Fresno State athletics director Jim Bartko, who had taken on a difficult task in elevating a department at a time its success on the football field and fan engagement was declining sharply, resigned Monday, citing personal reasons.
“Jim Bartko focused on charting a new direction for Fresno State’s athletics program, and he took the lead in developing the vision for the Bulldog Stadium modernization project,” university President Joseph Castro said in a short news release. “He engaged new supporters across the region and increased involvement in advancing our program.”
Steve Robertello, deputy director of athletics, was appointed by Castro as interim athletics director. He was co-interim AD in 2014 between the time Thomas Boeh left the program and Bartko arrived. Since, Robertello has served as deputy director of athletics with day-to-day oversight of operations, sport administration and student-athlete services.
Bartko could not be reached Monday, but in January revealed in an exclusive interview with The Bee that he had been molested as a child in the early 1970s by his Catholic priest and basketball coach.
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He received treatment at Sierra Tucson prior to telling his family and Fresno State athletics staff, and went through a second period of treatment in July.
In a story in The Bee in January, Bartko said he wanted to be an advocate to end child abuse.
“I buried it, and had guilt and shame that maybe I could have helped some other kids,” he said.
Bartko, who went to high school in Modesto, was hired by Castro in November 2014 after spending almost all of his career at the University of Oregon, starting as a fundraiser and later as executive senior associate athletic director. He started at Fresno State in January 2015.
By June 2015, the athletics department announced plans to renovate an aging Bulldog Stadium, a project that was to be completed in time for a 2019 season-opener against Minnesota but has been slowed by cracking in the seating areas and walkways on the east side of the venue.
Included in the renovation plan is a change to the seating bowl to create easier access to seats as well as concession stands and restroom facilities and the addition of suites, a stadium club and new press box on the west side of the stadium.
While Bartko was hustling for funds for the stadium renovation, the Bulldogs’ football program was foundering. Fresno State was 3-9 in 2015 and the following season was 1-7 and on the way to 1-11 in October 2016 when Bartko fired coach Tim DeRuyter.
After a short and finely focused search Bartko hired former Fresno State quarterback Jeff Tedford, who has the Bulldogs off to a 6-3 start in his first season and headed to a bowl game for the first time since 2014.
Bartko hired head coaches in four other sports, including two to start new programs – Troy Steiner (wrestling) and Natalie Benson (women’s water polo).
During Bartko’s two-plus years at Fresno State, the Bulldogs’ basketball team under coach Rodney Terry won the Mountain West Conference Tournament in 2016 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001. The Bulldogs did not, however, have a program win a conference title last year, the first time they have been shut out going back to 1992 when it transitioned to the Western Athletic Conference from the Big West.
“Jim’s commitment to improving the student and fan experience has helped us recruit talented athletes and coaches,“ Castro said in the release. “We are appreciative of the groundwork he has laid for continued momentum and growth of Fresno State athletics.”
The university and athletic department officials made no further comment.
Attendance at football games and revenue from ticket sales have remained flat despite the success on the field – Fresno State is averaging 30,453 for five home games led by a crowd of 39,447 for a season-opener against Incarnate Word when the school retired the No. 4 worn by former Bulldogs quarterback Derek Carr, now with the Oakland Raiders. It has had less than 30,000 at Bulldog Stadium for the past four games.
The Bulldogs’ aging fan base and decline in ticket revenue, as well as the renovation of Bulldog Stadium and the addition of wrestling and women’s water polo programs to a department that has a budget that at $37.8 million runs in the bottom half of the Mountain West Conference, will be a challenge for the next athletics director.
Ticket revenue, the majority from football, has declined significantly.
▪ In 2009-10, it accounted for 36.6 percent of a $18.4 million budget, or $6.76 million.
▪ In 2012-13, it was 19.7 percent of a $25.6 million budget, or $5.04 million.
▪ In 2016-17, it accounted for 12.6 percent of a $34.2 million budget, or $4.31 million.
In that same period, university support has jumped to $13.6 million in 2016-17 from $8.8 million in 2012-13 and $5.1 million in 2009-10.
University and athletic department officials have acknowledged that the unexplained cracking on the east side of the stadium could delay the project by a year or more.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada