CU Is Better … By George

Finals week has descended upon the University of Colorado, with graduation coming on Friday, May 9th.

As the 2013-14 school year comes to a close, so too is the curtain coming down on the first academic year under CU’s sixth-ever athletic director, Rick George. At the time of last year’s spring graduation, George was with the Texas Rangers organization, Mike Bohn was CU’s athletic director. Bohn, however, was let go at the end of May, with George coming to Boulder in August.

What kind of a year has it been?

A few of you might recall that last August, I posted “Dear Mr. George“, an open letter to the new athletic director. In that letter, I expressed my frustrations as to the state of the University of Colorado football team and athletics department. I did not expect to receive a response of any kind to my letter, so it was quite the surprise to receive a phone call from Rick George … just three days into his new job. Mr. George was polite, appreciative of my concerns, proceeding to give me the party line of how the University recognized the issues before it, how CU was planning on moving forward, and how important support of the Buff Nation was to these efforts.

Mr. George stated that he would follow up with a written response as soon as the dust settled on his move into his new offices. The response never came, which is fine. Mr. George has been too busy making Colorado competitive – a much better use of his time.

[A brief aside. None of the above nor the following should be construed as a condemnation of Mike Bohn. Mr. Bohn had many missteps during his tenure (with the hiring of Dan Hawkins and Jon Embree atop the list), but he also had many successes. If Mike Bohn’s legacy consists of no more than bringing Colorado into the Pac-12 and the hiring of Tad Boyle, he still had a tenure of significant impact].

So let’s take a look back at what I listed in my letter to Rick George as:

suggested marching orders, courtesy of a frustrated member of the Buff Nation“:

1) Go public with your intentions as to fundraising.

For this, Mr. George receives a pass, or at least an incomplete. The Buff Nation was in a constant state of anguish throughout his first year when it came to the issue of fundraising. When George took office, there was a stated goal of raising $50 million by December, labeled by George at the time as “doable”. The self-imposed December deadline came and went with no announcement. In February, in a meeting with the Board of Regents, George indicated over half of the money had been raised, combined with a statement that he remained confident that the remaining funds would be raised before the Spring Game.

As the Spring Game approached, there was talk of a ground-breaking ceremony, but no official announcement. The final announcement didn’t come until late afternoon on Friday, April 11th, the day before the game. Coming too late to for significant publicity or promotion, it was clear – though never announced – that it had come down to the wire in terms of meeting the fund-raising requirement of $47 – $50 million.

2) Be bold. Dream big, and then make it happen.

This plea came last August, when Colorado State was showing off plans for its shiny new proposed stadium. The Colorado State administration expressed confidence that the $246 million necessary to build the stadium was a mere formality … at a time when Colorado wasn’t making any perceptible headway towards any sort of facilities upgrades.

Well, Mr. George was bold, and he did make it happen. While $50 million seems like pocket change to Oregon, it is a huge number in the history of Colorado athletics. The athletic department has never been able to raise more than $15 million in a single year before, yet Rick George raised $50 million in eight months. The ceremonial ground-breaking took place at the Spring Game, but the actual ground-breaking will take place on Monday, May 12th.

It’s no longer a dream. It’s no longer a set of renderings.

It’s actually happening … thanks to Rick George.

3) Involve the little guy.

So far … crickets.

But that is not altogether a bad thing. George and the athletic department have been going after the big fish, the donors who could actually push the totals toward $50 million, donors who could make an early difference.

There will still be plenty of time for the little guy to participate, however … and it may be coming soon.

Once shovels are in the ground, and cranes are in the air, the athletic department may open a new phase of the fund-raising campaign. True enough, the Sustainable Excellence Initiative is already open to the little guy, and we all received invitations to add $$$ to our season-ticket purchases.

Still, the opportunity to have your own “brick” outside the new facilities, something similar to the bricks which lay beneath the Ralphie statue outside of Folsom, is likely in the works, and will be the next phase of the fund-raising plan.

