Fall 2003
Lost empires, forgotten kings
Unforgettable professors
Q & A with Eric Hyman
Taking death out of the equation
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TCU Magazine Feature


Conference Call

In July, The TCU Magazine's Rick Waters sat down with Athletics Director Eric Hyman to hear his thoughts about the shakeup in the Atlantic Coast and Big East conferences, what could be in store for TCU, and why it's so difficult to schedule the Horned Frogs.

The TCU Magazine: First and most important, what's going to happen to TCU in terms of the shakeup in the Big East and ACC? As you've said before, there will be a domino effect.

Eric Hyman: What's going to happen to TCU is hard to say right now. Obviously what the Big East does will have an impact on what happens to Conference USA. The Big East, structurally, doesn't even know how they want to be. They have some internal chaos. They're doing some analysis on whether they want to be an all-sports conference or if they want to have a configuration similar to what we are and what they've been in the past, which is some teams that play all sports and some that are basketball-only. They have to determine what they want, and obviously, what they determine will have an impact on us. Could this be a situation that turns into a positive? There's no question. It's a possibility. What we've tried to do the last five years is build credibility in the marketplace, which we have accomplished. We are recognized and respected from a professional standpoint in college athletics. How this plays out in the Big East is premature right now. The only stumbling block we have right now is the geographic aspect, as far as the Big East is concerned. If they were to go to a 12-team all-sports conference, TCU -- I feel almost 100 percent -- would be part of the mix. If you look at the programs not affiliated with the ACC, Big East, Big 10, Pac 10, SEC and Big 12, TCU is one of the most respected teams in the country. In the last five years, we have earned credibility. We have done everything we can competitively and academically. We're graduating our student-athletes at a high percentage across the board. We've put teams out that are nationally prominent, which is a goal the university set five years ago. The stumbling block is geography. If Fort Worth was in Kentucky, we'd be in the catbird seat.

Q: Not much you can do about geography, but why is that such a big deal? Other conferences such as the Big East are pretty far-flung, and TCU has become accustomed to conferences spread across multiple time zones?

EH: I have studied this from a geographic standpoint. People in the East don't really recognize this, but in the Big East, the nautical mileage from Miami to Boston is 1,250. Driving mileage is about 1,500. The nautical mileage from DFW to Roanoke, Va., home of Virginia Tech -- and at the time nobody thought they would be in the ACC -- is 1,000 miles. The driving mileage is 1,150. So we're closer to Roanoke than Boston is to Miami. But we still have to convince them and overcome those perception hurdles that people aren't aware of.

Q: Were you surprised that Virginia Tech joined Miami in leaving the Big East for the ACC when it was said and done?

EH: I was stunned on Virginia Tech. Miami has been brewing now for years. The athletic director at Florida State has been pushing Miami's membership in the ACC. That was not news to me. Virginia Tech floors me. They're ecstatic. But it was high-level politics, probably comparable to what happened here when the Southwest Conference broke up. Because of the politics, Boston College and Syracuse got blocked and Virginia Tech got in, but really it just makes things more complicated. Some of the athletic directors from the original ACC schools are upset about Virginia Tech coming in because, unless the conference has a playoff game, the original schools will break even or even lose money. It's smart for Virginia Tech, though. In the Big East, they brought in about $3.9 million. In the ACC, they'll bring in about $8 million. It's a win-win for Virginia Tech, but it's not for the other schools.

Q: Will the ACC pick up a 12th member, and if so, who might it be?

EH: There is a lot of speculation on that. If they do, it will only be after they are unable to secure a playoff game with less than 12 members in their conference. If they can't get a playoff game with 11 teams, they'll invite one more team, and I don't know who that will be.

Q: Louisville and Cincinnati have been mentioned most prominently as replacements in the Big East.

EH: Yes, they have, and they have good programs. The geography helps them, but there is no guarantee that the Big East will want to go that direction. As I said before, the Big East has to figure out what structure it wants to have first before it starts adding schools.

