The FIU Alumni Association put a message on its Facebook page today in semi-reaction to the statement from Alumni Association President Frank Pena calling for a change in FIU Athletic Department leadership:
"The FIU Alumni Association would like to clarify that recent statements made by Alumni Association President Frank Peña do not necessarily represent the views of the Alumni Association's Board of Directors or its members. Peña himself has said that he was expressing personal views regarding the Athletics Department leadership.
The FIU Alumni Association unequivocally support our student athletes, our coaches and President Mark B. Rosenberg, and strive to continue our mission of serving and supporting FIU's alumni by providing lifelong connections to the University. The Alumni Association is focused on furthering key University priorities such as the expansion project and FIU's Next Horizon Capital Campaign."
Conspicuous by its absence on the Alumni Association support list: Athletic Department leadership.
You can skip this unless you're an athletics business wonk. Or just curious.
A few things about the deal with adidas, announced by FIU in January as a five-year deal worth around $2.6 million:
*FIU gets adidas footwear, clothes, equipment and accessories, but not for free. They get sort of a Costco deal on stuff -- shoes at 45 percent off retail price; clothes, equipment and accessories 50 percent off retail for everyone but baseball/softball, which gets only 37.5 percent off The Price is Right price. But baseball/softball gets theirs elsewhere, as you’ll soon see. FIU must spend at least $300,000 each year, which is air hockey money for a properly-funded Division I athletic program.
*If FIU does spend $300,000 each year, it gets an additional $260,000 retail value of adidas product (stuff) in 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, $285,000 in 2018-19 and $310,000 in 2019-2020.
*For the football team using adidas footballs in practices and games, FIU gets $10,000 retail value of product each year.
*Under “Athletic Department Fund Raising”, adidas gives FIU $15,000 of retail product value each year.
*There’s various bonuses for team achievement and Coach of the Year. The largest realistically attainable one is $20,000 retail value product for a football team bowl appearance.
*Baseball gets the most extra stuff. Softball will get the same stuff in “an amount to be agreed upon when Adidas introduced these hardgoods” according to the contract. (Yes, I think it should be “introduces” but I’m quoting directly from the contract, so…)
Each year, FIU Baseball gets:
Up to 48 wood bats, up to 42 non-wood bats, 6 aluminum fungo bats, up to 36 fielder’s gloves, up to 40 wheeled locker equipment bags, up to 40 individual duffel bags, 6 coach’s briefcases, 5 wheeled catcher bags (two to be used for equipment), up to 96 pairs of batting gloves (replaced by wear and tear), up to 96 pairs of wristbands, up to 25 batting helmets, up to 6 sets of catching gear.
432 fitted baseball hats
$34,000 retail value of free product.
$4,000 retail value of free product for the head coach
The only other individual in the athletic department who gets free product is the athletic director, who gets $10,000 retail value of free product each year.
As I Tweeted about an hour ago while sitting in Boat Show drawbridge traffic, FIU running backs coach Kerry Dixon II is moving on up to Gainesville as the University of Florida's new wide receivers coach.
Dixon was FIU's best recruiter in the 305, which he also worked while on FAU's staff. I don't think Dixon's solely responsible for the vastly improved relationships with Dade's inner city schools, but he definitely played a significant role.
Defensive line coach Randy Melvin is reported to be the favorite for the open defensive line coach job over in Coral Gables. The connection: Melvin was on Hurricanes coach Al Golden's 2009 staff at Temple.
The 2012 Tampa Bay staff included Melvin and FIU head coach Ron Turner. That's the connection Turner tapped when the NFL door reopened with the Vikings for 2013 defensive line coach Andrae Patterson. The front seven, particularly the defensive line, topped the worry list going into 2014. Aside from power backs such as Pitt's James Conner and Marshall's Devon Johnson, the defensive line held up far better than expected against the run and got after quarterbacks.
So, Turner could be looking at replacing a defensive line coach as well as a running backs coach, a quarterbacks and wide receivers coach (Cam Turner's going to Carolina as assistant wide receivers coach). Turner himself could take over the quarterbacks, although that might put a lot on his plate in addition to being offensive coordinator and head coach.
President Mark Rosenberg cancelled a Monday meeting with a group that included Alumni Association president Frank Pena. I'm not sure if the meeting concerned Athletics or the many other things about which the Alumni Association heads and President Rosenberg speak.
Either way, Pena's open request for change at the top of Athletics surely would've been on the conversational playlist.
FIU Alumni Association President Frank Pena read into the minutes of the Jan. 26 Alumni Association Board meeting a statement that recommends "a major change happens in the leadership of the Department of Athletics. The sooner these changes would happen, the better."
http://www.CollegeAD.com published the statement first this morning.
When I reached Pena Monday morning, I asked him if he wrote the statement as Frank Pena, FIU graduate, or Frank Pena, head of a 20,000 member alumni association.
