An Open Letter to the New CU Athletic Director
Dear Mr. George,
First and foremost, welcome back to Boulder and the Buff Nation! Your last stint with the University of Colorado, 1987-91, was one of the most successful periods in the program’s history. Let’s hope that you are able to pilot the school to similar heights as CU’s sixth full-time athletic director.
The reason for my writing concerns the “front porch” of the University, the football program. It is not my intention to diminish the accomplishments nor the needs of the other programs under your tutelage. However, as all things good for the other programs (read: $$$) stem from the success of the Buffs in the fall, football must be your top priority (Just one side note: Feel free to tape a Post-It, “Whatever Tad wants, Tad gets”, to a corner on your desk).
When you first came to the CU campus in 1987, the worst stretch in team history was a still healing wound. Prior to the down years between 1979 and 1984, Colorado had never before gone six straight seasons without a winning record, and that six year drought included two 1-10 seasons. Still, the ship had been righted by the time you arrived, with two bowl appearances and an epic win over Nebraska laying the groundwork for a national championship.
The landscape of college football is also much different than it was in 1987. In the 70’s and 80’s, the Big Eight was often referred to as the “Big Two and the Little Six”. Oklahoma and Nebraska dominated the conference, and it wasn’t really all that difficult for Colorado to rise up the ranks amongst the Little Six. In terms of facilities, fan support, and history, CU was on par with, or superior to, the Kansas schools, Iowa State, Missouri, and Oklahoma State (pre- T. Boone Pickens).
The situation now, however, is much worse than it was in 1987. The school record for consecutive losing seasons has been re-established at seven straight, with the Buffs very likely to extend that run to eight this fall. In almost every recordable category, CU is coming off of the worst season in school history. Fan support, while still hanging in there (an average home attendance last season of 45,372, despite an 0-6 home record), is starting to wane.
There is also rampant frustration in the Buff Nation, and it centers upon a commitment to the program from the CU administration, which goes hand-in-hand with the lack of progress in fundraising and facilities improvements.
I understand that, while with the Texas Rangers, you rebranded the ball club, increasing ticket revenues over three seasons by $30 million and increasing attendance by over 40 percent. You also had successful stints with the PGA, the Champions Tour, and with a non-profit organization. It’s an impressive resume, and you will need to draw upon all of your prior experiences to turn things around in Boulder.
I shouldn’t need to tell you that the CU football program is – unlike most of the college football programs in the country – often at odds with the media, its hometown, and even its own University. Fortunately, you also know that these obstacles can be overcome. Colorado was atop the college football world during your tenure, and the Dal Ward Center was a direct result of the Buffs’ on-field successes.
So, can a successful fundraising be initiated, even with no titles coming in the foreseeable future?
I won’t bury you with articles about how other schools in the Pac-12, including those which Colorado should be superior to on and off the field – the Arizona schools, Utah, Washington State, Oregon State – have built, or are in the process of building, significant new facilities. I trust you are very aware of CU’s deficiencies.
So what should be CU’s goal?
Let’s forget about (for now) competing with schools like Oregon in terms of facilities. The Ducks are now like the Sooners and Cornhuskers from the old league – CU cannot generate enough revenue to be on the same playing field on a consistent basis. Oregon’s new athletic facility is 145,000 square feet (145,000! … Given that the average home is about 2,500 square feet, the Ducks could comfortably house 58 American families in their new digs). Such a facility isn’t coming to Boulder anytime soon.
The lesson to be learned from the Oregon model, however, is that, “If you build it, they will come”. Do you know how many ten win seasons Oregon had in the first 100 years of its program? Try none … Zero. Zilch. Nada … an 0-fer in the 20th century. Now, just 12 seasons removed from the first ten win season in school history, if new head coach Mark Helfrich doesn’t average ten wins a season in Eugene, fans will put “For Sale” signs in his front yard. The formula is clear: Money = better facilities = better recruits = more victories = even better recruits and more victories.
How and why Oregon became a power is not exactly a secret.
Now, let’s take a look at the other end of the college football spectrum from Oregon … and that would be Colorado State. The Rams, playing in the Mountain West Conference, will be generating television revenue less than 20% of what Colorado will be bringing in. CSU, even with the excitement of a new head coach last season, failed to average 20,000 fans per game despite going 3-3 at home.
And yet, as I am sure you are aware, Colorado State is going forward with its plans to build a $246 million on-campus stadium.
Foolhardy? Perhaps. But the Rams are not sitting around. They are taking the initiative.
And by doing so, little brother is making us look silly.
What has Colorado done with regard to fundraising and facilities upgrades since joining the Pac-12? A lot of talk about talking. A lot of announcements about future announcements.
