bleedCrimson.net will be conducting a monthy Q&A with NMSU Athletics Director McKinley Boston. In this month's interview Dr. Boston discusses the relationship he has with outgoing President Michael Martin, his evaluation of the NMSU program, the impact of rising travel costs on the athletic budget and the importance of booster clubs.
bleedCrimson.net: You talked this week with the Las Cruces Sun-News and made a statement that you were still committed to NMSU with the departure of President Martin. Can you talk about the relationship between an Athletics Director and a school President and why it's important to have a relationship like the one you had with Dr. Martin?
McKinley Boston: As you know this is a very challenging business to manage in that a lot of cases the complexity is driven by managing emotions in lots of ways. You're managing in a glass house and lots of people feel like they have the same capacity as you do to manage and they feel they have the emotional right to like what you do or not like what you do and in some cases they think they can do it better anyway. So it's a job that's certainly very much in the public light and that in itself makes it challenging. What happens is because of the glass house view of managing it, in many cases you have to have a relationship with regents and your president in which there is alignment, in which there is synergy in the vision and support for the vision and in most case a plan to build a program or to sustain a program. And when you don't because there's so much emotion, there's lots of challenges. There's economic challenges, donor challenges and obviously with the advent of technology today in which it's really easy for people to be involved it's quite difficult when there's a disconnect between what you're trying to accomplish.
My ability to manage successfully to manage successfully under President Martin and other presidents was tied to a shared vision. And that vision was also shared by the board. We were all trying to accomplish the same outcome. As you know there are places where the president's view of athletics and certainly the president's view of athletics as it relates to financial and budget support is certainly lacking. And when you're competing for interest of the president, commitment from the president, it almost makes the job impossible. And so obviously the fact that Mike and I have great respect for each other's leadership having him as my boss made my job easier in the sense that I wasn't competing with him. We were working together in trying to achieve our vision of becoming one of the best mid-major programs in the country. So clearly he will be a loss to New Mexico State in lots of ways but certainly it will be a different for me in that in Mike I knew, we didn't have to audition for each other. We simply talked and we talked without agendas. The agenda was the endgame which is how to best improve the athletic program and the overall university at New Mexico State. He will be missed.
bc.net: President Martin came from the University of Florida, you were previously at the University of Minnesota both places that placed quite a bit of value on athletics. How much did that help, the understanding from both of you of what it takes to get to that elite level?
MB: When you say to someone, "We want to be first class, we want to be big time", if you've never been there, you don't know what that is. President Martin had been at the University of Minnesota with me, he'd been at Oregon State, he'd been at the University of Florida so he understood, when he and I talked about excellence, excellence for us was defined in a way that we both understood. So it wasn't like I was trying to convince him of the value of a first class intercollegiate athletic program. He knew what it meant in helping build a sense of community. He knew what it meant to branding. He knew what it meant to successful fundraising. He knew what it meant to recruiting students in general. So certainly he understood what it meant to supporting our legislative agenda. All of these values weren't something I had to convince him of. He came with an understanding of the value of it and that made it a lot easier.
bc.net: I understand that you recently completed your evaluation of the athletics program, can you talk about that a bit and where you feel the program is right now in relation to where you'd it to be?
MB: We really have made great progress in the last three years. On the academic side I'm extremely happy with our overall graduation success rate which is about 62%, that's a very solid number. Our 88% of the students that exhaust their eligibility graduate from New Mexico State so we eliminated that myth of exhausting eligibility and then they don't graduate. So if we can keep then eligible we can graduate them.
Our APR progress has moved steadily. We've basically got two sports that we are concerned about and both are making, we think, solid incremental progress toward reaching the goal of 925. Basketball obviously is one of them which is challenging in the sense that when the NCAA instituted this process in 2004, New Mexico State's first APR score was like 730 which was a result of the Lou Henson transition and Coach Henson's illness and we ended up with five 0 for 2's which means we had five players who were on scholarship and lost their eligibility and didn't return to school and we've been climbing out of that hole ever since. But we have made progress and we think coming out of this year we'll be in good shape. We've got some things that need to happen over the summer but we think that they will happen.
Baseball obviously has had some struggles with the APR as well but Coach Ward has done really a wonderful job in dealing with that. So overall graduation rate is good, APR overall is good. Two programs that we're concerned but I think we're managing ok.
On the competitive side when we look at our fall sports, this is the year that I think expectations around football will be realistic. It usually takes three to four years to get the kind of depth that you're looking at. I think we have a realistic goal of being bowl eligible this year and trying to get to a bowl game.
Women's volleyball and Mike Jordan, we've been a consistently nationally ranked program the last few years and continue to get stronger.
Both basketballs last year had outstanding seasons. One won a regular season championship and probably played in one of the most memorable games on ESPN. I thought the women's team should have at least been invited to the women's NIT but I think politics lost out on that one.
When you look at swimming, I think coach has done a wonderful job and obviously beating New Mexico last year for the first time in 25 years sort of set the stage for getting better. The fact that three swimmers qualified for the Canadian National team is a strong strong statement.
I think both golf programs, the women finished second in the WAC, the men won the WAC. Both tennis programs ended up in the semis of the WAC and I don't think there's any doubt that Coach Ball believes that both programs will be legitimate contenders for the WAC championship next year.
