exciting for our fans. And at the same time, you know that the whole goal is to get to Atlanta to win an SEC championship to play for a national championship. So that's what the philosophy is. Really and truly, if you can play all eight SEC games and win the Southeastern Conference championship game in Atlanta, win those nine games, at the end of the day, nobody ever looks back upon who those non-conference games were, because you're playing for the national championship. And so if you go back and look at the SEC schools that have won the national championship and review who their non-conference opponents were, which we've done, it resembles a lot of what we're doing schedule-wise."

Q: Is there a fear of repeating 2004, though, where Auburn's schedule was perceived to be weaker than the USC's and Oklahoma's and the Tigers were left out of the national title game? (Forrest Foti)
A: "That's what the perception is, but when other institutions have won the national championship, they played similar opponents. What the challenge was in 2004 was that USC and Oklahoma started out the preseason 1-2 and I believe we started out 17th. And we worked our way up and USC and Oklahoma never lost. So for us to jump them would have been something odd to have happen anyway if one of them didn't stumble. And they didn't. And if the inverse were true, if we were 1 or 2, let's just say that USC was No. 1 and we were No. 2 and Oklahoma started out No. 17, and we were all undefeated, we don't feel like it would be fair for Oklahoma to jump us to No. 2 to play for the national championship. There's some debate about those preseason polls. But the strength of schedule hasn't kept us out of the national championship. It was the fact that three teams that year went undefeated and we started out so low compared to the other two.
"Really not about how low were in the preseason, really about No. 1 and No. 2 started out the season and they never lost. But you always do think about that, though. You think about what you can do differently. Then, you look at some schools over the last couple years that have played two I-AA opponents and end up maybe in a better bowl game than some that didn't play two I-AA teams. It's happened not only in our league but other places as well. So if you're good, you're good. And if you start out high enough and beat the teams in your conference, you've got a chance to play for your conference championship, then the national championship, particularly in this league."

Q: Last year Auburn nearly agreed to play a season opener in Atlanta as a neutral site game against UCLA. Is that still something you are pursuing? (Jack in Atlanta, Ryan Miller)
A: "We're always looking at that. No. 1 thing is when Coach Jordan said college football games were meant to be played on campus, we believe that. However, I guess it was five years ago that us and Clemson were the first teams to talk to the people in Atlanta about playing the game, which is what ended up giving us this home-and-home that we're having this year and next year with Clemson. And we couldn't get it to work out for us, because we both needed a home game in the same year. However, in a year where from a budgeting standpoint we can have an away game and now because of the establishment of that game, the finances can be to the point where it's a better deal than going on an away trip, going to play on somebody else's place, So to answer your question, yeah, that's something we continue to look at, as far as when and who we can play in Atlanta.
"I think it would be a good opportunity for our fans in Atlanta. First and foremost, I think it would be a good opportunity for our football players because it's an opportunity to play in that dome prior to the SEC championship game. Because having played in the Sugar Bowl when I was a player, it's a completely different atmosphere playing 10 or 11 ballgames outdoors and then walking into a dome in December or January. It's different. But it's different for both teams. But having a chance to go in there and play, I think would be great for our football players playing in a pro stadium. And for our fans in Atlanta, I think we've got about 17,000 Auburn alumni in the Atlanta area, I think it would be good for everybody. But the one thing is that football generates 77 percent of our income and in order to be able to complete at the level we want to for all 21 of our sports, we can't concede a lot of dollars to move a game out of your own campus."

Q: If you were to play a game at a neutral site instead of a home game, how much of a difference in revenue would that be? (Marmot)
A: "Well, it would depend on what the neutral site would pay. But a home game for us is anywhere from $2.2 million to $4 million, depending on the opponent and the price of the ticket. For a home game against a non-BCS team, it's probably about $2-2.5 million deal for us. For a BCS team like a West Virginia or a Clemson, it could be anywhere from $3.5-4 million, depending on the price of the ticket. And that ties directly in with completely selling the game out."

Q: Do the payouts of these kickoff classics approach that?
A: 'They appear, because we haven't been involved in one, I don't know, but in our discussions in future scheduling, it appears that you could be fine financially to go play one, particularly in a year where you could have an away game."

