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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona Athletic Director Greg Byrne discusses upcoming year in sit down interview with the Arizona Daily Wildcat

Tyler Baker

Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne, in red, celebrates with head coach Rich Rodriguez, center, after Arizona’s win versus Oregon on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.

Arizona director of athletics Greg Byrne sat down with The Daily Wildcat for a one-on-one interview last week. In the interview, Byrne addressed a wide range of topics from the new coaching hires to Arizona’s role in the upcoming NBA 2K video game.

Daily Wildcat: How do you plan on keeping ZonaZoo football attendance up with a home schedule that is perhaps not as exciting as years past?

Greg Byrne: Hopefully the ZonaZoo wants to come and watch the Arizona Wildcats play, first of all. They’ve been outstanding. We couldn’t ask for better support from our students. We’ve challenged them to stay the entire game. We’ve made progress at it. It’s still not where we want it to be, but it’s improved and we really appreciated them being a part of that. We’ve spent a lot of time working with the ZonaZoo leadership to create an atmosphere in Arizona Stadium that students want to be a part of. 

Last year, you had some cool promotions where it was TVs or watches. Are you going to be doing anything similar to that this year?

We’re going to be doing some giveaways, but we’re always working to engage ZonaZoo. 

What have the new coaches (Tabitha Yim for gymnastics, Jay Johnson for baseball) brought right away?

They’ve brought a lot of energy to the table for us. They’ve been very hands on working with their student-athletes on their teams. They’ve also been out there tremendously from a recruiting standpoint. They’ve put together good staffs that I think will coach our student-athletes very well and care about them academically, athletically and socially. 

There is a new academic building in the workings. Is there any progress on that?

Yep. We’re still raising money for it. We have about $2.5 million to go. The goal is to— if at all possible­—to break ground based off of Arizona Board of Regents approval in the winter. 

What would [the new academic building] provide that you don’t have right now?

It would give us a lot better space for our academic support than what we currently have. From computer labs to tutor areas to classrooms, it would give us more efficient use of space than what we have right now. We’re divided up into a bunch different spaces in our building that aren’t sometimes as quiet as we would like them to be. This will be a very good step for us. 

In the news lately was the Northwestern football union ruling. With the court offering an affirmative decision that student-athletes cannot unionize, what do you think the next step is for student-athletes who want something more than what they are getting right now?

There are a couple things. One, I think we need to do a better job of explaining what they’re getting. We just ran the numbers the other day. Not counting one dollar in [coaches’ salaries] we are averaging about $85,000 per student-athlete in what we invest in their experience. Their scholarship, their living expenses, their food, their clothing, their travel­—all those things go into it. Then if you talk about sports that charter a lot, like our football team charters everywhere they go, there’s a cost to that. When I hear people give the argument that student-athletes aren’t getting anything, that may be one of the most inaccurate comments that I hear. We need to do a better job [communicating] because I think the great majority [of student-athletes] do feel like there is a great investment in what they’re doing. For some reason, when young men and young women are 14, 15, 16 years old, there’s this great pursuit for a scholarship, because there’s a perceived value. Then they get here, and you hear from the media mostly­—that’s about 90-some percent of where you hear it from—that they aren’t being treated fairly. I’ve heard our coaches and our student-athletes say that they are treated very well. I think that is important to talk about.

One aspect to that ruling was competitive balance and how it might be affected if players were able to unionize. How confident are you that Arizona will stay as competitive as anyone in the country?

It’s really important to us. Of our five goals and principles, No. 5 is to compete for championships. We need to make sure we have the resources to do that. We invest in our student-athletes. We’re doing full cost of attendance already. We do meal options now. We do Bear Down Brunch for our student athletes from 7-10:30 a.m. six days a week. That’s on top of their scholarship check that they’re getting. So they’re doing a good job of getting, and we’re doing a good job of providing them a great experience. 

Arizona just signed a new deal with Nike. Do you have any new uniforms in the works?

We have a few things up our sleeves. It takes a while. The turnaround on uniforms are about a year, so we’re already ordering next year’s things right now, across the board. We have a great partnership with Nike. We talk about creative things with them on a regular basis. At the same time, too, I think we’ve done some really cool things from a uniform standpoint. A lot of schools have done black. A lot of schools have done offshoots of what their colors are. We’ve done the copper helmets. But I like our colors. We’ve got America’s colors. I’m not necessarily a big fan of getting too far away from that.

Onto video games, UA is in the new “NBA 2K” [game]. How did that end up?

There are discussions of that. The folks who design the video game talked to our licensing department for the university. There was a discussion about making sure there weren’t any similarities to any student-athletes. We’ll see how this evolves. We’re cautious about it.

How do you feel about the future of NCAA Football, the EA Sports franchise?

I don’t know. I don’t have a good answer on that one.

Arizona is obviously perceived as a basketball school. How do you think that’s changing?

We’ve won 21 national championships in a lot of different sports. We’ve had great history in basketball, men’s basketball especially, and the job that coach Miller is doing is incredible. We’re having success in football. We won the national championship in baseball a few years ago.… I think we’re a school that’s very competitive across the board. 

Do you see Arizona football taking perhaps that last step to becoming an elite program?

I think the job that coach Rodriguez and the staff have done has been outstanding. We’re on a [trajectory] right now for Arizona football that we probably haven’t been on for a long, sustained period of time in our history. I think it’s critical that we reinvest in our success so we can take these next steps to have long-term success. You’ll have ebs and flows through that, but I think we’re getting ourselves in position from a depth standpoint, from a performance-on-the-field standpoint, that we’re getting talked about on the national stage. That’s encouraging.

Follow Ezra Amacher on Twitter.

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