"As both," he replied. "I did it as an alumnus, but I also did it to represent views of countless alumni. Whether it's at church, at the dentist's office, you run into FIU alums wherever you go. One of the first things they bring up should not be the poor state of Athletics. They should bring up some of the victories we have in Athletics or they should bring up some of the great things we're doing.
"That's why I'm saying what's been happening with Athletics over the last several years has been a distraction. It shouldn't be the conversation we have. People know I bleed the Blue and the Gold and they always want to have an FIU conversation. I'm finding more times, the conversation is 'What is going on in Athletics?'"
Pena emphasized the statistics-filled statement wasn't inspired by personal issues with FIU executive director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia but was about Athletics' "leadership and the results."
"I've been involved with FIU as a student since 1994. I've stayed involved as an alumnus. The love I have toe the institution is immense," Pena said. "I think FIU is the engine of the South Florida community and Dade County. We're doing so many good things. I feel Athletics, instead of being a partner in the University, has become a distraction. And something needs to be done.
"As alumni, it's our responsibility to support our university. Sometimes, by bringing up something that might be construed as a negative, it is supporting the university. And it is taking a stand. I felt that, as alumni, we need to take a stand when something's not working right. By the metrics we laid out -- academics, fundraising, wins & losses and fan support -- we're not doing our job."
I asked the Office of External Relations Monday if President Rosenberg had any response to the Alumni Association president's recommendation.
FIU External Relations Director Maydel Santana-Bravo sent an e-mail Monday afternoon that read, "President Rosenberg has spoken with Frank Pena multiple times. The feelings and concerns of all of our alumni are very important to us. We want to thank them for their support.
"Building an athletics program takes years and we are moving in a positive direction."
There was no comment from Garcia through FIU Athletics.
Miami-Dade County approved the measure telling Mayor Carlos Gimenez or associates of Carlos Gimenez to go talk to FIU about using FIU Stadium as a temporary home for International Soccer Sex Symbol FC or whatever the David Beckham group's Major League Soccer franchise will be named. Beckham's been having problems finding a spot on which to build a privately-funded soccer joint for Miami's second swing at an MLS franchise.
This could be a most convenient and profitable occurrence for FIU Athletics. The official Twitter feed for Miami Beckham United (proves he's a neophyte to Miami, where NOTHING is united) says over four Tweets, posted this morning:
"Things are progressing in Miami & we are very much on track in our plans. Beckham is very positive about the future of the club & he continues to enjoy incredible support from the people in Miami. Right now, our focus is on identifying the location for a purpose built stadium that will be the team's permanent home. Careful consideration will be given to FIU when we address the opportunities for a temporary facility."
When Beckham toured FIU back in 2013, he smiled, said nice, non-committal things then didn't mention FIU again while pursuing sites in or around downtown. Aside from size, FIU Stadium's almost everything MLS says it doesn't want. But FIU athletic director Pete Garcia possesses a Squidward's worth of tentacles in local government. Don't be surprised if the county tries to horse Beckham's group into a deal with FIU with some light political blackmail around the building of a permanent site.
That would be government teamwork worthy of the name "Miami Beckham United."
Tem Lukabu is the new linebackers coach. Lukabu coached Colgate's outside linebackers last season. The two seasons before that, he was an defensive assistant with Tampa Bay's linebackers in 2013 and defensive line in 2012. That's when Lukabu shared a staff with FIU head coach Ron Turner.
Ironic, appropriate or both that the first women's basketball home game after Cindy Russo's retirement is against Old Dominion, alma mater of Russo and longtime associate coach Inge Nissen?
You don't need a shot of Old Grand Dad to know that FIU's got a shot at Old D if they find their defense. it's the only area of clear superiority for the Monarchs. In Conference USA play, Old Dominion has given up only 58.9 points per game and 35.9 shooting from the field. FIU's given up 74.5 and 45.8. And that's with a conference-leading three-point shooting percentage defense of 27.2 percent.
Old Dominion's men share four characteristics with the FIU men -- good defense and conference losses to Western Kentucky and at Alabama-Birmingham and Middle Tennessee State. But the Monarchs lead the conference in rebounding margin while FIU is last in assists per game and scoring offense. Not a good combination when you've got a ball stagnant team against a good defense. We'll see whether the 12-day gap swung FIU's offensive game toward the acutely sharpened or the obtusely dulled.
FIU's arena-based teams could move wholly back into their spaces today, the last day any Miss Universe people or stuff should be in the arena or parking lot.
That's according an FIU synopsis of the agreement between the school and Miss Universe.
A seat count from various photos taken late last week after the arena got set up for the contest comes up with 1,118 chairs + an estimated 1,500 bleacher seats on each side. That's 4,118, but the Miss Universe folks got 1,000 comp tickets per night. Preliminaries, Dress Rehearsal and the Finals sold out. FIU's $5 per ticket gets them approximately $46,770.
