Item: Heading into his introductory press conference set for Tuesday morning (11:00 a.m. ET – online stream via cuse.com) in the football wing of Manley Field House, followed by a late afternoon tour of the Dome, new athletic director John Wildhack (’80), will likely lay out his emotions, thoughts, and vision of returning to familiar New York state roots with the keys to guiding Syracuse athletics into the growing era of Power 5 college sports providing entertainment and plenty of inventory to fill countless programming hours on a countless number of devices. On hand at Manley will be the majority of coaches and department staff, including members of the search committee, one of whom, Dino Babers, was perhaps the perfectly timed parting gift from Wildhack’s predecessor Mark Coyle in his short-lived 11 month tenure. This duo, combined with evolving and competitive top-notch facilities and a projected state-of-the-art home in the renovated Dome, make for an optimistic Orange football future.
Back in spring/summer 1998 when we were part of the founding team of executives in Seattle that launched the original rivals.com recruiting website, we remember a regular discussion we had about one of the benefits of a business model that appealed to fans and graduates of a particular major college football (and to a lesser degree basketball) school.
Each May, a graduating class of any particular school would contain a percentage of diehard sports fans with varying intensity levels that would be invested followers of their alma mater for the rest of their lives – guaranteed.
It’s with that thought process that we think of Syracuse athletics to now be in the control of one of those diehard fans in Wildhack, who happened to be able from afar at his ESPN Connecticut base to practically have as close contact with what’s going on inside the football and basketball programs as anybody at Manley.
When there’s tens of millions of dollars being negotiated for conference TV rights, the exposure being the lifeblood of recruiting and the members money-making program’s subsistence, those partners writing large checks, like Wildhack’s former company, are greeted with perpetually wide open doors.
Combine Wildhack’s allegiance with the fact that Babers, on the job for only seven months himself, was placed in the unique position of having inside access and participation to the selection process of his new direct boss, which subsequently enabled the two to get a head start on an in-depth look at the program from top to bottom, something that will be paramount in determining just what has to be done (i.e., how much money has to be spent) to be consistently successful in the ACC, and get the program back in the Top 25 rankings for the first time in 15 long seasons since finishing 14th in both polls in 2001.
While Babers was one of six on the AD search committee (including Chancellor Kent Syverud), this hiring recommendation also appears to have another committee member’s handprint on it. Falk School of Sports Management Distinguished Professor Rick Burton probably has more global sports management expertise than anyone on The Hill, and in 2014 was appointed by Syverud to be the school’s NCAA and ACC faculty representative.
Among Burton’s lofty accomplishments he has been the chief marketing guru for the USOC at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, served for almost five years as commissioner of the Australian-based National Basketball League, and helped launch the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, which included working on a litany of projects with close-by Nike.
Wildhack himself acknowledged Burton’s role in helping to paint the picture, telling Syracuse.com that a late June meeting which included Syverud, Babers and Burton, “was a meeting I found informative and fruitful and it only piqued my interest” in considering the job.
Now the building jobs begin, first under Wildhack and Babers, followed closely by the Dome’s long-needed retrofit, providing plenty of reasons to believe the Orange football fix is finally on its way.