Q: There are a lot of scenarios being talked about for TCU -- the Big East, a new C-USA, the Mountain West, the WAC and some kind of regional league with SMU, Tulsa, Rice and others. What would be best for TCU? And what would help TCU get into the BCS?

EH: It's difficult to answer at this moment what is the best way because all the facts of the situation haven't crystallized yet. I do know that we will have options. Five years ago, we wouldn't have had options. Now, some of the options may not be what we want, but at least we have options. We are in a much better position than a number of other schools. It's ironic. Five years ago, when the WAC broke up, we very much wanted to stay with the Mountain West schools, and we weren't able to do that. When we left the WAC for Conference USA, our preference would have been the Mountain West, but they really weren't interested. And Conference USA has turned out to be a very positive situation for TCU for visibility. We've really elevated ourselves. Now, according to the Colorado paper and El Paso paper, if the Mountain West expands, we'd be their #1 choice. We've come a long way, and that speaks volumes for TCU and the commitment of athletics and what are coaches and student athletes have done. But getting back to your question, our goals and objectives go back to five years ago -- to be a nationally prominent program, and part of that is to be a member of the BCS. That's our objective and what we work for. Louisville has been doing this for nine years. They have built up their infrastructure, sort of like what we're doing -- although they're four or five years ahead of us -- to be in a BCS conference. We're trying to do the same thing. Ultimately, we want to be competing at the highest level.

Q: Is all of this politicking and repositioning good for college athletics?

EH: The college athletic landscape is changing. I've always liked college athletics because of the amateurism. What is taking place gives it more of a professional twist, which gives me an uncomfortable feeling. I like to separate us from the professional model. We have different strengths from the professional model. When you participate at an institution of higher learning, there are some values that come along with it. I struggle when you see some of these things take place because the more dollars that are involved, the more pressure that is involved and the more it takes away from what you are trying to accomplish in higher education. When you generate the dollars that are being generated by some institutions, you get into a sprint as far as trying to spend money. And the more money you put into it, the higher the stakes are, the more pressure that there is. There needs to be a balance in collegiate athletics between higher education and competition, and to a certain extent, we've gotten away from that balance. And that's why these things that are taking place are a little disconcerting.

Q: What are the factors you are considering in determining what conference TCU should align with -- travel costs, visibility, aligning with like-minded universities?

EH: All of the above. For any potential opportunity that we have, we will take the facts and weigh the pros and the cons. Then the institution will decide what is in the best interest of the institution. As we always do in the athletics department, we try to do what is in the best interest of the institution.

Q: What steps are you taking as athletic director -- talking to other athletic directors, getting the word out about our accomplishments -- to bolster TCU's chances?