Q: Auburn seems to play a lot of out-of-state, non-BCS opponents in the non-conference (UT-Chattanooga, Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas State this year). Is there any push to play in-state opponents for those games? (Ryan Miller)
A: "There's no push to play do so or no push not to. It's just all about scheduling who's available, who's willing to come here. There's no push one way or another."

Q: Are there any plans to build a long-term series with another school, similar to what Arkansas and Texas A&M have done, agreeing to play each other for at least the next 10 years in Dallas? Would that be appealing? (Paul Reeder)
A: "It would be. If we could find an opponent that we thought was a natural. What you're talking about doing is creating that rivalry game for the 12th game, and if we had an opponent and our philosophies matched up in that and it would be exciting for both our fan bases, then we certainly would do that."

Q: What about scheduling games out of the Southeast? It seems fans would like to travel to some new locales to follow the Tigers. (Forrest Foti, kinchler)
A: "Well, we've been to Syracuse. We went to West Virginia a few years ago. We went to USC. We've been to Texas. So all those are the kind of games that we like to play. We play those BCS games. Those are great campuses to go to, those are great schools to play. And we talked to all of them about future scheduling."

Q: Has anything been decided about the opening game in the new arena? (Tar Heel Tiger)
A: "It has not. Bernard Hill and coach (Tony) Barbee are continuing to work on that. We've got a few teams we are talking to, but no, there's nothing decided yet."

Q: Do you expect that soon?
A: "Yeah. That'll be in the next couple weeks. It's so different than football, I guess because there are 323 teams that play basketball. So those are quite fluid sometimes."

Q: What are you plans to increase attendance at football games this year? (JaSteveFC)
A: "What we're doing is through our e-mail and different marketing promotions, the thing we found in our surveys from last year is the gameday experience here, which is one of our five goals, is second to none. People love coming to campus. And with the economic times the way they are, there are still some tickets available. Hopefully most of those people we've written letters to, most of those people have replied that when the economy changes, they'll come back to buying their tickets. But it's a great opportunity for people who have never had an opportunity to buy season tickets here at Auburn, you can do it now and get involved with that and get involved in our priority system and join Tigers Unlimited. But our marketing staff is doing things all the time promote ticket sales and all we need to do and feel very good about ... just like last year started off a little slow to begin with, by the time we started playing, we had sold everything that we had."

Q: An article on Rivals.com said Auburn has the highest average football ticket prices in the SEC. What's the reasoning behind most of the most expensive tickets in the country despite not selling out events? (Alex L., Ryan Miller Skip Hansberger)
A: "Well, what we've tried to do each year, particularly with Clemson coming here this year and the four SEC games, last year, years that we travel to that BCS opponent, your ticket price doesn't increase, generally. But having that BCS opponent here, that dictates what our total season package is. Seven games vs. eight games. So you have that additional ticket and that increases the price. And other people, we've looked at what other people do as well. Some of them, they make all their tickets exactly the same price every game. We still feel like as best we possibly can and to still win at a level that we as Auburn people will win at, we still believe that some of those games that have a lower price ticket so that the people that normally can't come to every ballgame can have a chance to come to and afford a couple of ballgames, whether it's homecoming, opening game, whatever it may be. So we tier our prices to make different price points on a per game basis, so the person that maybe can't afford four season books can at least come and buy tickets to a couple of the games."

Q: Is there a fear that in this economic climate right now that you're out-pricing certain fans?
A: "I think you always have to be cognizant of that is that you could. Right now we haven't seen that. We're not losing very many customers. Some people aren't buying very many tickets as they have in the past, but in our surveys and our letters to them, it's all just because of the economics. It's because they don't have extra cash to spend. And instead of buying eight tickets, they have six this year, and their family members are going to take turns as to who comes to what games. And hopefully most of the e-mails and letters that I get back are in a couple years when the economy changes, they'll be back to pick up their tickets."