The Athletics release, which already downgraded the FIU benefit estimate from $400,000 earlier in January to $330,000, included $50,000 to $70,000 in ticket revenue and assumed $140,000 of state matching funds on the First Generation Scholarship Fund.
Anyway, it's back to normal for the FIU Athletics hoi polloi, whose staffing, workload and pay sometimes remind me of this scene from the 1985 classic DC Comics Crisis on Infinite Earths No. 8.
FIU's softball team enters this season as the Conference USA co-favorite with Alabama-Birmingham. Why that's to be expected is detailed in an earlier post. But that got me thinking...
When Jake Schumann left the softball coach last summer with an obvious potential conference champion and NCAA tournament team coming back, he insisted it was because of salary. Living the coaching life with wife and kids in the Broward suburbs, Schumann insisted he needed more than the just-under $60,000 per year FIU paid. He took an associate coach job at Ole Miss for more money in a cheaper area.
So, FIU's last team to be a preseason conference favorite: softball, 2015. Head coach Gator Rebhan's salary: $59,700.
FIU's last team conference title: women's golf, 2013 Sun Belt tournament. Head coach Joe Vogel's current salary: $58,590.
FIU's last team conference title in a completely team sport: women's soccer, 2011 Sun Belt tournament or 2012 Sun Belt regular season, if you count that. Head coach Thomas Chestnutt's current salary: $63,024.
FIU's highest ranked team nationally: sand volleyball, 2014. Head coach Rita Buck-Crockett's current salary: $60,000 (for being in charge of sand and indoor volleyball).
FIU's best team over the last four years when combining athletics and academics: swimming & diving. Head coach Randy Horner's current salary: $57,590.
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia's bonuses during the 2013-14 academic year: approximately $99,550.
Numbers according to either contracts in possession of The Herald or Florida Has a Right to Know website.
Men's basketball, vs. Marshall, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Men's basketball, vs. Western Kentucky, Saturday 6 p.m.
A Camp Mitch source says The Miguel Cabrera Foundation -- yes, the foundation of the future Triple Crown winner the Marlins traded away back in their more penurious days -- will sponsor the 2015 Diamond Dinner fund-raiser for the baseball and softball programs. Cabrera himself tentatively is scheduled to attend.
The Diamond Dinner, at the Graham Center Ballroom, Feb. 7, 7 p.m., will include Brooks Robinson as the this year's keynote speaker.
The athletic department's letting everyone know about their sponsorship deals these days. The latest is JuiceBlendz, a 10-year deal worth $345,000 according to the school (that's $34,500 per year, for those of you bad at moving decimal points).
Now, before you think that's straight cash, homey, it's signs online, at FIU Stadium, at Still Unsponsored FIU Arena; sample table space at some events; and in-game promotions.
Which reminds me, the $2.6 million five-year Adidas deal...
That breaks down to $520,000 per year. Talking with some folks who've lived with these numbers at the mid-major level, Adidas will devote about $155,000 per year to just the football team. And the FIU Stadium suite costs about $40,000.
So that's $195,000 right there, or about 37.5 percent of the yearly deal, leaving $325,000. There's also signs around Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium, Lime Court at Originally Sunblazer Arena and FIU Baseball Stadium as well as online advertising. Not exactly sure what that's worth, but after you subtract that, you get what's left over yearly for the other 17 sports.
Women's Basketball, vs. Alabama-Birmingham, Sunday, noon
Elsewhere on The Herald news platform, it was noted that the HBO show Ballers shot over at the University of Miami. We must note here that, before going over to Coral Gables, the show shot at FIU Stadium and used FIU staffers as extras for scenes of practice.
While on the subject of on campus, I'm hoping to talk to the early enrolling football recruits today, all of whom are on campus and going through the registration process (for those eternally predicting last minute flips).
Pitt officially announced Josh Conklin as its new defensive coordinator this morning.
Swimming & Diving, vs. Central Connecticut, TCU and FAU, Thursday, noon
Women's Basketball, vs. Middle Tennessee State, Thursday, 6 p.m.
Swimming & Diving, FIU Relays, Saturday, 1 p.m.
FIU announced they've signed a five-year deal with two one-year options with addidas that'll allow the athletic equipment and apparel manufacturer to keep clothing all FIU teams, as they have done since 2005. The deal's announced as being worth $2.6 million.
That includes uniforms for FIU's sports teams; a suite at FIU Stadium; and signs at FIU Stadium, FIU Arena and FIU Baseball Stadium.
For the third time this season, 6-foot redshirt freshman forward Kiandre'a Pound has been named the Conference USA Freshman of the Week. She averaged 14.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game in FIU's 1-2 week.
FOOTBALL, PAST & FUTURE (?)
