“It totally does not surprise me when they say athletics is under-funded. I think we’re under-funded,” said Sternberg, who is entering his fifth month as UW president.
He assumed the presidency at UW on July 1. Sternberg had been provost and senior vice president at Oklahoma State University, which has seen a rapid rise in athletic success in the past decade, fueled by a sizable increase in spending on sports.
In cooperation with Athletic Director Tom Burman, Sternberg contracted in September with the consulting firm Collegiate Sports Associates for a “competitiveness” evaluation of the football and men’s basketball programs —— UW’s two highest profile sports.
The consultant’s report was released by UW Monday.
“We appreciate the work done by CSA and believe the report contains some valuable suggestions on how to make our programs even stronger,” Sternberg said. “We will now take a thorough look at those suggestions and determine those we will implement immediately, as well as those that may take more time to put in place.”
Sternberg’s initial response didn’t address funding.
The University of Wyoming total athletic budget stands at $30.5 million. UNLV has the highest annual athletic budget in the Mountain West Conference at $58 million. The average for the conference is $35 million, with the University of Nevada on the low rung at $22 million.
In football alone, UW budgets $5.6 million. The highest football budget in the MWC is at Boise State with $7.7 million, followed by CSU at $7.1 million and San Diego State University with $7 million. The lowest football budget among conference schools is San Jose State, with $4.2 million.
Asked if he would request a specific legislative appropriation in response to the funding issue, Sternberg told the Powell Tribune it is too soon to say.
“I always think it is helpful if the Legislature hears it from the consultant,” Sternberg said. “It really helps if you have that outside look.”
The university response will be a team decision, he added, “involving myself, the trustees and Tom (Burman).”
Consultant studies in athletic departments are nothing new, routinely assessing physical facilities, compliance issues, marketing, gender equity and the like. An evaluation of the program elements contributing to competitiveness is anything but routine.
To Sternberg, that uniqueness is no big deal.
“This is simply to optimize on our performance,” Sternberg said. “This is something Tom Burman and I started talking about some time ago.”
“We’re trying to make us better. It’s not punitive,” he said. “I’m here to support Tom and his coaches. I have no credentials to manage athletics.”
Sternberg ties the athletic competitiveness study to what has become a principal theme of his presidency.
“My goal is for UW to be the No. 1 land-grant institution in the country,” he said. “Being a land grant means you serve the state. One way is athletics.”
Without professional sports franchises in the state, UW athletics takes on something of the mantle of the only game in town.
“Our teams are kind of it,” Sternberg said. “We’re aware of some of the obstacles (long travel distances in a low-population, cold-weather state without immediate proximity to a major airport), but we want to be the best we can be.”
President ‘sick of
hearing’ not to try
Some have scoffed at Sternberg’s mantra to make UW the No. 1 land-grant institution in the country. They point out that the universities of Florida, Arkansas, California, Tennessee, Penn State, Nebraska, Purdue and Oklahoma State are on that list, just to name a few.
“I’m so sick of hearing we can’t be No. 1, that we should content ourselves to be just so-so or good enough,” Sternberg replies. “I totally believe we can be No. 1 at serving our state by educating active citizens and ethical leaders and by doing research, at least some of which is relevant to our state. Educating ethical students involves developing a strong work ethic and a willingness to work hard.”
“We’re not going to be No. 1 in U.S. News and World Report, and we don’t want to be,” he added. “We want to produce active citizens and ethical leaders. If we say we can’t be No. 1 at that, it will be self-perpetuating, and we won’t be.”
Sternberg says he agrees with the characterization by former UW President Phil Dubois of athletics as the front porch of the university.
“Academics are the heart of the university, but as a land-grant institution, we serve our state. One of the ways we serve is to get people involved, excited and enthusiastic about our university and our mission,” he explained. “Athletics is one of the ways in which people of the state become involved with, and passionate about, the university.
“People don’t always know what we are doing in, say biology or history, but they do know how our football team is doing,” Sternberg said. “Really to serve the people of the state, we need their support. Athletics provides a way of doing that.”
He said there was no motivation in his call for a consultant look at UW athletics that Wyoming should reassess its participation at the Mountain West Conference level of competition.
“As long as I am president, we’re going to be at the highest level we can be, “ Sternberg said. “We’re going to be as good as we can be. I have a motivation to excel.”
The $35,000 study by CSA brought a team to Laramie in early October to meet with coaches and Athletic Department administrators over two days to assess operations, organizational structure, facilities and financial resources that support the football and men’s basketball programs.
The full report is available at www.uwyo.edu/uw/news/_files/documents/2013/11/fb-mbb-athletic-review.pdf.