Q: How much longer is the Under Armour contract and what kind of benefits have you seen from being one of the first to strike up a partnership with that company in its infancy? (Ryan Miller)
A: "I think Maryland was the first and then we were the first one here in the Southeastern Conference, and then one of the first outside of probably Maryland to do it all-inclusive. It's been fabulous. It's been great for us. And it's been great for Under Armour. And we'll renegotiate that contract with them and hopefully extend that sooner than later. But it's been a great opportunity for us to get the best, quality products for our student-athletes. When we were going through the requests for proposals and these different companies were coming in and presenting to us, some of our athletes would stop me outside and say, 'Mr. Jacobs, we have to go with Under Armour. That's the new deal.' That was, what, four years ago? What Kevin Plank, the CEO of Under Armour, and they have done in thinking and coming and sitting down with our coaches and getting everything exactly right has just been great. We have a great relationship, a great partnership, one we plan to in the near future announce extending that even further."

Q: The general tone from a lot of readers' e-mails is that Jordan-Hare Stadium has fallen down the rankings in terms of aesthetics and modernness. Are there any plans to expand or renovate the stadium in the near future? (kinchler, Joel K. Davis, Anonymous, Joe, Rick Sheehan)
A: "Well, a couple of things. One, when you talk about renovations, five years ago we did a major renovation in the concourse. We increased the number of restrooms and points of sales. As far as the main concourse, I don't know if anybody has a nicer concourse, and I've been to all of them, than we do for the fans. So the renovation part of it, keeping it updated, the first school to have the HD video board, the restrooms, the concession stands, all those things, with the exception of a food court, we're not behind anybody in that. But when you're talking about adding seats vs. a renovation, a renovation to me means updating, if you're talking about stadium expansion, that's a completely different thing. The only thing we've done in the last seven years is we added a few thousand seats on the east upper deck and added a dozen more suites.
"But what we did in October was we hired a master design architect and we've been to probably six or eight different stadiums over the last eight months looking at what other people have done in their stadiums. What we're going to do is we're going to come up with a master plan for how we want our stadium to look in so many years. And the reason we did that is when our pro forma dictates that it's time to add additional seats-- let's just say for example premium seats in the upper deck, in one particular end zone -- we don't want to have gone in and expanded the recruiting lounge in the south end zone and now, two years later have to go in and add an upper deck and destroy what we've done underneath. So what we're doing is we're putting together a master plan of everything that we would want in a stadium, including capacity, in the next number of years. Whatever the years may be. And so we'll have some different components so when the pro forma dictates, when we're selling out our season tickets for a couple years in a row and the TUF priority for a couple years in a row, then it's time to expand it. We were there a couple years ago. We had actually started the wheels in motion as far as doing an expansion, and then 2008, when we only won five ballgames and the economy hit, we put that on hold. So we haven't moved forward with that, because the time and the money don't dictate doing so. And the demand doesn't dictate doing so at this time.
"However, we brought in these master design folks to look at what everybody does, so when we get ready to do whatever it may be, whether it's a stadium expansion of the upper deck or premium seats or scholarship seats in the end zone or suites in the end zone or enlarging our recruiting area, whatever it may be we'll take that part of the master plan and we'll do it and it won't impact any of the other parts and we don't paint ourselves in a corner. What we've learned to do is be proactive, not reactive, and try to have a good plan for everything. So when it comes to stadium expansion, the fans dictate that with demand. And the football team certainly has to win. All that dictates how soon we can possibly expand the stadium."

Q: Are there plans to expand student seating? (Joe, Skip Hansberger, Alex L.)
A: "That will be part of our master plan, because as enrollment continues to increase, right now we have the highest percentage, based on enrollment, of student tickets of anybody in the SEC, so our students are our future season ticket holders and they're the lifeblood of what we do on gameday Saturday. You just look out there at that West Virginia game and the student stayed, and then you look at the end of our last game of the season where our students are still there, chanting, 'It's great to be an Auburn Tiger.' That's why in the basketball arena, we built a separate entrance for our students to come to basketball and have their own sections and concession stands and all that. So as we move forward with the stadium master plan, part of what we do for our students will be part of that. So when you ask me if there is anything for student expansion, only when we do something with the entire stadium, because the way our ticket priority works, if you continue to pay your priority, you don't lose your seats. And so right now there's really nowhere to expand the students to."