USA Football chose FIU commit Austin Maloney, a 5-11 wide receiver out of Columbus High, for its Under 19 team that'll play Team Canada in the 2015 International Bowl Feb. 7. Maloney gained 939 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on his 59 catches this season and returned a punt for a touchdown.
Wide receiver Glenn Coleman, who graduated as a student in December, and safety Justin Halley will play for the American side in the Medal of Honor Bowl Game Saturday in Charleston, South Carolina. Especially for Coleman, who averaged 20.3 yards per catch on his 23 catches, this is a huge opportunity to showcase his talent for NFL scouts.
The death of football at Alabama-Birmingham after a season of resuscitation brought the expected reaction from those looking to be first to Next: who else will dump football because it costs too much?
And then the many of the same people late in realizing FBS college-affiliated football is a business began looking at college-affiliated football programs as a business exactly like NFL franchises. Which is, of course, just as facile and foolish as looking at college-affiliated football as just another extracurricular activity.
So, they see a place like FIU, crowds like this year's Senior Day gathering...
...and assume the school will take a hard look at following UAB's lead.
Pshaw. If you want a good look at the business of football, especially at the mid-major level, check out this piece. Learn the economic reason why many schools like FIU, to quote Bear Bryant, do love the football.
Maybe they'll know up at That School Up North Near Del Boca Vista in two years. FAU's president figures that's how long it'll take for the school to build all the fun, new stuff that the $16 million Schmidt Family Foundation gift makes possible. They're still going after the rest of the $45 to $50 million needed for this project. But they got Richard Schmidt, an FAU donor but not an FAU athletics donor, to pony up a pile of green.
This should put FIU on notice that it's time to get up offa its thing and find some Other Peoples Money of its own. And do so before FAU decides to do something about that locker room-deficient basketball arena and puts FIU a lap down.
Few points and a few fans.
It turned out the 38 points FIU allowed Kennesaw State in Tuesday's 59-38 win established a new record for opponent offensive futility. Kennesaw's 26.9 shooting percentage also might've been a new low, but the occasional sketchiness of early FIU basketball games makes that a tough confirmation. Your thoughts on Kennesaw's shooting, Judge?
After an overabundance of home football games (eight), there's a paucity of home men's basketball games (three) before the turn of the year. Despite a team fat with newbies, skinny on expectations, bad opponents and an established student tradition of giving basketball games the Friday afternoon lecture hall class treatment, FIU drew an average of 1,276 fans.
That's 251st in the nation. But it's far from the Kiwanis Club-sized gatherings of past early season games against schools athletically one step above those you see advertised on Judge Judy.
UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES
Women's Basketball, vs. Central Florida, 6 p.m., Saturday
Men's Basketball, vs. Kennesaw State, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
If we're to believe the noise from the media around That School Up North Near Del Boca Vista, tomorrow FAU will further differentiate itself from FIU by announcing a massive donation to the athletic department, the largest in school history. According to the story by the Sun-Sentinel's Nate Taylor, the gift will fund a new athletic facility that'll be primarily used by the football team. It might even include an indoor practice facility.
Huh. Why don't we have announcements like this from FIU athletics? Clearly, there's a giving spirit among those who love FIU. The rest of the university's as festooned as Mount Sinai hospital with major donor names. The last similar announcement I can recall concerned a donation from Judy Blucker, the mother of FIU women's sports and one of the university's early pillars, and her partner Annette Gathright. They're leaving FIU a $1 million gift in the form of a dual life insurance policy that'll endow scholarships for female athletes.
When I talked to FIU athletic director Pete Garcia almost three years ago, he said FIU's youth as an athletic department with a football team meant its massive alumni base still needed to get used to ponying up the dollars necessary to be a top flight football program.
Looks like FAU's alumni base got used to it. And you can bet the Woodsys' new facilities will be shown off to recruits along with FAU Deep In Debt Stadium. Then, for those recruits FIU wants also, the Boca Boys' will contrast their new toys with the more modest facilities of their public school cousins down in Miami-Dade.
At least FIU will still have a football program. The University of Alabama Board of Trustees, with Bear Bryant's son essaying the Mr. Potter role, reportedly will kill Alabama-Birmingham's football program.
This is the same board that blocked UAB's hiring of Jimbo Fisher before Fisher went to Florida State and blocked the building of an appropriately-sized downtown stadium for UAB football. That kept the Blazers rattling around Legion Field, a massive, historic stadium now as depressing as the surrounding underclass neighborhood. A stadium version of a once-mighty senior citizen now fighting collapse, Legin's upper deck was condemned and amputated, yet it remains too large for a UAB.
Oh, they'll speak the hooey about athletics undergoing the same campus-wide long-term strategic planning the rest of the school is. Hogwash. That football program spent much of its existence being treated like an underfunded Cinderella. This happens as first-year head coach Bill Clark, some kind of prince for not blasting his employers for dashing his and his players' immediate futures, got UAB to bowl eligibility with Saturday's win against Southern Mississippi.
