Fresno State athletics director Terry Tumey has been on the job three months, not enough time to fix all of the issues that he inherited, but enough to evaluate, identify, put together some plans and some others into action. Clearly, the student-athlete experience is high on the list of the Bulldogs’ new athletics director, a surprise hire in June from the tiny Claremont-Scripps-Mudd, unified NCAA Division III programs.
Since he started on Aug. 1, Tumey has reached across Cedar Avenue to the university to help revamp academic support for student-athletes, an area that has suffered from high turnover and questionable results. It also is now reporting to David Hall, associate athletics director for compliance and student-athlete services.
The senior staff has turned over, with several administrators moving on or moved out.
Fresno State has job openings posted for an assistant athletics director for student-athlete services, a senior associate athletics director for external relations, and assistant athletics director for athletic business operations.
Meredith Jenkins was hired as interim deputy director of athletics. Tim Collins was hired as senior associate athletics director for development.
“I’ve had a chance get into the community and understand what that is all about, and get an even better understanding of what the commitment of our university is and what our purpose is as it relates to our students and how we’re serving our students,” Tumey said.
“The level of service that we want to provide to our students, providing them an experience that really is something that is going to change their lives, that has been phenomenal. But I’ve also been able to asses some things and in doing that understand where we have some opportunities to grow and get better.”
But there still are two issues that may determine the Bulldogs’ levels of athletics success in the future, the first Bulldog Stadium and the second fund-raising efforts by the Bulldog Foundation for scholarships that are under pressure with rising costs.
Tumey addressed those issues with The Bee …
Question: It has been three months, not enough obviously to have a plan in place and shovels in the ground, but in terms of a vision for Bulldog Stadium, what do you see there? The university is on record with a substantial financial commitment …
Answer: We’re definitely going down that path. We’re starting with work with the administrative leadership here to really develop a plan for what that looks like. We are definitely going to address Bulldog Stadium and the enhancements – they’re really not enhancements, they’re things that we really need in order to make the experience of our fans a more fruitful one and a better one.
Some of the things that are not so glamorous that we’re going to be doing, we’re going to be looking at the electrical system and looking to shore that up. We’re going to be looking at all the support mechanisms as it relates to the stadium. But there also will be enhancements that we’re gong to do that make it a better experience.
The university is going to be committed to investing resources in Bulldog Stadium, which is really I think the biggest question. We all are there. But we’re going to definitely be in need of private support, as well. Some of the enhancements that we are looking for are not going to be done through public funds, they’re going to be enhancements that are going to be for our entire student body. The student-athlete village and things of that nature that have been talked about before, those are all going to be private endeavors.
We’re going to have to move forward. If we really feel as though we’re going to better the student-athlete experience, we’re going to be looking for support in our community to do that and hopefully help us achieve excellence.
Within the stadium itself, university president Joseph Castro threw out a number, $45 million …
That’s all going to be toward the stadium itself, the enhancements and improvement to the stadium itself.
The student-athlete village will be all within the same project, but a separate endeavor and we’re still getting our arms around what that’s going to look like. A lot of it is going to be dependent upon on how productive we can be in our philanthropic efforts.
We have some grandiose ideas and we have some ideas that we think are the basics. We’re not trying to build the Taj Mahal here. We’re just trying to provide resources that really are going to help our student-athletes be successful.
With the university support and that state money going into renovating Bulldog Stadium, what do you see as a must-do in there?
After the last game, I think the electrical issue is going to be very much on the forefront. The ADA compliance issues are always going to be important to us. We want to make sure that all of our fans have the ability to see the game so anything as it relates to that is going to be crucial to us.
Then, if there are any infrastructure things, whether it’s plumbing or electrical or any of the support mechanisms, all of those things are going to be vital. That’s something that literally our administrative group and our plant services group have been studying for quite some time. That’s on their forefront and I’m included in those discussions, but I’m not the expert on that.
But when it comes to the things that we’re looking at for our student-athletes that’s when I get totally involved and really want to understand how can we best serve the day-to-day needs of student-athletes, whether it’s through the nutritional element, making sure they’re eating and have a great place to have that space; whether it’s through academic support, are there areas that we can have more conducive spaces for them to study and grow academically; or whether it’s through their athletic endeavors.
Do we have enough of an offering here to support them athletically? All of those factors are going to be taken in to consideration as it relates to our student-athlete village.
For your fan experience …
It would be great if we could figure out some methods to possibly providing more hospitality, whether it be party decks or things of that nature or more loge seating. That’s all very preliminary, but it would be nice to figure out how we could do more of that because I think our community would enjoy that.
One of the things that I’m going to push for is to have better connectivity. Social media is such a big part of what we do right now, for us not to have a really substantial connectivity within the stadium hurts our student experience and our fan experience. You can’t have the selfies and the social media flashes going throughout because we don’t have great connectivity in the stadium right now. I think that’s vital.
At the end of the day, I know many people talk about having some sort of concourse that would split the stadium so you’d have an upper level and a lower level. I think that would be in consideration as well, but with that decision has to come the cost considerations in doing that. We’re going to be very fiscally responsible. We’re on a budget. That’s something we want to do.
But there’s also a reduction in inventory in terms of seating. You’re going to reduce your seating, which is not necessarily a bad thing to say we have a plan to minimally reduce our seating for Bulldog Stadium.
