Is UCLA walking into a new era of athletics or will it be more money, but more of the same?
Lost in all the chatter about the Pauley Pavilion renovation and seating fiasco is the continued developments in one of the most important moments the Pac-10, soon to be Pac-12, has ever gone through. No, not the expansion from 10 to 12 teams because that is already in the books, but the new TV deal that goes along with it. All of the talk makes it look like the conference will make out like bandits thanks to an aggressive and creative approach by Larry Scott, but then the real question becomes what will kind of approach will we see from the UCLA athletic department?
The Pac-10's current TV deal is worth roughly $54 million annually, the lowest of any BCS conference (thank you Tom Hansen). In 2008-2009, UCLA got $5.9 million of that $54 million, a number that is right around what the Bruins have been getting annually from the current TV deal. Going forward though, UCLA will pocket roughly $21 million annually. Some years may be more and some may be less depending on how it is amortized, but on average it will be right at that $21 million figure.
Beginning in 2012-2013, UCLA will have $15.1 million more each year than they previously had without having to do an ounce of extra work. That's all fine and dandy, but money doesn't mean much if it is not put to good use so what will the Morgan Center do with all of this extra money? With all of the issues in the athletic department and things that could use an upgrade it is not as if they are short on things they can use it on. Several facilities are in need of upgrades and coaches' salaries could still use a bump . The money can be used to subsidize student tickets or it could be used to increase recruiting and travel budgets for teams. There are plenty of uses for this new money.
Starting with the facilities, there is a lot of work that can be done. Pauley Pavilion is home to the basketball programs, volleyball programs and women's gymnastics program, but it is getting a renovation. As poor and underwhelming as the renovation may be, with well over $100 million being sunk into the renovation it is unlikely that there will be any more work done on the facility. Moving past Pauley, other programs can use a facility boost.
First off is Jackie Robinson Stadium, which remains a major issue for the baseball program. The athletic department has defended their treatment of the stadium by pointing to some of the renovations they have made since John Savage took over as head coach, but they are all smaller renovations. Chair back seats replacing the benches was nice, as was the new netting, rickety bleacher on a dirt hill and paint job, but there has been only one real improvement. The Jack and Rhodine Hitting Facility is incredible, but even that was funded by the Giffords and built by the Giffords own construction crew. Savage came to UCLA with plans for a new clubhouse. The press box is still inadequate, as is the scoreboard, seating, concessions and restrooms. All of that could do with an improvement.
Easton Stadium is home to the most successful softball program in the country and defending national champions, but even that can use some work. It;s by no means a poor facility and one that absolutely needs an upgrade, but there are places where it can be improved and the athletic department has been given a way to extend excellence to all aspects of the department, facilities included.
Drake Stadium could get a start with the installation of chair back seats to replace the uncomfortable bleachers. That alone would make the facility look infinitely better. The soccer teams could also get a boost by a stadium of their own. The North Athletic Field used to be the home of the soccer teams until they were moved to Drake Stadium. With this money, a true soccer stadium for them can be built at the North Athletic Field. One with their own locker rooms, weight rooms, seating for everyone and it would be an absolutely picturesque setting.
One thing that should be done is the installation of modern videoboards at all facilities. With the Pac-12 Network coming along and streaming video site that will accompany it, many events will already have cameras and camera crews operating them. Installing videoboards so replays can be shown at all facilities for all events would be fantastic for all.
Moving beyond facilities, how about the coaches? It wasn't too long ago that Nikki Caldwell left UCLA after building up the women's basketball program. She had the program on the upswing and among the top 10 teams in the country. While they were unable to overcome the giants of the Pac-10, Stanford, there was no doubt that Caldwell's program had cut down the gap in just two short season. Then LSU came by waving around a million dollars per year, superior facilities and all-around, a greater commitment to women's basketball. The extra TV money could go towards that program to ensure that new head coach Cori Close has all possible resources at her disposal and if she becomes a hot coaching commodity, she has no interest in another school.
That can be applied to all of the non-revenue sports. Coaches should be top notch and so should their assistant. Their recruiting budgets should match the coaching, but even in the revenue sports, money should not be a stumbling block. Football and basketball support the entire athletic department so if done correctly, spending money on the revenue sports is essentially an investment. Add in all the money that the Morgan Center has now and money should not stop UCLA from getting the best coaches anymore.
The issue with the student seating at Pauley Pavilion has been well-publicized, as it should have been. The students will be returned to their courtside sideline seats and will be courtside behind the basket as well. With all of this money, could it help subsidize better student seating? The third section of student seating is behind the basket, but how about giving the students their courtside sideline seats, courtside seats behind the basket, but also behind the basket and in the corners of what used to be the 200 level at Pauley? The extra money could help subsidize that student seating.
One of the biggest issues with the UCLA athletic department is their incompetent or non-existant marketing department. They do nothing to entice students to games and very little for the rest of the UCLA alums and fans too. Money should help get that marketing department going and become an effective arm of the Morgan Center that helps grow the fan base.
The sports information department could use some more employees too, something more money would allow for. Having sports information directors, who do most of the work you find on the official site, doing multiple sports doesn't allow them to go into the depth with teams that they should. With only one sport to focus on, the SID's could handle interviews, video and other features to better help fans connect and follow along with teams.
There are more than enough ways to spend all of this money, but the Morgan Center has done very little to inspire confidence in their ability to spend the money wisely. Where will the improvements be made? The Morgan Center is getting millions more money, but will they spend it wisely? Will they bother telling us what their plans for this additional money is and why? Recent history says no, but it would be a nice and giant step forward if they were to engage the Bruin community as they embark on a new era for UCLA athletics.