Conference USA doesn't want you in the club if you can't bring some football. UAB and its nice basketball history will get shunted off to some non-football conference. C-USA will search for a replacement.
Georgia State? It's in Atlanta and C-USA does like schools in or near major markets.
Louisiana-Lafayette? Lou-La brings strong fan support and talent in many sports, especially football.
South Alabama? The other end of the state's version of UAB in Legion Field: South Alabama in Ladd-Peebles Stadium. But South Alabama's not under the University of Alabama Board of Trustees' thumb and has otherwise suitable faciliities from what I saw there two years ago.
Anyway, it's a sad day considering what UAB accomplished this year. Well, sad for about the 22 seconds until schools consider those on that talented roster with eligibility remaining will be free to sign anywhere else and can play next year.
Cindy Russo didn't even have to offer a scholarship to get FIU women's basketball's best post-Jerica Coley recruit. The school wound up getting a delayed two-for-one during the recruiting of redshirt freshman forward Kiandre'a Pound's brother, former FIU defensive lineman Andre Pound.
"I was here on his visit when they were building the stadium," Kiandre'a Pound said. "When they were showing him around, I was there and I fell in love with the school the first time I came. I think I was in seventh or eighth grade. I always said I was going to come here. God made a way when I got an offer from them."
Seeing the athleticism in Pound that the FIU roster needed, Russo recruited the 6-0 Pound as a guard. But, figuring Pound could use her quickness on the bigs inside, Russo moved her to forward. After 34 minutes total the first two games this season, Pound's logged 29, 36 and 37 minutes while putting up 24, 25 and 18 points, respectively, on 24 of 52 shooting from the field (46.1 percent) and 16 of 18 (88.9 percent) shooting from the free throw line. After FIU's 74-61 loss to Virginia in Sunday's FIU Thanksgiving Classic closer, Pound was named to the All-Tournament Team.
Though Pound looks more like a kicker's or wide receiver's sister than a defensive tackle's, she moves with strength. Against Arizona Friday, she powered through a Wildcat getting full palm on the ball near the apex of her jump and fired in a baseline shot. Another time, she simply muscled through the Arizona defense for a shot. She brought in some contested rebounds in the manner of a mother snatching a toy from an overly grabby child in Target.
"I've been physically strong. I'm (only) 146 pounds," Pound said. "I think it's a mental thing. I don't really think about the physical. You feel like you're strong, you're just going to be strong."
Despite Pound's emergence, FIU remains winless after five games.
The other tournament teams -- Arizona, Virginia, Toledo -- all had radio play-by-play broadcasts from the tournament. FIU doesnt' have hoe or away basketball radio for either gender. Maybe this juxtaposition hit me because I couldn't follow the FIU men's basketball game against Wright State Friday by radio as I drove to the game.
Toledo has radio from the road for women's basketball. FAU has men's basketball road radio as well as coach's shows for football and men's basketball each. But FIU has nothing?
The national media push to shed light on the sad situation at Alabama-Birmingham, where UAB football supporters maneuver to keep the University of Alabama Board of Trustees from killing off the UAB football program it's abusively starved, led to this story by CBSSports.com's Jon Solomon.
Readers fall victim to a bad headline -- "UAB football isn't alone in losing money for athletic departments" -- and quick judgement. Because of the headline and the accompanying chart, some interpret the story as saying FIU football is losing the athletic department $19.9 million per year.
If that were happening, everybody from athletic director Pete Garcia to the equipment managers wouldn't be looking for a new job. They'd be looking for a lawyer, a plea bargain and the prison with the guys who con you out of $100,000 instead of the hard ankle guys knock you in the head for $10.
FIU football doesn't spend $19.9 million per year. It spends around a third of that. It's operating budget going into 2013-14 was $6,604,000. Now, I'm not saying the football team doesn't lose money. Most do. Many more used to before television came along to play sugar daddy to the less powerful in the Power Five and the entire Group of Five.
What Solomon's story points out is how many athletic departments lose money before student fee income and state subsidies get added. FIU's still getting 77.4 percent of its athletic budget from student fees. That's under 80 percent. It's still far too high. For a school with so much enrollment and local alumni, it speaks of a disconnect with giving time or money to the athletic department.
The survey asking fans, alumni, students and faculty why they weren't coming to games has been taken down from the FIU Alumni Association site.
According to an FIU source, Athletics asked someone at the Alumni Association to put up the survey and that person did so despite lacking the authority to do so.
Alumni Association President Frank Pena said he thought a survey properly timed, after the athletic/academic year finished, would be a good idea.
