Trying The Podcast Route And Addressing FCS Issues

By JIM O’DAY

I was recently approached by Mark Majeski of Majeski Athletic Consulting to do some podcasts on topics and issues pertaining to Division I intercollegiate athletics, and particularly, the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.  The first of those 30-minute segments was released this week – and can be found at Perspective on Athletics.  We plan to do more in the future, but this first attempt deals primarily with the FCS and the drastic changes forthcoming in the NCAA – from the perspective of a former Division I athletic director, who is now looking at it from the outside…. And without filters.

For the past few years, Majeski Athletic Consulting has been producing a program entitled, “Prospective on Athletics: Big Thinking for Small Colleges.”  The program has a following – primarily directed at smaller Division I and Division II schools, and has been addressing a variety of topics.  This particular podcast addresses various issues – from the most-likely re-structuring of Division I once the “Power Five” Conference separate from the other Football Bowl Subdivision schools, to the main challenges facing today’s smaller Division I schools, to my opinion on what’s wrong with the NCAA.  These are my opinions, not those of Majeski Athletic Consulting, “Make It Missoula” or anyone else.

One area of the program is devoted to three topics I believe are crucial to the success of any athletics program.

The first is being able to seriously answer the question: “Who Are We?” then live within those parameters.  This was especially important for The University of Montana four years ago when it decided to forgo an invitation from the Western Athletic Conference to relocate to that league from the Big Sky Conference.  Much of the information collected by the independent firm (Collegiate Consulting of Atlanta, GA) analyzing the materials came back saying Montana was different than many others at the FCS level, and might be a better fit for FBS.  Still, it was determined – and rightfully so – that there was no need to change “at that particular time” as we were living within our financial means, showing great success both academically and athletically and competing for championships in most of our sports… and the vast majority of UM’s supporters favored staying at the FCS level along with rival Montana State. We were happy where we were.

Three cold beerAs Director of Athletics at the time, I agreed, yet also said the topic should be re-visited again within the next five years as there appeared to be quite a few changes on the horizon.  Well, those changes are coming faster and faster, and with these changes come many new challenges. New money sources are limited or drying up (unless there
is a change in philosophy at UM to allow beer sales in Washington-Grizzly Stadium–a controversial topic of discussion nationally at many schools facing similar budget concerns. Note: These decisions are determined by individual campuses, not dictated by the NCAA unless it is an official NCAA event such as a playoff game. Currently, alcohol is allowed in the private stadium suites at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, along with beer and wine being sold in the Canyon Club atop Majestic Plaza and in the tailgate areas surrounding the stadium. Beer was also sold at the recent Paul McCartney concert in the stadium, as it is in most concerts in the Adams Center.).

At the same time, budgets are expanding as costs to compete/travel soar. Limited-earning salary opportunities make it hard to retain/hire coaches, and scholarships are not inexpensive. It becomes increasingly difficult to bring top tier FCS programs to Missoula because of high travel costs, and others we might consider our peers from an academic (and often athletic) viewpoint at the FBS level (Wyoming, Idaho, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, New Mexico State, Utah State, etc.) are forbidden by their league by-laws to play games at the home sites of FCS schools. Complicating matters even more, revenues for television are at a minimum for FCS schools (Big Sky Conference schools receive approximately $100,000 annually for their television rights – highest at the FCS level, but small in comparison to the millions being paid to most FBS schools) and monies from the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament are primarily distributed to conferences with more than one bid. The other main revenue sources are ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and marketing dollars, NCAA/conference monies, student fees, institutional support and guarantee games vs. FCS opponents — and those may be limited in the future with all the upcoming changes.

Washington Grizzly Stadium by William Munoz

Washington Grizzly Stadium by ©William Munoz for Make itMissoula.

The second topic is a need to establish a two, five and 10-year strategic plan.  Where do you see your athletics program at the end of these periods? How do you plan to pay for your programs and infrastructure improvements? Where do you see your intercollegiate athletics program in 10 years? How are you addressing Title IX?

Tough questions, but ones that need to be answered to set up the third critical element for success: “What is your VISION?”  Are you happy in the current environment?  If so, plan accordingly.  If not, begin to make changes to achieve your goals. With the many curveballs tossed at intercollegiate athletics programs at the lower levels, this can be extremely difficult.  Many of these are out of the control of the athletics program – and need to involve top campus administrators and leaders.  They need to be a big part of the solution.

This particular podcast also treads on topics such as guaranteed four-year scholarships, the cost of attendance for scholarship student-athletes, marketing of star athletes, concussion management and lawsuits pending against the NCAA.  Many of these are hard to understand, but significantly impact student-athlete welfare.  At the same time, they are very closely related to recruiting efforts and the ability to attract the best and most qualified student athletes to your campus.

These topics are just a sampling of what we intend to address in these podcasts. Hopefully, they will help provide a better understanding of the complexities facing intercollegiate athletic programs across the country – and particularly at the FCS and Division II levels.  After all, this is a business — and a very complicated business at that.

Written comments on the podcast can be forwarded to Majeski Athletic Consulting at 410 Mill Street #414, Salem, OR, 97308; via email at mark@majeskiathleticconsulting.com; or by calling 1.503.949.9840.

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Jim O’Day was Director of Athletics at the University of Montana from 2005-2012. He also served as the Assistant Director of the Grizzly Athletic Association (1998-2000) and later as the Director of Development for UM Intercollegiate Athletics (2000-2005).

Prior to returning to his alma mater in 1998, O’Day was the owner/publisher of the family-owned Western Breeze newspaper in Cut Bank, MT. He was also sports editor of the Kalispell Daily Interlake from 1980-82.

In late 2013, Jim started his own consulting business, O’Day Enterprises, LLC.  His main clients include Farran Realty Partners, a private equity real estate development/investment firm based in Missoula; Epio Solutions of Seattle/Missoula, an agency primarily focused on branding/marketing/public relations utilizing various social media platforms for businesses, universities, non-profits and individuals; and BancVue, a company based in Austin, Texas, that aligns itself with small community banks and credit unions across the country to compete against the large mega banks. In addition, Jim is consulting for various oil and gas firms, as well as providing valuable professional resource services for intercollegiate athletics, fund-raising, capital raises, employment opportunities, etc. 

Jim and his wife Kathy have three sons: Chris, Kevin and Brian – all three graduates of The University of Montana.

 

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