New job is a wild ride
• Bob De Carolis takes hectic first year in stride as OSU's athletic director
He has been on the job for 10 months. 'Seems like 10 years,' he jokes.
Already, Bob De Carolis has experienced a new school president, a new football coach and the start of an $80 million campaign to renovate a football stadium.
It isn't what one would call breaking in slowly as Oregon State's athletic director.
De Carolis, 50, doesn't seem to mind. Energy flows from the Ed Asner look-alike, who spent 19 years in administration at the University of Michigan before signing on for a 4 1/2-year reign as Mitch Barnhart's right-hand man at OSU.
Now this is De Carolis' show, and he tackles the challenges head-on, exuding determination and optimism as he steers Oregon State athletics through a critical time in its history.
On the day he sat down for an interview with the Tribune, he was meeting with a potential Reser Stadium suite-holder in downtown Portland, then heading to the airport to pick up friends who would accompany him on a Fourth of July vacation trip to Central Oregon.
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Trib: Let's start with an update on the 'Raise Reser' campaign. You are adding 8,000 seats to increase capacity to 43,000 as part of the first phase of the renovation project to be ready for the 2005 football season. How goes it?
De Carolis: We are in pretty good shape. In six months, we have raised $9 million of the $28 million necessary to begin the project on basically a mail-order campaign, with the economy being in the toilet. And we have been able to keep our annual BASF (Beaver Athletic Student Fund, formerly the Beaver Club) givings at the same level. That is pretty darn good. Do we have a lot of work ahead of us? Absolutely.
Trib: What does the $28 million startup cost go toward?
De Carolis: About $20 million must be put down on the project. Another $4 to $5 million eliminates the athletic department's debt, which about three years ago was at more than $12 million. The rest of the money is first-year debt service.
Trib: You have another full year to raise the rest of the $28 million. What happens if you don't get there in time?
De Carolis: There is some leeway, depending on how much construction we can get started next summer. You might be able to do part of it. As you start to move along in the process, you can decide to bid this portion now, another portion later.
Trib: Are you confident you can raise the $28 million on schedule?
De Carolis: I am. There are two sides to the equation. It is important to get the money, but it is equally important how you get the money. You can probably go out and raise enough on gifts, but you need that annual cash flow to pay for the mortgage. If you don't have that, you are sunk. At the end of the day, you still have to sell tickets. We are hiring a couple of people to help us do that.
Trib: How much will you need to expand your season-ticket base for the 2005 season?
De Carolis: We need somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 new season ticket-holders. The challenging part there is, you are asking people to make a commitment to 2005, and some of them won't be able to get into the stadium in 2004. We are down to 1,800 season tickets remaining (for 2003), and we will sell out by the start of the season.
Trib: How are sales going for the new east grandstand, where those in suite, loge and club seating will have assess to what you are calling the club level?
De Carolis: We have sold 12 of the 22 luxury suites, and we have sold more than half of the loge seats. We haven't done a very good job explaining how the club level will be different. Now that we have a better idea from architects what it will look like, we will be able to put together some better marketing packages. Until now, we have kind of been selling it on a dream.
Trib: What are your plans for the club level?
De Carolis: We will have a bar area with an upscale menu, a game room-type of atmosphere, with pool tables and shuffleboard, and big-screen projection units where you can show three or four games at one time. We also want to create a relationship with live entertainment, where a band might come in and do a half-hour set. We want to try to knock your socks off a little bit and make it the ultimate tailgate experience, so the more stuff you can put in there, the better.
Trib: You charged each of your season ticket-holders a one-time stadium fee of $100 per seat. Any resistance?
De Carolis: From a couple of people, and I can understand that. That's why we allowed them to spread it out over 18 months. If you do that, it comes to $5.50 a month. It's doable. Everybody needs to get involved. If they don't, the prices become so high, you will never sell it. If everybody does his own little part, we can get there.
Trib: How important is a successful football season this fall to the campaign?
De Carolis: Football is your best marketer and fund-raiser. After the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, we were able to build the Truax Indoor Center just like that. We got $13 million from 11 or 12 people in six months without a marketing base. That's incredible.