SWIMMING & DIVING
Sorry I didn't get this up previously, but freshman Silvia Scalia received her second Conference USA Swimmer of the Week honor for Nov. 3-9. She set a Biscayne Bay campus pool record, third best in FIU history, of 1:58.77 in the 200 backstroke and was on the victorious 200 medley relay as FIU whipped Illinois State.
The Athletics Department, through the Alumni Association, has put out an online survey to find out why students, alumni, faculty and staff generally avoid FIU athletic events the way South Florida politics avoids honesty.
From the page hyperlinked to above: "In recent years, there has been a noticeable decline in attendance at many of our collegiate sporting competitions – including football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, softball, men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball (sand and arena), swimming and tennis – despite recent successes in many of these programs. It is our hope that your input will help us to identify the causes of this decrease in fan participation as well as to assist us in finding ways to mitigate and reverse this trend."
Give them credit for reaching out. I'd love to see the responses.
Since my post a week ago on the postseason chances for the fall sports teams...
Men's Soccer: Beat FAU 2-0 Wednesday to stay alive for the Conference USA tournament then lost 1-0 to Kentucky to get eliminated. A win in the regular season closer against Old Dominion can only tie New Mexico and South Carolina, each of which beat FIU head-to-head.
Women's Soccer: Tied Marshall 1-1 Thursday and were shut out of the conference tournament when Louisiana Tech beat FAU in overtime. The remaining match, Sunday's makeup with Alabama-Birmingham, was cancelled as neither team would qualify for the tournament. Unless football pulls off a natural hat trick, this 8-8-2 record will be fall's Best of FIU.
Volleyball: Lost 3-1 to Rice and 3-1 to Charlotte to fall to 3-10 in conference, 6-20 overall...but they...are...ALIVE, in a pack with UTEP, UAB, Middle Tennessee and Charlotte, all of which have three conference wins and one of which will get the eighth and final conference tournament spot. Three conference matches remain for FIU: at UTEP (tossup), at Texas-San Antonio (12-0 in conference), home season closer against Louisiana Tech (1-11 in conference).
Football: Lost Saturday 31-17 to Rice and need to win three straight after losing three straight to even get a bowl to give up its phone number. The Former Sunblazers are three-point underdogs at Old Dominion this Saturday.
The swim team, a winter team that warms up in the fall, moved to 3-0 by beating Indian River Saturday 174-126 as last week's Conference USA Swimmer of the Week, freshman Silvia Scalia, won the 100 backstroke and 200 back. Freshman Brittney Fant won the 500 freestyle and 200 butterfly (my shoulders and lats hurt just typing "200 butterfly").
The Board of Trustees Athletics Committee meets every few months to get reports on the athletic department’s doings from athletic department people with titles. There’s public discussion of those doings between the suits on the Committee and the Athletics Titles. The Suits and Titles exchange pats on the back or harrumphs. The Titles vow to improve. Then, the Suits get coffee as a slightly different set of Suits comes in for the next BOT Committee meeting. The Titles whoosh back to the west side of Camp Mitch.
The value in these meetings come in the chunks of information or analysis the Titles lay on the Suits. After a moment of feistiness from committee chairman Jorge Arrizurieta regarding the minutes of the February meeting, the Sept. 10 meeting carried a happy feeling. Not quite Up With People happy, but it was a Prozac-and-Percoset party compared to the last two Athletics Committee meetings I attended.
STUFF A CASUAL FAN MIGHT CARE ABOUT
A committee member happy to see the FIU vs. the University of Miami football series revived asked if FIU was working on any kind of football relationship with Florida State or Florida.
“We’re working with all the major schools around the country,” FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said. “We wanted home-and-homes. We feel we can bring those games here. As you’re seeing Pittsburgh this week, Louisville’s coming here to play, we feel at this point in our development, we want to do home-and-homes. We’re willing to play anybody anywhere as long as we do home-and-homes.”
STUFF A HARDCORE FAN MIGHT CARE ABOUT
Garcia admitted sophomore Stephanie Texeira, the softball team’s best player as a freshman, played a larger than usual role in the selection of Gator Rebhan as FIU’s new softball coach.
“Obviously, when we go through the process of selecting a head coach, for the most part, you don’t talk to the student athletes that much about the search process. This was a little bit different,” Garcia said. “She was very adamant about what they wanted. The night we selected our next softball coach, she was actually sitting in her car about two hours outside my office waiting to hear if Gator was going to be our next coach.”
Early on in these things, the athletic department presents a proudly FIU example of the student-athlete ideal. It gives the committee a hot chocolate feeling inside before getting an ice bucket challenge of real problems elsewhere. Texeira got the call for this one. It won’t be her last.
Texeira pointed out her Mom-and-Dad home is only 15 minutes away but she stays at FIU. She extolled the Student-Athlete Academic Center (SAAC), the first of many attaboys for the SAAC on this day.