EH: The most important thing, as far as what steps I'm taking personally, is sharing what TCU has done in the last five years. If you go back and look at what we have accomplished, we can talk a good game. But the bottom line is do we back it up with what we've done? And what have we accomplished is the five bowl games. We've been ranked preseason this year anywhere from fifth in the country to 25th. In some polls we haven't been ranked. Two of the last three years, we've had the #1 defense in the country. We've had two 10-win football seasons two of the last three years. We've been ranked in the Top 25 two of the last three years in the final football season polls. With all the success we've had in football, we've done it with a graduation rate of 80 percent. And with the new academic standards, that's going to be a key issue. I don't think people are really grasping it right now. What they have done in the classroom is going to be a key ingredient in going forward. TCU doesn't take a back step to anybody on that. In the state of Texas, we've had 361 players sign Division I-A scholarships. You make that familiar to people. You look at the Fort Worth-Dallas Metroplex, the television market is the 8th largest in the country. What we've done from a facility standpoint is add an $8 million baseball stadium, $2 million track, $1 million soccer stadium, two new football practice fields, new football complex, academic learning center, administrative offices, the John Justin Center, which is over $8 million, donated Jumbotron. We've already started a $1 million tennis complex. We will start to break ground on the basketball practice facility in July. So you take all those things into consideration, and that's a huge investment. That's what we've done. We've won 25 conference championships in the last five years. Our men's basketball program is on an upswing with Neil Dougherty. We've had the 21st highest rated recruiting class in the country. And this is an issue that's very important: This thing is being driven by football, but you've got to be able to bring other sports to the table. Under Neil's leadership, our basketball program will continue to improve. Women's basketball -- won two conference championships in two of the last three years, plus we've gone to the NCAAs and won the first round games against a Big 10 opponent the last three years. Two years ago, we finished second in the country in indoor and outdoor track and third in men's tennis. We had a Heisman Trophy candidate three years ago, who was the NCAA leading rusher and an NFL first round draft pick. And he was second in voting for NFL Rookie of the Year. In the last three years, we've had 19 football players sign professional contracts -- more than any other college in Texas. Our future football schedules we've got Stanford, Northwestern, Navy, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas Tech, Baylor, Vanderbilt. We've doubled our season ticket sales in five years in football. We've graduated student athletes eight percentage points higher than our student body. A couple of years ago, we were one of four schools in the country where our football team won 10 games and our men's and women's basketball teams won over 20 games. We've played in the Pigskin Classic against Nebraska. We finished the highest of any other school in Conference USA in the Sears Cup. Our women's basketball team leads the conference in attendance. Since I've been here, we've had seven individual national champions. We've had numerous academic all-Americans. It's getting that word out. If we hadn't accomplished all that, we wouldn't have as much credibility as we have. So that needs to be known, and a lot of people in the profession already know it. There's been calls made to people. There's been visits made to people to put forward what TCU has accomplished. The only stumbling block I think is out there is the geographic aspect. But other than that, TCU has done what it has said is was going to do to become a nationally prominent program. I think we're as good as any school that is out there from a competitive standpoint in the classroom and out on the field. We bring an awful lot to the table for prospective conferences.

Q: Do other schools and conferences know our credentials?

EH: Oh, they're well aware of us. The schools do, but does the public know it? In this part of the country, we've been elevated on people's radar screens. And we have been elevated on people's radars all over the country but to certain degrees. Are we as known in the Big East as we are here? No. No we're not. What we have to continue to do is have success in the marketplace. You look at some of these schools, they have had tradition over huge extended amounts of time. Unfortunately, in our history we have a big gap, an empty gap. The times that we could get that national attention, we don't have that. We had tremendous impetus in the 30s, but we lost some of that over time, and we're trying to pick that back up again.

Q: So TCU is in a position of waiting on the Big East to decide what it wants to do?

EH: I don't know that waiting is the right word. But I think before things can take place, the Big East needs to understand what its structure is going to be and how it is going to impact other institutions.

Q: So in the meantime, TCU and C-USA are maneuvering themselves?

EH: Conference USA, because of the structure and makeup of the league, is a challenge. Similar to the Big East's challenge.

Q: Geographically?

EH: Geographically, it's more of a challenge in Conference USA than the Big East, but it's a challenge because of the structure and the nature of the schools, having basketball schools and having football schools. So the chemistry of the league is almost like herding cats because each institution has a different agenda. In an all-sports league you have schools with different agendas. But if you're in a configuration we're in, you have even more agendas.

Q: If the Big East and Conference USA are alike in that way, wouldn't it make sense to align the all-sports schools and align the basketball-only schools?

EH: From TCU's perspective, it makes sense. We would like to participate in an all-sports league, but I will say that we have enjoyed participating in Conference USA and we have enjoyed our membership with the basketball schools. But ultimately, we would like to participate in a league with all sports and we would like to be in a league that has inclusiveness towards the BCS. That's what we aspire to. Whether it happens this time or not, I don't know, but we'll continue to work on building respect in the marketplace.