Coach Richburg is doing a masterful job of building a program that was truly down and I think we surprised everyone with the points we earned at the WAC championships this year. I know he has an outstanding recruiting class coming in.
Academically we're in good shape and competitively I believe that we'll be competitive across the board in all of our programs next year.
bc.net: One of the topics that has come up here in the last few weeks has been expansion of the WAC, particularly on the basketball side and in baseball. What are your thoughts on that?
MB: I know that there's a moratorium in place that's going to put limits on what can occur as far as expansion. Personally I would like to see us at 12 with two six team divisions and play for a championship just like the others and that would obviously at some degree guarantee us that possible bowl game that is missing (BCS). I think if we can't go that way, at some point we simply have to identify a tenth school that is a travel partner for men's and women's basketball. But I know that there's a moratorium on discussions so certainly nothing is going to happen any time soon.
bc.net: With the way the economy is going and the increasing prices for gas and airfare this spring and what the projections are for the summer, what kind of impact is that having on the athletic budget?
MB: Significant. This year we're funding a flat budget other than the increases that the state provided for coaches for cost of living adjustments for coaches and other staff and I think that's about 2% but we're funding a flat budget next year and obviously recruiting costs just because of the gasoline and travel is gonna force us to have to do less with the same amount of money as last year simply because the cost of inflation if moving much quicker than our growth. The good thing is that we've grown the budget exponentially over the last three years so that we've finally caught up and so it's not as if we're having to deal with these challenges when we were funded at the bottom of the conference where we were initially. But we are at a position now that we'll have to do more with less but we do have more to do it with.
bc.net: With that in mind, can you talk about the importance of the booster clubs for each of the teams and what those fundraising efforts for each of those sports helps to do for the individual program budgets?
MB: First of all they are extremely important both at the sport level but AAF (Aggie Athletic Fund) overall is extremely important for us as we go forward. One of the critical things that the booster clubs do is help to create what I call some of that competitive edge in that they create additional value for our coaches. For example, if we fund them at a level where they have to stay at a Super 8, the booster club can take them to a level where they can stay at a Comfort Inn. So that when our kids are helping to sell other athletes on why they should come to New Mexico State they can talk about how when they're on the road they can stay at comfortable hotels, that they're arriving in a bus as opposed to five vans, that their per diem is at the NCAA maximum level. That's a lot of the little things that those budgets (booster) create a better student athlete experience. So with out that we and other schools around the country would be challenged to be competitive so that the student athlete experience is on that the student athletes are willing to share, especially to recruits.
bc.net: Can you talk little bit about the Aggie Caravan that has been going on and with culminate with the Aggie Shootout in Albuquerque on Monday?
MB: In our strategic plan one of our goals is to broaden the Aggie brand and to engage alums and friends of the program across the state and across the country. The Aggie Caravan is one of our strategies that's part of our overall outreach efforts. This year we decided to focus more locally as opposed to like last year when we went Farmington and Sante Fe. We were over at Santa Teresa on Sunday and had a very good turnout and reconnected with friends of the program and look forward to continuing to growing that relationship. We had a moderate turnout over in Alamogordo but at the same time everything that we do is almost new. There's nothing to build on and we're having to start everything which puts us behind the eight ball a little bit. Friends up in Alamogordo hosted us well and lots of people encouraged us to continue to come back so we feel good about that. Obviously this weekend is special because Larry Lujan is hosting a fundraiser for us at his home and as of now we think we have about 85 people who will attend that event on Saturday evening.
We're hosting a corporate event at Las Campanas in Santa Fe will all of our branding level donors and so we're very excited about the 24 people that will be up there. Some of our coaches and staff.
Then at Chamisa Hills on Monday we have our third or fourth annual outing up there. That continues to grow and our theme there is to continue to get Aggies out and get them to wear their crimson and white and be proud of the Aggies and reconnect with us and our coaches and the program.
bc.net: You mentioned Larry Lujan one of the donors, can you talk a little bit about him and what he's done for the program?
MB: Larry represents a strong family, political background. Larry was a solid golfer for us and Larry has decided that he and his family wants to give back and wants to be a voice up in Albuquerque and wants to be a voice around the country in helping us grow our program and raise money in support of our excellence journey. So we're very pleased that Larry and Arlene and his brother Joe are on board with us and look forward to spending some quality time with them on Saturday evening.
bc.net: Now you mentioned some of the corporate sponsors, can you talk about some of the challenges you face in trying to get corporate sponsors when you're sandwiched in between two other Division I universities and you're the only one who's not in a major city?
MB: When we use the term corporate when we think about Las Cruces there is not a lot of options there and they're the companies that obviously all the non-profits and people gravitate to. Our ability to grow our corporate sponsorships has been remarkable in some ways. Obviously Sonic is a sponsor, El Paso Electric, Western Refinery, Memorial Hospital, The Phillipou Group, Wells Fargo, have all stepped up and become major investors in us and we believe we're creating marketing value. So it is challenging but at the same time that's also part of the reason why our outreach strategy is so critical and AggieVision was so important to us because we needed to expand our brand and our market beyond the 80,000 or 90,000 people in the Las Cruces area.