She went on to talk about Rebhan: “Gator has been my mentor for 6 years. I played for him in travel ball. I was fortunate enough to have a coach who was able to push me, to challenge me, he did everything he could to push me to the best that I can be. And it’s not like he picks on me. He picks on everybody. And everybody knows he does it because he cares.”
Then, with “We have a Turtle (baseball coach Thomas). Now, we have a Gator,” Garcia introduced Rebhan.
“This is a dream come true for somebody who was born and raised in Miami, coached the last 20 years here to be a coach at FIU,” Rebhan said. “It is an honor. I think the admiintration and the support of everybody to give me this opportunity.”
He stated, “One of the goals here is I want to keep the local talent from leaving. We have so many great players here in our backyard that for years we let get away. That’s one thing I want to focus on – keep our local players here. Girls like Stephanie, All-Americans, we keep them here, it builds excitement and fills the stands.”
He also thanked the administration for the new softball stadium. Rebhan pointed to the softball team’s 3.34 team GPA last year to applause and stated the goals for the season: 40 wins, winning the FIU-hosted Conference USA tournament, “and hopefully go far in the regionals.”
Rebhan closed with “One thing about girls softball, from coaching baseball and softball -- with girls, they have to feel good to play good. And right now, being out there watching these girls out there, they feel good. They feel good about themselves and the program.”
NUTS AND BOLTS STUFF THAT FEW CARE ABOUT IN PROPORTION TO ITS IMPORTANCE (JUST ASK FOOTBALL AND MEN’S BASKETBALL…)
Without mentioning FIU’s most recent appearances in the national media noise, Garcia swung into talking about Compliance, the SAAC and academic progress rating (APR). This is usually when “How did this happen?” gets asked often enough to be each meeting’s signature catch phrase.
Not this time. Compliance hadn’t bungled anybody’s eligibility. Nobody’s been put in academic time out. There’s no new APR problems.
“I feel very comfortable about what we have going on in the SAAC and the Compliance department with our APR and it’s been a total, total team effort,” Garcia said. “We’re starting to see the results. In a lot of these areas, you don’t see the results until two or three years down the line. What’s really encouraging is we’re seeing immediate results.”
He sang of Vice President for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Bejar – “She’s a workaholic. She gets things gdone. She’s very demanding, I’ll say that. But it makes everybody go to the next level.” – before handing the floor to Compliance Director of several months Hank Harrawood.
“I know from our last meeting, the certification process was important to make sure our student-athletes on the field are indeed able to represent us on the field,” said Harrawood, hired in the months following the Ray Taylor and Marita Davydova oops-ups that cost both basketball teams.
Now, the new web-based certification system will, he said, “allow for cross checking. It’ll allow everybody to go back and see what others have done. It’ll allow for greater accountability in the certification process and help majkre sure our athletes are indeed able to represent us when they do represent us on the field.”
Also, all the coaches who needed to be certified to recruit off campus passed the certification the first time. Harrawood said from what he’s heard that’s an FIU first.
Arrizurieta gave kudos that, so far, Compliance being under the Athletics umbrella works. Garcia extolled Harrawood’s work ethic with “weekends, he’ll call me in the middle of the night. Then, he introduced APR consultant John Shukie.
Shukie used to work for the NCAA. Now, he’s the president of Forward Progress Athletics Company, which works with 20 schools. Right before Shukie made that transition, he got a call from FIU as a school staring the APR abyss of men’s basketball and football.
“Let me paint the picture for you in the summer of 2013 when I did get that call,” Shukie said. “FIU athletics, especially men’s basketball and football, were facing some difficult APR issues. The men’s basketball team knew they’d be ineligible for the men’s basketball tournament coming up this past academic year. Football was looking at a very difficult sittaiton where they might fall in that same boat.”
“The first thing I did was diagnostically figure out, How did FIU get there? What put them in this situation?”
Shukie listed staff instability (the SAAC had more directors the last few years than Gone With the Wind) plus a lack of resources. Then, when bringing up the APR issues that penalized basketball and threatened to do so with football, he pointed at former men’s basketball coach Isiah Thomas and former football coach Mario Cristobal.
“What was lacking were some coaches who didn’t necessarily buy into the concept of APR,” Shukie said.
Having had a long APR discussion with Cristobal as he groaned about the difficulty in raising a low APR, I’d call that assumption into question. I'd also say the problems in Compliance and the SAAC, the same ones being celebrated as being fixed, contributed heavily to the basement APR. Such as the SAAC advisor who advised one athlete to take a course he'd already taken and passed, helping his academic ineligibility (she later advised a track athlete right into inelgibility).
“We are still, in some senses, paying for what happened in 2010-11 and 11-12 now because we keep those numbers until they roll off four years later,” Shukie said. “We had coaches, at least from what I can tell -- who have since left (or been fired – DJN), I did not deal with them -- weren’t necessarily recruiting with an academic purpose. They were probably recruiting with an athletic purpose, to win games, but there didn’t seem to be a real strategic plan for recruiting student-athletes who could be successful on the court or field and off the court or field.
