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San Diego State University Joins Big East

San Diego State University Campus
Monique Wingard
San Diego State University Campus
Why will Aztec Football become part of the Big East Conference?
Guest: Jim Sterk, SDSU Athletic Director

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Thursday, December 8th. Our top story on Midday Edition, there's nothing about San Diego state university that really has anything to do with the east coast. Until now. SDSU's football team will now play in the big east conference, instead of the mountain west. The move has much more to do with money than geography. Jim Sterk, San Diego state athletic director, welcome to the show. STERK: Thanks for having me on. CAVANAUGH: We invite our listeners to join the conversation if you've got a question or comment on SDSU's football move to the big east. Give us a call. The number, 1-888-895-5727. Tell us, what does the big east have that the mountain west doesn't have? STERK: Well, it's a complicated answer, I guess. The conference realignment has been going on pretty steadily for the last couple years. And really, football is the driver. The football programs are -- receive the most revenues from television contracts. And leagues are being realigned according to their ability to have TV ratings and support. So the move to the big east was one that didn't -- it came quick at the end, but it was something that we'd been looking at, and really trying to educate the nation on what great things are going on in San Diego state. Not just athletically but academically as far as the institution, the demand, almost 70,000 applicants for this next fall, 3.78 incoming GPA. So a lot of academic notions had to be changed across the country. As I came here under two years ago, I felt that that was something that I needed to do, and through athletic, I can help educate. And we have a platform that everyone reads the sports page but they don't always lookow your math department is or your business department or what's going on at the university. And I felt like we had a great story to tell. And so we started telling that aggressively that summer. We created a promotional video, I called it, but this is San Diego state university. And it talked about the academics, the athletic achievements, and what the City of San Diego brought to the table. CAVANAUGH: I don't know that all of our listeners are familiar with this, a little bit about the big east conference. Are the teams more well-known than they are in the mountain west? Is who are the powerhouses on that roster? STERK: Well, there's been change there, but they have south Florida, Rutgers, UConn and -- I've got to get it all together now. But there's five, and Cincinnati and Louisville and those are the five that are there. But also with the big east, you have the other part of it. There's some just basketball schools. So it's Georgetown and DePaul. And it goes up the east coast and through the mid-west. And really, programs that are really well known. And so the brand of the big east is pretty strong. And that is a lot stronger. And with the mountain west, we had a lot of great things going on, but we were really ham strung by the TV contract that the mountain west had. There are five more years left in it, a 4-year roll-over at the discretion of the network. So since I've been here, I've heard complaint, complaint, complaint about I can't get us on the mountain. I can't get it in time warner zone, and those kinds of things. So this'll help alleviate that and put us on more of a national scale and really help both university overall, and athletics. CAVANAUGH: One of the big headlines to come out of the announcement of this move is the fact of how much you project the revenues to go up. Tell us about that. What are you making now as a member of the mountain west, and what do you project the team is going to be able to bring in as a member of the big east conference? STERK: Well, like the rest of the university, we've been faced with state cutbacks, and our state support dropped a million 1 from last year to this year. Tuition goes up, and we are a consumer if you will. Our tuition for our scholarships for our student athletes goes up. We have those challenges, and really looking at driving more revenue through television is important. And right now, the mountain west receives 1.5 million versus the pac 12, their new deal is going to average $20 million a year. We're -- we have a modest estimation, and we've talked to TV consultants and had a number of people weigh in on this. And it's probably in the range of 6.4 to $9 million a year as far as what revenue is possible. Now, that hasn't happened yet. They go to negotiations in September of 2012. So before we enter the league in 2013. CAVANAUGH: That's a huge potential jump for SDSU football. I'm wondering, are there cons to this idea though? What about the traditional rivalries that SDSU has? Are we going to be missing games? Where is BYU going? STERK: BYU is already gone. That's the thing. Of and the mountain west is no longer the same as it was when San Diego state entered in 1999. CAVANAUGH: Weren't they headed to the big east too? STERK: They were talking, and they're still talking. They've not made a move right now. But it could happy where BYU goes into the worse than division of the big east. But right now, they're not -- Air Force is another one. But already that has left the league, Utah, BYU, TCU, Boise state was leaving. Whether we came along or not. So they were going. So it really changed the dynamics and changed the league. So it was important for us to try to play in and use our strengths to be able to do that. CAVANAUGH: Isn't it gone cost SDSU something to leave the mountain west? STERK: Yeah, you forfeit your last year's revenues. So next year, it'll -- those revenues, we usually budget them around $2.5 million a year. But the up side is you have more revenues coming in on an annual basis that will be able to cover that. CAVANAUGH: One thing I know that everybody who goes to SDSU knows about, besides the Aztecs and wanting the team to win, is that student fees for athletics have gone up. Since 2004 they have gone up from about $30, now they're about $350 annually. Elliot herb man said the increased revenues won't mean a reduction in those fees. NEW SPEAKER: The student fee is not a public subsidy. It's student tuition that the students have agreed to allocate to athletics. The state allocation that the athletic department receives is about $5 million, and it's one of the lowest amounts for any division one program in the country. CAVANAUGH: So if more money comes