Late spring and early summer are quiet times for collegiate athletics, so the best bet would be that come August, when Fall Camp opens, and the spotlight returns to the CU football program and Folsom Field, that Joe Fan will be asked to participate in the construction of the new facilities.

Keep your checkbooks at the ready …

4) Improve CU’s brand.

As coach Mike MacIntyre says: “No excuses. No regrets”.

Rick George is a marketing specialist, and CU’s brand needs enhancement. CU will never compete with the Denver Broncos, but there are any number of ways to improve the Buffs’ standing in the Denver-Boulder metro area. It will take time, but it does appear that steps are being taken to get the CU brand out into the public more than was the case in the past.

One criticism here … Ending the “tradition” of taking the CU Unit to the Pac-12 championships and the NCAA tournament was a bad idea. Colorado got a great deal of positive publicity, and the team a boost, when the top 50 members of the CU Unit traveled to Los Angeles to help the Buffs win the inaugural Pac-12 basketball title, then onto Albuquerque for the NCAA tournament.

True enough, Colorado remains in deficit mode, and will remain in that position for several years to come. But improving CU’s brand begins at home – with the students – and rewarding attendance and spirit seems like a good place to start.

5) Go to tailgate parties.

The idea here was to get out to hear the concerns of the regular fan. Parking, ticket issues, starting game times … all issues which can build loyalty or turn away a fan base.

From every indication (including the fact that he called me to respond to my letter), Rick George gets that he needs to mend fences. Before Colorado can expand its fan base, it needs to cultivate and show appreciation for the fan base who has toughed it out the past eight years.

The average attendance at Colorado games fell below 40,000 last year, the first time that has happened since 1988. Yes, having to play a makeup game was a part of the overall decline in attendance, but the numbers have been going in reverse for years. The home slate this fall – Arizona State, Hawai’i, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, and Utah – does not include a true marquee draw, so the challenge remains for Rick George to continue his 24/7/365 efforts to regain the trust and loyalty of the casual fan – and get their fannies back into the stands on gameday.

6) Do not allow CU to be left behind.

Things had gotten so bad over the past few years that there were rumblings last summer that, when the next round of musical chairs came about in conference realignment, Colorado could be left out.

With teams now more solidly locked into conferences (largely thanks to egregious penalties now imposed for any team which tries to leave a conference), Colorado’s place in the hierarchy of the Power Five conferences appears solid. However, that does not mean that Rick George and the CU athletic department have nothing to be concerned about.

Before the paint is dry and the ribbons are cut on the new facilities in August, 2015, Colorado will already be behind again in facilities. Amazing as it may sound, a $143 million upgrade is just a first step. Colorado, if it hopes to compete in the Pac-12, will have to start looking at other means by which to improve the image of the University of Colorado. For better or worse, amenities matter when it comes to recruiting – and recruiting is the lifeblood of any athletic program.

Rick George took on a tough job. The University of Colorado is several steps behind when it comes to competing with its rivals in the Pac-12. The Buffs do not have a rainmaker like Phil Knight or T. Boone Pickens, do not have a wildly fanatical and forever loyal fan base, and do not have reliable institutional or state support.

And yet, the University of Colorado remains in the top 25 in all-time victories in football, is enjoying never-seen-before success in men’s basketball, and has even launched a new program for the first time in 30 years (with a shout out to the women’s lacrosse team, which posted a winning record in their inaugural season).

Rick George will be at the ground-breaking on May 12th, turning a shovel on a project which has been in the works – but only on paper – for years. He deserves to don the ceremonial helmet and turn the first shovelful of dirt.

In less than a year, George has already established a legacy at the University of Colorado.

But a great deal of work remains to be done ….




2 Replies to “CU Is Better … By George”

  1. right there with you on how to start getting things on a upward jump. Rick G has really got the ball started .Coach Mac 11 has to have top grade recruits and the only that will happen is to have top of the bst to work with . So far that seems to be happening for both . Man just to have a winning season would do wonders.

  2. Stuart, I think Rick George would be the first person to confirm that there’s a lot of work to be done. I would still give him an A+….. (right along with you).

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