Right now, I’d say we’re probably doing fairly well with people attending our games and we’re very happy with that, very happy that the community supports us. You could always do more, though. We’re not selling out by any stretch of the imagination, but we’re comfortable. But I would also say that having a season like we’re having you would hope that people would really recognize that and come out to the games.
It’s really an amazing season right now, what these student-athletes are doing is truly incredible. It’s the renaissance of Bulldog football. It’s coming back and its coming back really strong.
In getting people into that stadium I would think the building itself and the environment is an impediment …
It has to be better. Our clients are more sophisticated now. You have to have the amenities. Being able to order food from your chair is common now at stadiums. You put it in your phone and they swipe your card and then have someone drop it off to you. We have to get there. Some of the things that we’re talking about are just basic fundamental things that we have to do. I don’t think this community wants us to invest money to where we’re over the top, but we’re going to have to look at some enhancements to make it to where it’s the baseline, at least.
In the future we’ll be doing other things, as well. We’ll be analyzing ways to activate our community to come forward. We want to have sellouts at Bulldog Stadium, so what does it take to do that? How do we make this thing more attractive here, whether it’s through fan engagement, maybe it’s through analysis of our ticketing. How are we selling tickets? Is our pricing appropriate? We’re going to be looking at all of that because at the end of the day we want full stadiums. We want the community to come out and enjoy and know this is the place to be. That’s the goal.
The stadium, that will be university funds, state funds. The student-athlete village and some of the other things like a nutrition program, academic support, marketing your programs, that all costs money.
And the most important thing, scholarships. That’s our most important endeavor. Without scholarships, without being able to fund the financial aspect of their education, I should have mentioned that first. That’s our No. 1 fundraising priority, to try to make sure we fund out scholarships.
That’s what the Bulldog Foundation is all about, having that piece of the puzzle is vital. We have to figure out that method of funding.
We’re doing things in a very appropriate manner. I think. Our coaches are partners in that. They have bought in on that. We’re all being fiscally responsible. Our coaches are definitely watching what they spend. Not skimping, we’re not skimping at all, but they’re definitely watching what they’re spending to see if it is truly important to our student-athlete experience just so we can make sure we have enough money to fund scholarships.
The Bulldog Foundation, their fundraising has been fairly flat recently and they have been taking the cost of attendance stipends out of the scholarship endowment …
Correct. The divide between what the endowment produces and what the cost truly is has risen, because you do have things like cost of attendance which is a much larger number than just having room, tuition and fees, which is what it used to be for so many years, which is what a scholarship has always been allotted.
What we’re doing is, we’re trying to be even more aggressive in our fundraising capabilities and our fundraising efforts because we need to narrow that gap. In fact, we need to get to where there is no gap, and it’s tough.
Right now, though, that endowment is trending to a point where …
It would be gone. That’s why we’re investing. We really feel as though now is the time to do it, because literally if we continue down that path it will be gone and no one wants that. No one wants to be where you’re worrying about how we’re gong to fund the success of our students and that’s the direction that we were going. That’s why we’ve changed the paradigm to start really concentrating solely on the BDF.
How much pressure is the BDF under right now?
As you said before, because we’ve had to probably reduce the corpus, reduce our investment, I wouldn’t say it’s under tremendous duress, but we want to build. I think that’s really the push that you’re seeing. We’re trying to build, and we want to build while things are good. We have good things happening in our athletics department. We have a new energy and a new vision for where we want to go. We have so many positives.
Now is the time to build. There is always going to be financial concerns and constraints because we’re always going to want to invest in these students, probably many times more than we have the ability to, that’s why you feel the stress and strain. You’re trying to give to them. But that’s what we’re conveying. There’s more of a concentrated effort now on the BDF and trying to get the scholarship piece solidified for now and for the future.
If you’re a person out in the community that wants to support us, I don’t think anyone would ever argue with saying, “I’m trying to invest in the future of a student-athlete in academics by giving them scholarship dollars.” That’s a very easy and compelling argument. If we were a program that had, I don’t know, Brazilian wood flooring in our gym where it seems a little ostentatious, a little over the top, some of our supporters probably wouldn’t feel so good about that.
But what we’re saying is, “We just want to support these young people academically.” That’s a great statement. That’s what our focal point is going to be. Education is it.
With that scholarship endowment the focal point – and it should be – do you get the sense in these first three months that there’s also room to even do a student-athlete village and make facilities improvements?
That is the biggest concern, but I do feel as though there are different populations that can serve one or both. I think you can be successful at one and be successful at the other. But it is a concern of mine, the fact that we’re going out and we want to solicit for scholarship dollars, but yet we are also are looking to do something on the athletic side to support student-athletes whether it be nutritionally, or from a strength and conditioning aspect or whatever.
I do feel that the Valley population is strong enough that it can support both, but it really is going to take a yeoman’s effort by us to go out and say, “Hey can you help us?”
And once we do find the partners, I think the most important thing we can do is let our partners know the gratitude that we have for them, let them know how much we appreciate their support and we appreciate what they’re doing for these student athletes and know that we will do the ultimate in providing the right services for these students to be successful.
You’re asking the right question. The biggest question we’ll always have is, “Is there enough to really be strong on the academic side and still be dedicated toward building a student-athlete village?” I think the answer is yes. But it’s gong to take a lot of work.