Q: Is TCU better prepared to handle changes than other schools because we've been bounced from the SWC to the 16-team WAC to an 8-team WAC to Conference USA?

EH: We have been bounced around a lot, no question. And it adds to the challenge of the job. But I think Neil Dougherty said it best, and I have adopted his expression and that is that we haven't learned who to hate yet. We've just started to develop a nice little rivalry with Louisville in football. In fact, I talked to their AD a little bit ago, and he said they would rather play us and Southern Miss in football. That's who their rivals are. And we're developing one with them. We're developing one with Southern Miss. We're beginning to create the rivalries that develop over time. If you look at the Big 12, these schools have been playing each other for years and years and years. That's a challenge to build that kind of association up when you change leagues as we have done. You loose a little bit of that when you change leagues.

Q: Some other universities have been working with local and state lawmakers to position themselves. Is that something TCU has done as well?

EH: We're not a state supported school, so we don't have the state politics involved as say some other schools in this part of the country. But we are always leaning on our supporters -- the corporate supporters and community supporters to be of some assistance to us in various ways. As far as how the governor of Virginia involved in this and how the governor of Connecticut got involved in it, those were state-supported schools and had more politics involved as opposed to say TCU.

Q: What happens on the athletic director level versus what happens on the chancellor level?

EH: Some of this I'm involved in, but other parts involve the highest level, the presidents, the CEOs, the chancellors of institutions. They ultimately are the ones who are going to make the decisions. They're involvement is a key component of whatever takes place. The presidents have done some things that are a little unusual, and it's caused some consternation among people in the athletic arena. And it is totally understandable. The presidents don't work from day to day basis. They more look at things from a macro standpoint. And from the micro standpoint, the athletic directors have to be able manage it. And sometimes when this is dealt with from a macro standpoint, they miss some of the micro parts. I think that's what happened with Virginia Tech and how they got in. I don't know that the athletic directors would have been supportive of it, but the presidents just were ready to get this thing over with. But from the micro standpoint, there are some long-term consequences from it, a ripple effect. But ultimately, the athletic director and president have to work together as a team on these type of issues. You have to work together as a team no matter what it is. It's important to have that chemistry to be successful in the profession today.

Q: There have been some media reports about Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky not being effective or not being proactive enough. What's your take?

EH: Britton is a very smart person. He's had a tremendous amount of experience in the Big 12. It's a little more complicated issue than what the media says. I do support Britton and from an aggressive mode. The challenge for Britton is that he has this makeup of Conference USA and all these different schools with different agendas. There's not as much commonality as say an all-sport conference. So he has a wide range of constituents and being able to herd all these different schools is like herding cats. It's a lot more difficult than the challenges of an all-sports league. A disadvantage is that Britton has been on the job for about six months, and he's having to deal with this. In an ideal world, you would like to have someone who had been in the position for a three or four years. But that's the cards we are dealt right now. And Britton has a fiduciary responsibility to all these institutions, and he has some shackles on him to be as aggressive as he needs to be. It's easy for the media to be critical of him because he doesn't have that freedom. He's going to be as effective as the presidents allow him to be. He's got the intelligence, the experience. He doesn't know the idiosyncrasies of Conference USA as well as someone who had been here four years. But he has the intelligence to be able to be a very effective commissioner.

Q: Explain what you mean by "He's going to be as effective as the presidents allow him to be."

EH: He works for the presidents. If the presidents give him a little longer rope, he's going to be more aggressive. If they pull him in, he can't be as aggressive. He reports to them. So it's easy for the media to be critical of him. But ultimately, it is the presidents. He's a spokesperson for the presidents. He's as good as the support and the flexibility he gets from the presidents. So if the presidents hold him back on something, then he won't be as effective as he should be in the eyes of the media. And we would like him to be as aggressive as he possibly can, to make sure all schools have the proper conference affiliation.

Q: One of the aspects of the criticism levied against him is that he maintains a residence in Dallas, but the Conference USA headquarters is in Chicago. Is that a justified concern?

EH: I don't think so. If you want to be critical of somebody, you can be critical of somebody. We're going through a little bit of a transitional period and the timing is not perfect, but as far as the job he's doing, he's fine. A lot of people reside in one city and travel to do their jobs. I think that is a little on the petty side.

Q: The president of Tulane is trying to revisit the operation of the BCS and working to make it more inclusive. Do you think he'll be successful, or is this being done in vain?

EH: It's hard to say if he'll have some success. I think the commissioners and presidents of these schools feel there needs to be a more inclusiveness than exclusivity. They feel the media and other institutions have expressed their displeasure with how the BCS has been configured. I think the model of the BCS will change when the television contracts expire in the next two or three years. I think what you will see will be different configuration from what we have today. What that will be exactly, I don't know. But they do feel the need for more inclusiveness.

Q: Is a playoff system a reality?

EH: I think there will be a playoff system, but it may not be in my professional lifetime. But I think you will see a playoff system.

Q: Sometimes, TCU's schedule in football is criticized because it is not strong enough. But the reality is many teams do not want to play a dangerous up-and-coming team such as Gary Patterson's Horned Frogs. Talk about the challenges of scheduling.

EH: I work with the coach on the scheduling. You talk about the schedule being weak, but what does TCU want when we schedule? For example, we're playing Vanderbilt. It's a good academic school. It's in the Southeastern Conference. So there is some commonality. We've had Oklahoma. In the future, we're going to play Stanford, Northwestern. They're very good academic schools. They're private institutions. We play Baylor. They're a private institution. We play Texas Tech, Arkansas. We're talking to another Big 12 school about playing them in the future. I'm doing the scheduling now for the years 2011 and 2012. There is no telling whether that school is going to be strong or if it is going to be weak. There is no telling. You don't know that. So we try to schedule some like institutions, which are some of the academic schools. Then we schedule some teams way out in advance, and they may be strong or they may be weak. You just never know. We're going to play Oklahoma in a couple of years. Right now, they have a heckuva program, but when that game was scheduled, Oklahoma was down a little bit. There's a cycle that takes place, and there is just no telling how good a program will be when that game comes. Ideally, we'd like to schedule teams in the state of Texas, but some of the larger Texas schools say they already play several schools in Texas, and they would rather go outside for a national game to help them from a visibility and recruiting standpoint.

Q: So we have conversations with Texas and Texas A&M about playing them?

EH: Oh yeah, we've asked. Texas A&M, for example, is going to play SMU two-for-one, but the one game is going to be at Texas Stadium, I think. We would love to play Texas A&M, but they won't play us. That's partly because are program has been elevated. Right now, since we haven't consistently developed that national reputation, they have more to lose than gain. If I was in their shoes, I would feel the same way. That's a good problem to have. It's become more difficult to schedule because of the kind of program that we have right now. But that's good news. I would rather have that than a situation that everyone wants to schedule us. That's the downside to having success.

Q: Many TCU fans are not pleased with the local media and the coverage they've given to the conference realignment and to TCU as a whole. Do you share those concerns?

EH: I think with the electronic media, we'd like to get more coverage. This is a tough market. We have good news and bad news with the Metroplex. Having lived in many parts of the country, I think the culture here in Texas for athletics with high school and college and professional sports is unbelievable. I've never been associate with anything to this level. That's the good news. The bad news is that this is a very strong professional sports marketplace. You get Cowboys and Cowboys and Cowboys. It's hard to get the kind of visibility that you would like. From a print media standpoint, you have to understand the business. It is human nature to be critical. I think there have been some times that the Star-Telegram has done a wonderful job, but they never get reinforced with that. They get reinforced all the time with the negative. I think sometimes they get constantly barraged by TCU people, and at times they don't deserve that.

Q: So you're saying that you're comfortable with the way the Star-Telegram has covered TCU and they only feedback they get is negative?

EH: I would always like to have more coverage. Enough is never enough. I have talked to the Star-Telegram people and they are very sensitive to the criticism the TCU people give to them. It's human nature to criticize when things are going wrong, but when things are well, most people don't reinforce that. That's just human nature. What I want to say is it's ongoing. We always want coverage. What I am saying to TCU fans is that when the Star-Telegram does a good job, we need to let them know we liked how they covered a game or did a feature on a player. I think it is a case of you attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. You know, I think the baseball team got wonderful coverage this spring with the opening of Lupton Stadium.

Q: Fan attendance and garnering support for the community -- getting them to come to games -- has been a challenge for you, hasn't it?

EH: Of all the things we've tried to do, that's been the biggest challenge -- connecting with the community. We've invested our students in the community, tried to be part of the synergy of the community, with having the Susan Komen Race for the Cure. When the tornado came through downtown, we took it on athletically. Reading Frogs. Hosting fifth-graders out here for Score a Goal in the Classroom. We've really tried to work had to be a part of the synergy of the entire community, and it's been a challenge I've had since I've been here. We've raised a lot of money. The events have been tremendously successful. We've had good support for those. We've had good support for TCU toward our facilities. Our teams have been competitive on the field and in the classroom. If you look back, a couple of years ago, at one time we had Angela Stanford, who just finished second in the U.S. Open. We had Kim Collins, who is one of the fastest in the world in the 100 meters. We had Darvis Patton, who is the best in the country in the 200 meters. We had LT, the nation's leading rusher and a Heisman trophy finalist. We had Estaban Carill, the number one tennis player. It was unbelievable for a school this size to have the success we've had individually and collectively. We would like the community to embrace us. But we have to do our part. When I got here, I felt we were more or less a closed society. Since that time, we've tried to break the barriers down and really reach out into the community. We want the community to be proud of TCU. We've had chamber of commerce events. We are going to have the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce out here in August. We tried to open ourselves up to Dunbar High School and Coach Hughes when he was breaking the record for most coaching victories. We're trying to do a lot of those things that people can really look to TCU and be proud of TCU. The community has been phenomenal with financial support for our facilities. But we would really like to see them excited about the product and our student-athletes and our coaches, speaking to civic groups around the community, to Rotary, Lions Clubs. We obviously would like to see more community support. We want them to want to come. We don't want to have to beat them over the head. We want them to say, "Hey, look at the product," and have a good time. The price is very, very reasonable. You're going to see good competition. We're going to play Kansas in basketball, SMU, Tulsa, Vanderbilt. We have a terrific home schedule. Plus you'll see Louisville here, Memphis here. Away we play Marquette and Cincinnati. It's great college basketball. Women's basketball has Tennessee coming in. The best are coming in here and we're playing them. Yes we would like to see more people coming out and start following the Frogs.

Q: Do you think as these good schedules and this period of notoriety is starting to make a difference?

EH: I sure hope so. We've tried all different kind of things to get the community to support us and to make this a very enjoyable family atmosphere. With Frog Alley and Gary's Bleacher Creatures are fantastic ideas. The demand to go to school here has gone out the roof. Applications have never been higher. I think people are starting to know. When I first got here and would walk around town, I would never see a TCU hat on. I never saw a TCU shirt. I see them a lot more now. As matter of fact, some stores have called me and want our TCU clothing. So we are making some headway. I'd like it have been done yesterday. But I know realistically that it's a long-term strategy and we've got to maintain a high level of consistency. It's an extremely competitive marketplace. We think the product is extremely competitive from a time standpoint, a cost standpoint, who we're playing. I think we have an alternative to the professional sports.

Contact Hyman at e.hyman@tcu.edu. To comment, write tcumagazine@tcu.edu.