Copyright 2013 Albuquerque Journal
Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico)
August 24, 2013 Saturday
SPORTS; Pg. D1
|Football attendance top priority;
NMSU president putting focus on the bottom line
Ken Sickenger Journal Staff Writer
Garrey Carruthers is taking a bottom-line approach to New Mexico State University athletics.
The former New Mexico governor, former Aggie and current NMSU president sees sports from a business-first perspective. He wants to make the Aggies profitable.
Earlier this week Carruthers announced the hiring of David McCollum to the new position of deputy athletic director. McCollum is a former newspaper owner with a background in business and advertising.
It's part of a general reorganization of NMSU's athletic department. In it, Carruthers says, success will not be determined solely by wins and losses.
"We've signed both (athletic director McKinley) Boston and David McCollum to one-year contracts and have put a set of metrics in place to measure progress," Carruthers said. "We'll be looking at things like attendance, donation levels, revenue streams. We need to do a better job promoting and marketing our sports products."
Earlier this month, Boston signed a one-year extension for $241,519. McCollum signed for $100,000, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.
Carruthers, who is closing in on three months in his new position, said he's made it a priority to bring himself up to speed on New Mexico State athletics. In a wide-ranging interview with the Journal, he discussed the difficulties his school faces in terms of NCAA conference shuffling, sagging overall attendance and a struggling football program that will play an independent schedule this year.
First and foremost, the former dean of NMSU's business school said he believes Aggies sports have untapped potential.
"When you look at it, all of our sports have done pretty well with the exception of football," Carruthers said, "and we believe there's hope for turning that around in the short term. Our athletes have done well in the classroom and, from a business perspective, we're doing fine on the cost side. The revenue side is where we need improvement."
Carruthers is optimistic that revenue streams are available. He pointed out a recent $1.5 million donation New Mexico State received to upgrade its baseball facilities.
"Our baseball program's been pretty successful," Carruthers said, "and this might give us an opportunity to host an NCAA Regional in the near future."
NMSU's new president wants to see similar progress for other sports and says specific monetary goals are necessary.
"I'm in agreement with Dr. Boston that we need to set stretch goals for fundraising," Carruthers said. "We're in a smaller town, and we need to do things differently, finding ways to get local businesses involved and boosting attendance at our home events."
NMSU's most pressing athletic department concerns are revitalizing its football program and finding a stable conference affiliation. Carruthers knows the issues are linked.
Aggie football is mired in a long pattern of on-field struggles and dwindling attendance (14,247 on average for six home games in 2012). NMSU lost its final 11 games last season, and coach DeWayne Walker departed for an NFL assistant's job shortly thereafter.
In an era of TV-driven NCAA conference shuffling, most of the Western Athletic Conference's football-playing schools departed for greener pastures over the past few years. The WAC officially dropped football after last season.
New Mexico State's struggling football program did not attract many conference suitors, requiring Boston to forge an independent schedule for 2013.
The Aggies ultimately secured football-only membership in the Sun Belt Conference starting in 2014, but it's hardly seen as an ideal solution. Prior to his election as president, Carruthers openly questioned whether NMSU should drop to Football Championship Subdivision status or even consider dropping football.
He's since reconsidered.
"One of the pleasant things about being president is that I have a board of regents to turn to for guidance," Carruthers said with a chuckle. "One of the first suggestions the regents gave me was, 'Don't talk about anything but (Football Bowl Subdivision) for our football program.' I got the message."
Carruthers believes it's important for NMSU to "rationalize" its conference affiliation and have all its sports in a single league. Such will be easier if the school's athletic programs become more attractive - especially football.
Unfortunately, a dramatic on-field turnaround will take time, especially considering the rugged schedule NMSU faces this season. The Aggies will take on Texas, Minnesota, UCLA and Boston College.
On the bright side, the independent season figures to generate some intrigue. The Aggies have a new coach in Doug Martin and are touting their seven-game home slate as the school's "best home schedule ever." With Minnesota, San Diego State, UTEP and Boston College among the visiting teams, the boast may be legitimate.
"Attendance should go up just because of the quality of our opponents," Carruthers said. "Only Notre Dame has a tougher schedule, but because of the nature of athletics, we feel like we can win a few games."
Better times could be ahead. NMSU has upgraded its training facilities in the past year and has fundraising in place for further improvements, Carruthers said.
Outdatedfacilities combined with the lack of a stable conference affiliation have hurt football recruiting in recent years.
"Obviously, we have our challenges," Carruthers said, "but our new coach is an optimistic, upbeat individual who's got head-coaching experience and has our players in better condition than they've ever been. In the long run that bodes well."
From a marketing standpoint, NMSU football created some national buzz recently with redesigned football helmets. The new versions feature mascot Pistol Pete wielding revolvers and crossed pistols lining the center stripe.
The helmets will make the Aggies the only NCAA Division I team with guns on their uniforms. Carruthers said he's fine with the helmet design, which is popular among NMSU players and students.
"The only thing that might trouble some people is the crossed pistols along the center stripe," Carruthers said. "I'm not in the art department, but if it had been up to me I might have left the crossed pistols off and just gone with Pistol Pete."
Still, Carruthers said the helmets won't be changed this year and could yet win him over permanently.
"If they intimidate the Lobos," he said, "I'll like them even better."
CARRUTHERS: In first year as school head
August 26, 2013