It is all about emotion, feeling good about what your school is doing, and then wanting to invest in that. And if I would say there is a certain bit of pride here against what the guys down the street (the Oregon Ducks) do. If you want to compete with that, and against the other teams in the Pac-10, you can't be the smallest stadium in the conference.
Trib: Your first big hire was Mike Riley to replace Dennis Erickson as football coach. Initial reaction?
De Carolis: During May, Mike was out on the road every day, visiting with players Dennis had signed and prospects for down the line. He had to go out and re-establish our connection (with the signees), and he didn't lose one player.
The amazing thing about Mike, you talk to him about a person or place anywhere on the West Coast, he will remember exactly where the school is, the landmarks. É He has such a bank of knowledge. He will do a good job recruiting. He has a nice staff of coaches. We feel we have a pretty decent team coming back. Whether that translates into the kind of season we hope to have, who knows? It is about staying healthy, about getting breaks and the calls and all that stuff.
Trib: Do you have a sense how important football is to the success of a college such as Oregon State?
De Carolis: The purpose of a college is the educational aspect, but let's face it, athletics offers important activities on campus É something for kids to do. I would hate to see Corvallis if we didn't have intercollegiate athletics, and we're not alone Ñ we're talking about any college not in an urban setting. It also gives an opportunity for the alumni to bond. I don't know anything about genetics, tsunami waves, banking or financing, but I know people from all those fields come to a football game, see a guy dressed in black carrying the football across the big white line, and everybody stands up and cheers. That makes everybody feel good.
Trib: You seemed to make a major academic push in the spring when you announced a plan that would require OSU's student-athletes to take 15 credits per term and six in the summer. Critics say that puts your coaches at a disadvantage against peers at competing schools that don't have such stringent standards. How strict will you be in enforcing such a policy?
De Carolis: You are not going to get there with everybody. What you are trying to do is send a message: 'We are going to push you.'
It is laudable for a student-athlete to pass 15, 15, 15 and six (hours) each year, so that you when get to your fifth year, you need only one course to graduate. Some kids will get there. You will have some kids who will stay in the middle, and you will have your usual suspects you have to put on life support and hold their hand all the way through.
The main thing is, we haven't done enough to raise the bar academically. The key is responsibility and accountability.
Trib: Will a player be ruled ineligible if he doesn't meet your standards?
De Carolis: No, but the message will be, 'Don't come here if you're not serious about school.'
Some of this stuff will happen naturally because of new NCAA rules that start in August. Right now, a student must pass 25 percent of your required course work toward graduation after your second year, 50 percent after your third year and 75 percent after your fourth. Next year, that jumps up to 40 percent after two years, 60 percent after three and 80 percent after four. Also, you will have to pass six hours the term before your season. For football, that means the athlete must pass six hours during spring term.
Trib: Where are you on the Gill Coliseum annex, where the basketball and wrestling practice facilities will be housed?
De Carolis: We have moved the football practice fields to clear room for the annex, bidding for the project should come in August, and hopefully we will start construction in October. We are waiting to see what happens with Gary Payton's free agency, because his $3 million pledge is supposed to be written into his new contract. That is going to be critical Ñ we will see what happens.
When that is secured, we still have to raise another $1.5 million or $2 million to fund the $9 million project. So we aren't there yet, but it has to happen.
Trib: Oregon State's new president, Ed Ray, comes west from Ohio State, one of college's football factories.
De Carolis: He knows a little about big-time athletics. He doesn't start officially until next month, but we talked for about an hour one day. He asked the right questions and understands the big picture of athletics and what some of the pitfalls are. He will be very supportive of athletics. You don't have to understand it all, but you must understand the impact of intercollegiate sports and how emotional people can get about it. You have to attend to it even though it is not the main focus of the university. I feel good about president Ray on that end.
Trib: How about the overall health of the department?
De Carolis: It is good, but it all comes down to money. We have great coaches, we have great kids in our programs, we are improving our facilities. But it costs money to run all these things at a high level in one of the best, if not the best, conferences in the country.
Football is the engine that drives the machine. Once we get the stadium project done, at least we have a chance for stability, where you don't have to be looking over your shoulder at every single thing as a money decision.
Trib: Has this first year on the job been overwhelming?
De Carolis: It's been wild, but it's been good.