Q&A: Jim Sterk on NCAA appeal, athletic department debt and more

Missouri’s Director of Athletics talked about the state of the athletic programs in an interview.
Missouri’s Director of Athletics Jim Sterk. Courtesy of Mizzou Athletics

Missouri Athletic Director Jim Sterk is a busy man.

In addition to the regular effort required to lead a Power Five school that supports 20 sports teams, Sterk currently faces the added stress of Missouri’s appeal of NCAA sanctions handed down in January 2019.

Amid his tightly packed schedule, Sterk met with The Maneater to discuss the NCAA appeal, funding for Memorial Stadium’s addition and expected revenue from alcohol sales at football games.

After losing on the road to Wyoming, how encouraging was it to see the football team win big at home against West Virginia?

It was very good. I was encouraged [by] the way they battled back at Wyoming. From having some terrible things happen, the ball bouncing crazy ways and getting three major turnovers, and some other points off the board, I felt like the way they battled back and almost came back was a good indication of how they were going to respond. They were upset, wanted to do better. Hopefully, it helps us avoid any kind of letdowns during the season, where they may be favored to win, this weekend [against Southeast Missouri State] for instance. Then to play the way they did against West Virginia was really exciting, great from the standpoint of “reopening” the stadium when it’s all renovated. The atmosphere was good, the team played even better, so it was great.

What’s your expectation for the team this year?

It’s always to go to the postseason. Obviously, that’s complicated by the NCAA stuff. If they play well, they can compete with everyone on the schedule. Having that kind of success and winning most of their games is something that we want to see. In sports, people can get injured — things happen. What I like, though, is the character of the team, that they’re going to battle every game. They want to do well and their expectation is probably even higher than yours or mine.

What’s your expected timeline for a decision in the NCAA appeal?

I was hopeful that it was coming earlier, but I just saw that BYU [received a decision] and their appeal had an in-person hearing about a month before ours, so that made me think that ours is probably October, but that’s only a guess — I have no idea. We’ll get about 24 hours notice of what the decision is and then it will be announced. I think in the next two, three weeks it should happen.

Is no news good news?

They just take time. I think the decision they had with Mississippi State, they went through a little bit different process, but the cases were very, very similar — almost identical. There was a decision there and there was no postseason [ban] as a part of that. That’s where it should be, and it’s not just for Missouri, but the rest of the membership, as far as how it impacts the membership of the NCAA. If it doesn’t fall in line with the Mississippi State case, I think the NCAA loses credibility.

How much communication has there been from the NCAA during this process?

There’s none. After the in-person hearing, nothing.

How much of a challenge is it for you personally to operate without knowing what the decision will be?

I try to set it aside because there’s a lot to do. People are talking about football right now — baseball and softball are in the spring — but football, I feel like, they are going to have a great season regardless. It’s focusing on having success, creating a great environment for the fans that come and join in the moment, and trying not to worry about what the future holds or what that decision is because it doesn’t impact those games and we have 12 of those to play. I think focusing on those is the most important thing.

To what extent could the baseball and softball programs be impacted by the NCAA decision?

They could make a different decision on football versus softball or baseball. I think all of them were egregious decisions. Especially with baseball and softball, [it was] one person, one player and to have the postseason [ban] was so out of what it should have been. Football was the same way. If you look at percentages of players and Mississippi State, for instance, we had half the number of players that had received assistance. No postseason [ban] for them, it should be no postseason [ban] for us.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey was in town for last weekend’s game. How much support have you received from him?

He’s made a couple statements publicly and in private supporting what we’ve done and what the decision should be. He’s hopeful in the same way we are.

How optimistic are you regarding attendance for football games?

It’s complicated because of culture, what people do and how they view [sporting events]. When I was growing up and in college, the quality of the television broadcast was grainy and you could hardly see the numbers. It was bad. Now you have replays. I think what we’ve done to try to create a better game-day atmosphere with the South End Zone, I think that helps that. With enclosing the stadium in a good way, improving and enhancing the sound system, the video boards, and then the way we engage people: more restrooms and concessions, more club area premium seating — that’s what we were sold out of previously. So we reduce the size but increase the value of the games.

How much revenue is expected to come from alcohol sales at football games?

It’s kind of unknown. I saw the number: $167,000 or so. If it’s accurate, it’s a gross number. Next year, we’re moving toward metal detectors, and that’s going to be [$750,000]. We think whatever we make in alcohol sales will be funneled into education, safety, and then we’ll be investing in metal detectors. I’d like the net proceeds to be able to help with our program because we were just under as far as balancing our budget. We were at about 107 million; our revenues were about a million and a half short. We need to balance that. We had some reserves to cover it, but we need to balance it in revenue. Hopefully increasing attendance, concessions, all those things help us to drive the revenue that we need.

Has the athletic department had to take on any debt to finance the South End Zone?

Oh yeah. It’s complicated. We had to get approval from the board of curators … Part of it was raising [money], getting commitments. You want as much cash up front. We had 42 people make pledges [totaling] over $56 million, a significant amount of money. The rest of it is based on the revenue of the premium seating; 70% of it is what I think the number is. It allows us to build something that’s needed. It not only helps the football program, but I was just over in the [Missouri Athletics Training Complex] where now the weight room, the locker rooms, medical training area are not as impacted with the 150 guys that were in there. Now they’re over in the South End Zone. Track and field, baseball, softball, all those sports can access it more and utilize it more. So it’s been beneficial for not only football, it’s benefitted the entire department.

What’s next for renovations or new facilities?

We’ve met with each of the coaches. [With] baseball, we’ve had artificial [turf] in the infield, we need to do the outfield. We need a hitting facility, a larger space for that where they can take infield too. Softball, they need a hitting facility. Track and field, we need to renovate the track. The cross country course, it’s really going to be great … Indoor tennis, the Green Tennis Center, I thought when we had the snowfall last year it was going to collapse. It stayed up, but it desperately needs to be replaced. We’ve been talking to some community leaders about how we might be able to do that and tag team it. Boy, the list goes on and on. We have over $100 million of facility needs that are high priority for all our 20 sports. Those are the things that we’re tackling. Basketball, we received a $2.5 million anonymous gift as a challenge to renovate the locker rooms and medical training area down below. Each sport we can go through and there’s some stuff that coaches need to compete at the highest level. Our goal is to be in the top 25 in each of our programs, and each of the coaches want to do that as well.

Missouri’s volleyball team is currently ranked No. 21 in the country. What have you seen from the new coaching staff there?

It’ll be fun, they’re finally playing here so I’ll get to see them. I haven’t been able to see them play. They have a renovated Hearnes [Center], so they’re really excited about it. There’s a new floor there and video board just since last season. They were playing on Sport Court last year as it flooded, so they’re really excited. [Coaches] Josh [Taylor] and Molly [Taylor are a] great team. They’ve been with the program for three years already and Molly played here, so I think it’s a seamless move forward. Wayne and Susan [Kreklow] did a great job, created a great culture, and I think they can continue to build it and elevate that.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater

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