State of The Athletic Department: Poor

You might remember that UNT President Neal Smastresk hired The Consultants Trip Kuehne and Michal Sicuro to evaluate the athletic department. They submitted their report on Aug 12 and the Denton Record Chronicle and intrepid reporter Brett Vito submitted a FOIA request to acquire the report.

I’ve linked to it here. Please read the DRC article on the information.

While the report is interesting and detailed, it is quite unsurprising. For example, the finding about revenue generation:

Overall, the established revenue targets in the current budget are low compared to peers. […] However, the AD administration personnel appear to be satisfied with these results as evidenced by providing no insight or plan for improvement. While more successful programs will help revenues, the AD should develop detailed strategies and metrics for incrementally increasing revenue streams.

If you have sat around the metaphorical water cooler with long time North Texas observers, you have no doubt been regaled with tales of the second-rate performances by the AD.

On the message boards, folks who have attended other programs or organizations come away with suggestions and recommend these things all the time. While the wisdom of the crowd is often unimpressive, the signs that UNT Athletics was under performing were big, bold, and pretty obvious.

Some observations after reading:

This line sums it all up:

Overall, the [Athletic Department] is underperforming at virtually every level resulting from alack of leadership, inadequate funding, outdated and/or poorly maintained facilities and in many cases nonexistent internal processes.

Looks back at NT’s athletic record in the major sports in the last decade Yes. This is so.

Seriously, given this request came after NT essentially fired the previous AD for under performance this came as no surprise. We know the result, we want to know why.

In Exhibit A, the recommendations of the consultants, we find this:

Successful high performing enterprises in any business segment, for profit or not, psosess three core elements; 1) highly effective people; 2) effective processes and; 3) world class tools and resources.

Sure. Count me among those who consider it a matter of needing the people. The effective people put in and maintain the processes, and acquire the tools and resources. Else, you have really well designed systems that no one understands or fail to implement. What follows in the report is, in my view, exactly that. There are established best practices for management and customer-facing groups that were simply ignored. That is a failure of people to implement these processes at the highest level.

Organizational Structure

The report says the department is disorganized, and not optimized to deliver on its mission.

Each part of the [Department] seems to be operating independently and without inter-communication.

If you ever talked with anyone near the department, they said this all the time. The ‘Silo-Mentality‘ is a tell-tale sign of organizational dysfunction.

The finance person in the department has no background in the matter, the business operations operate with no oversight from the University (which is strike against the University and indicates their culpability for the problems in this report). The bosses are not keeping track of their employees progress — no regular review sessions with the ADs.

How, Sway?

The report goes on to discuss the mission statement and how no one can recite it. While I am bearish on over-designing of a mission statement, it can indicate that the messaging was terrible.

Facilities

In the Year of Our Lord 2016, where every FBS and FCS and even HS program is in a facilities race, North Texas Athletics had to share weight rooms, had poor restrooms, meeting rooms, and weeds. Sure man. The front porch of the athletic department should look good if Athletics is the front porch of the University1.

It is no surprise that facilities are sub par when there is no money.

Revenue Generation

As I quoted above, the most deflating line here is the administration being oblivious to the state of affairs. The lack of urgency on their part to improve the situation has been one of the most frustrating state of affairs under the Rick Villarreal regime.

While more successful programs will help revenues, the AD should develop strategies and metrics for incrementally increasing revenue streams.

*Whispers* I thought that was obvious?

RV famously defended the dwindling attendance, as ‘better than before’, and

“Do I worry about the decline? I think the decline happens at every institution when you don’t win as many games,” Villarreal said. “But I think there is a lot of positive talk about basketball right now.”

Go back and read that Daily article and see if you laugh/cry at Rick Villarreal’s quotes in light of this report like I did.

The report details some of the complaints people have had with the Ticket Office, the donor relations office, and the AD customer service office. It is never good for an organization to make it hard for people to give you money.

The Mean Green Club membership is low (as detailed by some folks on the board) and the revenue generations by departments whose function is solely that, is substandard.

Scheduling

Long a topic of “discussion” on the message board, the poor scheduling post-Apogee has been particularly infuriating. The stories I had heard — of RV declining home-and-home series with LSU and other big name programs — are hinted at here.

Later, they are detailed further. “Money Games”, long a favorite of Rick Villarreal for getting cash into the department (apparently in lieu of ensuring his office answered the phone) was as bad as we feared. The department turned down those coveted home-and-home series with big time programs for trivial reasons.

Expenses

The recruiting budget is the lowest in the conference. The report underlines and italicizes this int he report. It is 47% below CUSA average.

Again, considering the problems with revenue, this is unsurprising. Given the lack of financial controls, there is room to optimize and increase efficiency. The department operates at 28% above the CUSA average in administration expenses after removing the debt service on the stadium. Again, inefficiency due to lack of oversight.

RV did not do a good job with what he had, and failed to do all he could to get more than what he had.

Operations and Finance and Risk Management

The [Athletic Department] personnel do not appear to focus on the details to help support the coaches, and in certain instances the student athletes.

I literally chuckled out loud at that. There are literally people teaching people that details matter in classes right across the street from where details were ignored.

The report goes on to detail the poor financial controls, the mismanagement, and that UNT’s VP of Finance responded immediately. Not a good look for them, either.

Athletes Buying Their Own Uniforms

That some athletes had to buy their own equipment is atrocious. The report mentions athletes sharing public restrooms to shower, the weight room sharing, the poorly maintained facilities, and sparse equipment.

The recommendations are so obvious and basic that anyone associated with the AD in the last decade should feel shame for having to have that pointed out.

Additionally, baseball should remain on hold until a detailed master plan is established and the current 367 student athletes are provided the best opportunity to compete.

Other

The NT Cheer, Athletic and Student Affairs sections are less interesting and the weakest parts of the report.

Conclusions

Again, this entire report is an indictment of the Rick Villarreal administration. While North Texas athletics is nowhere near some of the absolute horror stories that occasionally come from FCS, or New Mexico, the conditions over which he presided are nowhere near the top level organizations that we ‘aim’ to join.

The way the department was run suggests there was little-to-no aiming being done. It was all hopes and prayers and status-quo.

Here on MGN, like most folks, we are primarily football fans. The decade long failure of the program to compete regionally, let alone nationally led us to look up the chain to the Athletic Director. This report and the consistent failures of the highest profile sports over the last decade should have prompted action from the University Administrators and Board of Regents.

We should not see this as an isolated failure of one rogue department. The failures were fairly public, and the lack of processes, controls, and should have been visible to Rick Villarreal’s superiors.

The good news is that the new President Neal Smastresk commissioned this report in the first place. That indicates a general positive direction. It is cliche to say that the first step is acknowledging you have a problem, but it is true and the problem has been so acknowledged. And action has been taken. There is no doubt that RV was fired, and it seems it was done for good reason.

If Wren Baker is — at the very least — competent at managing an Athletic Department, we should see immediate and significant improvements.

North Texas has always had issues with marketing and advertising to the immediate markets and those outside the DFW area, but it makes it doubly difficult to market a brand when the athletic department was standing in its own way.

The marketing and sports facilities improvements — especially a new Super Pit — are less interesting to me than the internal corrections. To me, that is like talking about winning football games when you do not have a uniform to practice in. And this department has done enough of that already.


  1. There is conflicting research on this subject. But that’s for another day.