Q: Any plans on putting a second HD replay board on the north end of the stadium? (Alex L., Skip Hansberger)
A: "That'll be part of our master plan too. Whatever we can do to make the gameday experience more enjoyable for our fans. And certainly the more visual you can have, the better off you are. The one thing we don't want to do is put a new HD scoreboard somewhere and in two years come back and tear it out because we've got to put premium seating in that area of the stadium. So we continue to look at ways to increase the gameday experience, but it's all based on winning and attendance and revenue."

Q: What about improving the aesthetics of the outside of the stadium, perhaps bricking over the steel beams that you can see to match other academic and athletic buildings on campus? (kinchler, Rich Coe)
A: "That's all part of the master plan as well. Everybody sees the same thing we do. And one thing the university has done is on the east side of the stadium, they're changing that road on the north end down there, where there's that area down there underneath, they put a road down there, and it's all getting dressed up. We have to continue to update our facilities and do all these things that people are asking about. It's just all about time and money."

Q: Is there almost an arms race with other SEC teams to keep up or stay ahead in terms of facilities?
A: "It is. There's a proverb that says, 'Your heart is where your treasure is.' And it is, to use that term, it is an arms race. We have to continue to be out front when it comes to facilities. That's why we've seen over the last five or six years, all the different things that we've done -- the golf facility, the tennis facility, the academic center, the soccer/track facility, the track facility, the gymnastics facility, the softball complex, the new multi-purpose indoor facility -- that's why we've got something going every year."

Q: Are there plans to add any additional programs like men's soccer or wrestling, or do Title IX restrictions make that impossible? (Jerry Romine, Brian Faletto)
A: "It is a Title IX issue. So we can't get out of proportionality. We're in great shape right now with our numbers of scholarships and women's participants compared to men and the overall enrollment of the university. But no, there's no plans to add wrestling. Nobody in the Southeastern Conference I know is considering it. And there are no plans for men's soccer, even though there are some teams in the ACC that have men's soccer. I don't know of anybody in the SEC that does. Our No. 1 goal is to win SEC championships, so we want to compete at the highest level in the SEC in the sports that our sister institutions have. And one of our goals is winning. It's the No. 1 goal in our strategic goals is to be in the top 10 percent of the Director's Cup, which means you that you get into NCAA play. For the sixth year in a row, we've achieved that goal of being in the top 10 percent."

Q: Any plans to extend baseball coach John Pawlowski's contract after the kind of season Auburn had? (Michael Wells)
A: "We've extended John's contract and are certainly proud of what they were able to accomplish this year. But we're still building. I believe we had a record number of guys drafted, so we'll be back to rebuilding next year, but John and his staff have done a great job. It was certainly exciting this past year, being able to host the NCAA regional, which we hadn't done in seven years. So we're looking for bigger and better things. Everybody's just going to have to realize that we lost a lot of key players and we'll be back into a rebuilding mode this year."

Q: At the regional there was overflow attendance at Plainsman Park, on the hill beyond center field and in the parking deck near the stadium. Does that make you want to expand Plainsman Park to be able to host such events in the future? (Bill McKnight)
A: "It does. Fortunately, the capacity didn't keep us from hosting. And we had great crowds. It was just a great baseball feeling. Our baseball park, like basketball, it's not the biggest but it's the best. And as Auburn people, we all appreciate that. We appreciate class facilities and fun facilities. It gives our student-athletes the best opportunity to compete on the field and on the court. But part of our master plan is to do the same thing in baseball that are in football, which we've already started. We've got a master plan for our baseball facility. So how do we want it to look? As we look at these schools in our league that have added suites and additional seats, it goes back to being proactive and it is an arms race. If demand is proven that you can add those additional seats or suites or additional seating areas, and be able to make your pro forma work, you have to do that. You have to treat it as a business model, and that's how we do it. But yeah, it certainly makes it exciting and you see everybody lined up and you don't have enough tickets for baseball in an NCAA regional. It's an exciting time. It's just that we have to realize that we're losing a bunch of players and this next year will be challenging to say the least. We'll look for great things and they'll all play hard. It's just that we lost a lot of players."

Q: Why doesn't Auburn retire Tracy Rocker's jersey? The program has retired the jerseys of Bo, Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley, but not Rocker -- one of the most dominant defensive players in college football history. Now that he's back at Auburn, isn't it time? (Anonymous)
A: "Well, we've also got two other players who have had similar awards to what Tracy's had. And we look at that over time to determine what numbers we should retire. We have a committee of people that look at that, not only in football, but in all of our sports. And certainly, what Tracy did here as a player is remarkable and certainly appreciated, but retiring of jerseys, whether it's Tracy's or anybody else, that's something we look at annually as to what we should be doing and what we should prepare to do."

Q: Who makes those decisions?
A: "It comes from a small group of people inside the athletics program and some people who are athletic department employees."

Q: SEC expansion didn't happen, but what were your opinions of that when it appeared things might shift in the direction of adding two teams? (Christa L. Miller)
A: "Well, No. 1 is we have the best commissioner in Mike Slive than anybody in the nation. And so when it comes to being able to evaluate and assess situations and know when the paradigm is shifting, he has his finger on the pulse of college athletics, and particularly in this case, the BCS and football that I trust his judgment in that wholeheartedly. As those things were being kicked around, we just knew that being the best league in the nation ... over the last five years, of the four major sports, football, both basketballs and baseball, the Southeastern Conference has won 10 of those 20 over the last five years. Including South Carolina's win in the College World Series, I believe we're 10-1 in national championship games. So we're the strongest league in the nation, so when it comes to expansion, we'll certainly be right in the middle of that and in all likelihood be the most attractive league to join if that were to happen. But I think that the way it all worked out worked out great. I think we still have the best league in the nation. Certainly our championship game in football and everything else we compete in during this past year, the championship games. So I think that there was a lot of conversation going on. Mike Slive was in the middle of all the conversations and did a great job communicating with all the ADs about what was going on. We feel very confident in where we are, and if things change, we'll be in a great spot as a league."

Q: Reports said Texas A&M and Oklahoma would have been the two most likely teams to join the SEC if expansion occurred. What are your personal opinions about expanding that far West? Does that change the brand of the SEC at all? Are you more of a traditionalist in that sense?
A: "I think that if the landscape begins to change the Southeastern Conference will be a frontrunner in that, just like we've always been, like with the SEC championship game. As far as speculating who would have been in here, what that would have done to the league, until we get to the point where this is who we're going to add, then I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about what it would have looked like, what it wouldn't have looked like, whether the tradition changes or anything like that. It's just that when it comes to change, the Southeastern Conference isn't going to sit on the sidelines. They're going to be in the game. At this point we're going to do what is best for this league."

7 comments:

Tar Heel Tiger said...

Good stuff, Andy.

Thanks!!!

RunInRed said...

Great stuff AB. And love the new look of the site. WE!

Anonymous said...

Great work! Thanks.

Oh, well, back to "Anonymous". Google, Blog or whoever, I wish they'd get this thing where us non-techies can work it.

Anonymous said...

Excellent and informative Q&A! He had some very interesting answers particularly on the subject of an ATL based away game vs a home game.

1849sf said...

Andrew,
I enjoyed the conversation with Jay Jacobs.

But I wish you would have asked Dr. Jacobs to use more paragraph breaks as he spoke. For those us who are senior citizens, it is very difficult to read.

SteveFC said...

Thanks for the info, Andy. The answers were about as I expected. For those wanting an expanded stadium, buying tickets is basically your way of voting for it. It is fine to get all excited about more seats, but just like the basketball arena, it would look bad to have a huge stadium with a lot of empty seats.

Anonymous said...

I'm sick of SEC athletic directors shying away from the question about men's soccer. I understand Title IX is a tough rule to get around, but there are a bunch of players in the south who want to play for these schools but cannot because only two SEC schools have teams (Kentucky and South Carolina). Even very small scholarships would be a step forward.