in from television revenue, as much as ten times more, I guess one of the questions might be why not reduce those student fees even though we heard the rationale from president herb man? STERK: Well, as I started off, the athletics department when I came had a $3.3 million deficit, and was running an annual deficit each year. And with the increasing cost of tuition, the cost of the education that our student athletes have, that's continuing to go up. And at some point, I'd love to be able to, at the end of the day, at the end of a fiscal year be able to say, hey, this much and work with the president and the business affairs department of this much can go to the library or this much can go to this cause and other athletics departments once they've reached a level of stability, they could do that. We haven't been there yet. The money is not in the door. So no one has spent it yet. But there are a lot of demands that we have, and we have facility demands and need upgrades and things like that. And solving our football stadium issue at the end of the day. All those factors could play into that. That's why we're status quo for right now. And we'll see where it goes in the future. CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Chris is calling us from south park. Good afternoon, Chris, welcome to the show. NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. Quick question, I just was curious on how this realignment will affect football teams' competitiveness about the new teams as well as some of the other sports. CAVANAUGH: Thank you. STERK: Good question. Football, it will elevate the play, if you will, within the conference. And I think playing -- making sure we play Boise, they came down here and played and we had a great game. We needed -- we need to be on the winning side. We weren't. But it will raise the level of competition and then for other sports, we're -- we have multiple options as far as opportunities that we -- where we might put the rest of our programs. And basketball is the one that most people have been asking about, and what do we do, and part of this deal with the big east is making sure that we have up to four games that coach fisher can schedule with big east opponents, gives them an opportunity to be on ESPN more often. We haven't been on ESPN since I think 2005 or 2006 or something like that. And help that program grow. Our intent is not to take any step backward. Tony Gwin said, if we moved into the big west, it could be his BCS league in basketball. Very, very good league in baseball. Of there are a number of championships that have been won if that ends up where we are. Overall, I think it's good, from the travel standpoint with our student athletes, football is the one you can play nationally. We had two other games in the mountain time zone. Of our five games. And none in California. Football is the one that's played on the weekends so that works out more with the academic schedule. The basketball, the soft balls, the baseballs, they travel a lot more, have more mid-week games. Being in a league that has more proximity to San Diego I think will help them. And I think we can be successful as well. CAVANAUGH: Charley is on the line from Fallbrook. Welcome. NEW SPEAKER: I guess you're sort of addressing it there, but I was wondering since they're moving into an east coast conference -- you're traveling more to the east coast? STERK: It might go up a couple hundred thousand, but not anything significant. With the last caller, we were already twice out in the eastern time zone. And we travelled to spots like Wyoming, and I think the president looked at the mileage. But I think Dallas is as close as Wyoming is to San Diego. And so I think -- I think it won't impact as much as people think. And then I think the league, if it's the big west with the rest of our sports, it actually could be some savings on travel. CAVANAUGH: Let me revisit an answer you gave a while back. If this move does work out really, really well for the athletic department a few years down the road, you might be looking at some sort of revenue sharing with other departments within the SDSU campus? STERK: Well, yeah. Or gifts or at the end of the year, transfers of funds. I'd love to be in that position to be able to do that. And -- but we have gone through the last few years, we've cut sports budgets significantly, we've cut staff. A lot of our programs don't even have their allowable NCA number of coaches on it from soccer to golf and soft ball and baseball. We have a lot of back-filling to do. That'll take up some of it. But if at the end of the day we can transfer some money to some other department, that would be great. CAVANAUGH: What about women's sports? The lady Aztecs and women's soft ball team? Where will they be going? Everybody is out of the mountain west, but only the football steam going to the big east. STERK: Right. And we'll have another year in all our sports including football into the mountain west next year. It won't be till the fall of 2013. That's the question. There's a couple options we have with leagues that we're looking at, the big west or the lack as far as the sports. And if you look at those leagues, we've looked at it comparing competitive levels. And the big west in a lot of those sports are more competitive than the mountain west. I think our coaches are very excite body that opportunity. CAVANAUGH: The very next thing on the agenda for the men's Aztecs football team is prepping for the New Orleans bowl, right? And they have to prep for it right in the middle of finals. STERK: Yeah. And you know that's the thing, the schedule gets a little crazy, and probably until they leave, and we were hoping we were going to end up in San Francisco on the 31st, but it ended up on the 17th. So we've looked as of last week on finals schedules, and they're working with professors, and we'll proctor exams, and the NCAA faculty rep will proctor exams and do that. Of so it's not ideal, and it's a challenge. We hope to stay away from that in the future, but I think the kids are excited about going. I lived for four years at Tulane university there. Anyone that's been to New Orleans will understand that, and we're playing Los Angeles Los Angeles Lafayette. So it'll be their home game that we're playing in a hostile environment in the super dome. But it'll be a great experience for our student athletes. CAVANAUGH: And that's Saturday the 17th. STERK: Yes.

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

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.


"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.

"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.