Jim Bartko said something Friday that I haven’t heard uttered by a Fresno State athletic director.
Certainly not during the last eight or nine years.
“The first thing,” Bartko replied when asked about his short-term goals for Bulldogs sports, “is to be the very best in our conference.”
Notice Bartko’s choice of words. He wants the Bulldogs to be the “very best” athletic program in the Mountain West Conference. Not among the best or competitive with the best. He wants to be THE best. He wants to be A-No. 1.
If you take nothing else away from Bartko’s introductory news conference at the Save Mart Center, let that be it.
Sure, Bartko made other positive impressions. He spoke passionately about growing up in Stockton and Modesto and his ties to the central San Joaquin Valley. He became emotional while talking about his family (which includes wife Eileen and their two children) and about his decision to leave Oregon, where he had spent all but one of his 26 years in athletic administration.
He came across as genuine, personable and good-natured — all the qualities you want in an athletic director.
But I keep going back to Bartko’s “very best” comment because it shows he has a vision (one shared by Fresno State President Joseph Castro) for the future of Bulldogs athletics.
A vision that has been desperately lacking.
When Bartko began his career in 1989 as a fundraiser for the Duck Athletic Fund, Oregon was nowhere near the athletic and marketing powerhouse it is today.
Bartko was there every step of the way playing a key role. He’s already familiar with the journey.
Sure, there are Red Wavers who would’ve liked to hear Bartko articulate a plan to land Fresno State in a Power 5 conference. Those people need to put down the pipe.
Before any of that can happen, the Bulldogs need to be higher placed among the Have Nots. Right now, in several key areas, Fresno State is closer to the bottom of the MW than it is to the top.
I’m talking about money for things like cost-of-attendance stipends, medical insurance and a training table that doesn’t get deducted from athletes’ scholarship checks. I’m talking about much-needed facilities upgrades and extra support staff — such as a football recruiting coordinator like Boise State, Utah State, Nevada and others already have, so Tim DeRuyter’s assistants can spend their time breaking down film of next week’s opponent instead of next year’s recruits.
Fresno State currently is eighth in the 12-team MW in operating revenue. That’s a lot of ground to make up.
Bartko is a proven fundraiser and has close ties with Nike and co-founder Phil Knight, who phoned Castro to lobby on his friend’s behalf. That doesn’t mean Knight will start donating oodles to Fresno State, but the connection certainly can’t hurt.
What Bartko will discover Jan. 1 after he officially takes the reins is that Fresno State is a long ways from Oregon. He will encounter land mines that make keeping Nike’s head honcho happy seem like an island breeze — and not just the lack of Pac-12 television money.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Last summer, a donor gave $500,000 to refurbish a football locker room that hadn’t been touched in a decade.
Flashy locker rooms are a huge recruiting tool in college football, and for years the Bulldogs had one of the plainest around. Nothing like what conference rivals Boise State or San Diego State have.
At most universities, this would be greeted as wonderful news.
At Fresno State, it touched off an internal brouhaha over gender equity. There’s a faction that insists you can’t spend $500,000 on football — not even a donated $500,000 — without spending the exact amount on women’s programs.
By exact, I mean exact. They want the same Bulldogs logo that adorns the ceiling of the football team’s locker room to adorn the ceiling of the locker room shared by women’s soccer and lacrosse.
Two decades after softball coach Margie Wright raised a stink because baseball coach Bob Bennett had a Coke machine in his office and she didn’t, very little has changed.
Don’t get me wrong. The women’s soccer and lacrosse teams deserve nice locker rooms. They should be both clean and modern.
But the same as football, the department’s primary revenue driver? That’s plain ol’ silliness. You can be sure that doesn’t happen at Oregon.
Under Thomas Boeh, the athletic department instituted a number of ridiculous policies. None more than a proviso stating all coaches for men’s and women’s sports must have the same sized TVs in their offices.
Never mind that a football coach might need a larger screen in order to better see all 22 players — or that some coaches don’t want a TV in their office. One women’s coach keeps hers tucked away on a shelf, unplugged.
Again, I’m not saying coaches of women’s teams don’t deserve TVs. I’m saying all coaches should have one that best fit their needs.
Whether they need a giant TV, a small one or no TV at all, it should be up to them. That’s true equality. Not some blanket policy made up by ivory tower-dwelling administrators so they can puff out their chests and cover their behinds.
At most universities, no one cares about that stuff. At Fresno State, a small group of power-wielders obsesses over it.
The question I privately posed to Castro was whether his new athletic director would be given the power to make these kinds of decisions without interference from those whose primary goal isn’t to make the Bulldogs the “very best.” Or from those who have no idea what it takes to get there.
It’s a tricky question, and Castro gave me a somewhat political answer. But it’s clear he and Bartko think alike.
When Boeh was relieved of his duties in August, I wrote that Fresno State’s next AD needed to be nothing like its previous one.
Sure looks as if Castro and the search committee found the right guy.