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San Diego State University Joins Big East

Aired 12/8/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Guest: Jim Sterk, SDSU Athletic Director

Transcript

Jim Sterk joins Joanne Faryon on Thursday's show to discuss what this means for the Aztecs.

Evening Edition airs weekdays at 5 PM and 6:30 PM on KPBS TV

— San Diego State University is joining Boise State as football-only members of the Big East. The conference is also adding Houston, Southern Methodist University, and the University of Central Florida as members in all sports. Big East officials say they want to keep a 10-team football division and they have to replace Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, which are leaving for other conferences.

The idea of moving to a Bowl Championship Series conference has been discussed for some time, but talks about this move only began in earnest two weeks ago, according to San Diego State University president Elliot Hirshman.

San Diego State University Campus
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Above: San Diego State University Campus

"This change will supply extraordinary opportunity for our student athletes, for our coaches and staff, for our alumni and supporters, and for our entire university," said Hirshman.

Hirshman said his office and the athletic department conducted an extensive review of the move. He said people both inside and outside the university got a chance to weigh in. The Mountain West Conference had recently lost three of its original members, including Brigham Young University, Utah, and Texas Christian University.

That further shrank an already small television audience. SDSU Athletic director Jim Sterk said the Big East has the potential to reach 28 million households with the new members, including SDSU.

"A national league captures the attention of fans coast to coast. With the new members, the Big East conference will continue to have the single largest media footprint in college football," said Jim Sterk, SDSU Athletic Department director.

That gives the Big East leverage as it prepares to negotiate its next television contract. Sterk said SDSU will get an immediate boost in the payment it receives from the conferences. The school's share of the Mountain West Conference and its TV deal earned the Athletic Department about $2.5 million a year. The Big East will pay between $6.5 and $10 million a year with another $1.5 million in revenue sharing from the conference's bowl game appearances. That's important revenue for a cash strapped athletic department.

"We had over $1.1 million in state support for our athletics program dropped this year. And we were able to do it in the short term with attendance and ticket sales, but long term we needed to help find a solution to help with that," said Sterk.

The move comes at a particularly challenging time for the university. California has repeatedly slashed spending at CSU campuses in an effort to deal with a huge financial imbalance. There could be more mid-year budget cuts in January.

This deal would cost SDSU Mountain West conference money next year, but the Big East money would more than make up for that in 2013, according to Sterk. That is good news for an athletic department that had a $3.3 million deficit two years ago.

"We don't want to have that again and with the increased costs, it's a lot to stay with what we're doing right now," said Sterk.

The school's athletic department has trimmed coaches and staff in an effort to make the finances work over the past two years, and Sterk is hopeful the Big East football deal may allow the school to refill some of those empty positions. The decision to join the Bowl Championship Series Conference was likely driven by money.

SDSU Running Back Ronnie Hillman in a game against the Cadets of West Point
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Above: SDSU Running Back Ronnie Hillman in a game against the Cadets of West Point

"Schools make most of their money off football," said Scott Minto, of SDSU's Sports Business MBA program. "And they call them revenue generating sports versus non revenue generating sports. And everywhere across the nation you see great stories related to competition, but ultimately, every other sport has to follow in line with an institution's football program."

What happens to the rest of the school's sports, including basketball, is not yet resolved, but there are talks underway to find the rest of the school's sports a new home.

"They have different scheduling and travel constraints," said Hirshman. "But we are looking right now at several different conferences as possibilities and we've been very pleased that the knowledge of our athletic programs and how strong they are, has attracted tremendous interest from multiple conferences."

That issue could be resolved within a few weeks, according to Hirshman.

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