“Over the course of the year, I’ve witnessed a 180,” he continued. “I thind it starts at the top. When I say at the top, there’s a group of people at the top. It starts with Pete Garcia stressing to his coaches, emphasizing to his coaches the importance of academics. I wasn’t a witness to what was going on before I got hired, I assume those conversations happened before I arrived as well.
“What I have seen is coaches buying into that. Especially in football and men’s basketball, where a lot of my work has been focused. We have coaches that buy into the concept of APR. They’re bringing in student-athletes who are focused athletically and academically.”
So, does Shukie think change started at the top with Garcia or at the coaching level? He seems to say both.
Anyway, Shukie lauded the involvement of men’s basketball coach Anthony Evans and football coach Ron Turner: “I’ve had more phone calls from Coach Turner than any coach I’ve worked with across the 20 schools I’m involved with.”
Shukie said any athletes coming to FIU just for a visit have their academics fully vetted before coming. If not in order, he claims, no visit. Remember the cancelled visit by all-purpose guy Javonte Seabury, for a while FIU’s highest rated 2014 football recruit? There you go.
“Part of our strategic plan is to have them create relationships with the faculty For men’s basketball, we require them to face to face interactions with the faculty, not just sit in the back,” Shukie said. “They have to actually go introduce themselves. We also require men’s basketball to participate in the on-campus mentoring program so they can have an administrative, faculty mentor. Not just helps them academically, but ties them to this school. So they feel tied to FIU and not just tied to FIU men’s basketball program.”
Arrizurieta half-joked, “if we were the first (client) and helped you get another 19 clients, we should get a reduction on our fee.”
Garcia countered, “Mr. Chair, just the penalty alone for football for any school that doesn’t make the APR (minimum) is $300,000. He’s worth every penny.”
The February meeting introduced a new bigger budget for the SAAC. This meeting officially introduced the new SAAC Director, Wes Maas.
Maas said the SAAC will add two learning specialists by the end of this semester as well as an assistant director position. The SAAC itself is getting a construction version of a workout-and-wardrobe makeover.
Maas wants to increase “the pride in our facility so our student athletes, who are 18 or 19 years old, feel as good about walking into the SAAC that they feel when they walk into the math lab on campus, which is amazing, state of the art and it’s new.”
They won’t be walking in for study hall. Maas eliminated it because he felt that a system of simply counting hours turned SAAC employees into timekeepers. It failed to provide the in-person attention some athletes need.
“We want to create independent learners. We don’t want to hold hands, we don’t want to facilitate eligibility,” Maas said. “We take the syllabi, break down the reporting status, so we know every week what our student athlete is supposed to be doing. We bring them in on Sunday or Monday. We have the student athlete create their objectives for the week, what they’re supposed to complete and when. We can assign them tutoring, we can assign them office hours with faculty, we can do anything in that time to ensure the student-athletes have the resources they need. Then we follow through the week and make sure the student-athletes complete the objectives they’re assigned.
“This is obviously for freshmen and athletes new to the university. But the idea is teach them how to do it, so that the next year they can do it and be independent in the process.”
After Maas finished, Arrizurieta said he was proud of the work the committee did in pushing for improvements in the SAAC and Compliance.
“Whatever else this board needs to do to support the initiative of athletics, the SAAC, Compliance, I’m incredibly happy to see that we are generally in the direction of progress, we’re tangibly seeing progress,” he said.
Vice Chairman Mitchell Adler assented.
“Thank both of you and the rest of the trustees for pushing the envelope and making us better,” Garcia said. “I’d like to thank President Rosenberg and the administration for giving us the resources we need to make this work. I echo the senitments that its been a team effort from both your stand point, the administration and everybody who’s doing the actual day-to-day work. I couldn’t be more proud of what everybody’s done and more excited for our future. Because without academic success, we’re not going to have any other kind of success.”
Arrizurieta stayed for the Finance Committee meeting that followed. He asked FIU Foundation president Howard Lipman if there was a policy of “a donor gone bad,” a clear reference to David Alfonso. The donation deal between FIU and Alfonso that put his name on the football field now called Ocean Bank Field ended after only three of its five years.
Lipman said as far as taking a donor to court “I don’t think that would be anything I would ever recommend.”
In 99 percent of cases, Lipman said, an unfulfilled donation occurs not out of any maliciousness but bad situation, i.e., market downturn, business dropoff, something happens in their lives (bad health and bad divorce can suck your money faster than the biggest black hole -- DJN).
“The last thing we want to go is create a policy toward the 1 percent,” Lipman said.
Arrizurieta said some protection must be given because “We’ve been through this before. It’s not intangible, it’s tangible and it’s happened.”