Last fall, after the CSU stadium plans were unveiled, CU President Benson was asked if little brother’s bold initiatives put more pressure on CU to act. His response: “There certainly hasn’t been any conversation like that that I’ve had and I see a lot of people and go to a lot of events,” Benson said. “My phone hasn’t been ringing. My emails aren’t off the walls. I’m not getting any pressure. Somebody else might be, but I sure haven’t heard a word.” (Boulder Daily Camera, October 6, 2012).
President Benson needs to start listening.
So here are your suggested marching orders, courtesy of a frustrated member of the Buff Nation:
1) Go public with your intentions. The “silent phase” of fundraising has got to come to an end, and it has to come to an end now. You were quoted as saying that the goal of raising $50 million by December was “doable”. Rather than push goals back again and again, how’s about saying it’s going to happen, and then making it happen? How’s about telling us where we are at, and how far we have to go? Seventy percent of something is better than 100% of nothing. Give us some reason to believe that Colorado is not being left behind in the current arms race.
2) Be bold. Dream big, and then make it happen. Want to ensure your legacy at Colorado? Be the architect of the revival. This doesn’t have to be a 20-year plan. This can happen in less than five years. Buff fans gave CSU fans grief over the $246 million stadium plan, but at the end of the day it was jealousy – we were wishing we had an athletic department willing to dream that big.
I’m reminded of the opening speech in the movie Patton, where George C. Scott, positioned before a huge American flag, gives a speech to unseen troops. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if the following quote was put on a plaque and placed in your conference room: “I don’t want to get any messages saying that ‘we are holding our position.’ We’re not holding anything. Let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly and we’re not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy. We’re going to hold onto him by the nose and we’re going to kick him in the ass. We’re going to kick the hell out of him all the time and we’re going to go through him like crap through a goose!”.
3) Involve the little guy. Assuming no one from the Phil Knight or T. Boone Pickens families is going to adopt CU as their new favorite team, you can’t rely on huge donations alone to make things happen. Sure, if you want to announce the Buffs will be playing in Folsom Field at Coors Stadium (in exchange for $100 million or so), be my guest. Short of that, you are going to need us little guys, and for the past two years, we have been ignored. Even if we want to donate, we can’t (go to your own cubuffs.com website, click on “Buff Club” and “Initiatives” … all you get is a “Coming Soon!” message. Sorry, but that is just pathetic). I ran a poll at the CU at the Game website this spring, asking readers what they might be willing to donate to a facilities fundraiser. The poll was up for only 24 hours, but there were over $58,000.00 in pledges. Now, I will be the first to admit that votes in a poll don’t actually constitute pledges, much less actual checks, but the dollars are out there … and my school isn’t even asking for them.
There are bricks underneath the Ralphie statute outside of Folsom. My name is on one of those bricks. I don’t remember what the funds were being raised for that earned me my brick, or how much I was asked to donate … but I do remember – and appreciate – that brick. Give CU fans a goal to reach, plans for an actual structure/facility to look at, and some small token of appreciation. You’ll be pleased with the response.
4) Improve CU’s brand. Fortunately, this is one of your specialties, and something which is desperately needed in Boulder. Yes, Denver and the Denver media is owned by the Broncos, but that is just an excuse. The Washington Huskies live in harmony with the Seahawks, and the Green Bay Packer faithful take off their green and wear Badger red every Saturday. It can be done! As coach MacIntyre says: “No excuses. No regrets”.
5) Go to some tailgate parties. Not the fine china and silverware variety, but those with beer and brats. Listen to the concerns about the ticket office, parking, and other mundane issues. These are your constituents.
6) Do not allow CU to be left behind. The Buffs are currently in good position as members of the Pac-12, but there is talk about a “Division 4”, with the top 64 teams in the country splitting off to form its own (highly lucrative) little universe. There are presently 60 teams in the Big Five conferences. Add in the American Athletic Conference teams, and your up to 70. Independents Notre Dame and BYU might swell the number of potential candidates for the new division up to 72. There may well be some attrition in the years to come. You cannot – must not – allow CU to be so irrelevant in the national conversation as for there to be consideration of Colorado not maintaining a seat at the big boy table.
Relevance begins and ends with the football team (if you think basketball is enough, ask Kansas fans how much love they received in the last round of conference musical chairs). Colorado can’t field a team which consistently loses in its new conference and remain a player. All stops must be pulled in order to stop the bleeding … and it must be done now!
I wish you nothing but success as the new CU athletic director. The fate of the Buff Nation is now in your hands.
Stuart R. Whitehair
CU Classes of 1984 and ’87