Civil War rout by UO aside, AD talks up Beavers athletics
Since taking over as athletic director at Oregon State in 2002, Bob De Carolis has overseen a massive amount of change, including the renovation and expansion of Reser Stadium, construction of several new athletic facilities and the hiring and firing of more than a dozen head coaches.
De Carolis, 58, recently signed a five-year contract extension that takes him through 2016. Should he fulfill the length of the deal, he would be the second-longest-tenured AD in school history behind Spec Keene, who served from 1947-64.
As the 2010-11 academic year at OSU ends, De Carolis discusses a broad range of topics with the Portland Tribune.
Tribune: Congratulations on the contract extension. How do you feel about it?
De Carolis: It's good to have security, especially in this economy (laughs). You can't do this job by yourself. It's a reflection of the hard work by the coaches, the staff and the student-athletes. You have to have a president and a donor base who are supportive of you. All those things together, the end result is the contract extension.
Tribune:: You'll be 63 in 2016. Do you see yourself working beyond this contract?
De Carolis: We'll see. I'm taking it one day at a time right now.
Tribune: You underwent posterior laminectomy surgery (for neck pain) in November. I saw you out jogging the other day in Corvallis. How are you getting along?
De Carolis: It was to correct cervical stenosis of the spine. I'm making progress on the mobility part. I just got back from the physical therapist and tested the best I've tested since the surgery, so that's encouraging. The problem is, recovery comes at glacial speed. I'm not 21 years old anymore and can't recover as quickly.
Tribune: What kind of year was it for your athletic programs overall?
De Carolis: We ended up with nine teams in the postseason. There were some disappointments, but also some good things that weren't expected, like the baseball team. When you're predicted to finish eighth in the conference, you're not supposed to get to postseason, and we made the super regionals. Pat Casey and his staff have done a great job. Think about sweeping UCLA, and (the Bruins) had the first and third players selected in the draft.
Tribune: The football team finished 5-7 and missed a bowl game for the second time in nine years. What is the state of the program?
De Carolis: The record was disappointing, but to put it in perspective, we had the toughest schedule in the country. We were one play from winning the Washington game, and if we win that, we're going to a bowl and maybe the whole conversation is different. It's not like we were 0-12. We were right there with a really tough schedule. Mike (Riley) has done a great job. We'll be back. I know there are a lot of question marks for next year, but it seems like they always figure out a way to get it done. That's what good coaches do.
Tribune: Craig Robinson's third season as men's basketball coach did not wind up as successfully as much of Beaver Nation imagined. How do you feel about the direction of the program?
De Carolis: I feel good about it. We're positioned to do well next season. I think the the talent level is the best since I've been here. Whether or not we pull it all together will be the question. Last year, there were some chemistry issues. We were trying to blend a group of seniors with brand-new guys, and we had the Roberto Nelson eligibility issue. We never figured out who we were or what we were trying to accomplish on a day-to-day basis.
We got better at the end. Devon Collier and Ahmad Starks came on as freshmen. If they make strides next year like Jared Cunningham did as a sophomore, we're going to be pretty good. When we're able to recruit a kid from Oak Hill Academy (center Daniel Gomis), that tells me that's an uptick. I would expect a winning season, which would be our first since 2004-05.
Tribune: You lost the Civil War Series to Oregon 15-2, winning only women's soccer and splitting women's basketball. How much does that concern you?
De Carolis: We got crushed. I take my hat off to the Ducks. Beating Oregon is important, but we have to be careful about putting too much importance on it. It's really about the conference. If you're competitive in the conference, you're going to be competitive nationally. While the Ducks are there in some sports, they're not there in others. Everybody wants to beat the rival, but I don't subscribe to the theory that if we beat the Ducks and lose every other game, it's a great season. That doesn't cut it for me.
Tribune: Volleyball and softball seem to be going in the wrong direction. After six years, volleyball coach Taras Liskevych is 59-115 overall and 18-95 in Pac-10 play, losing 46 of 54 league games the past three seasons. Kirk Walker's softball team tied for the Pac-10 title in 2005 and made it to the College World Series in 2006, but he has had four straight losing seasons overall and has gone 10-53 in the Pac-10 the last three years, finishing last or next-to-last each season.
De Carolis: They are mirror images of each other when you talk about the competition in the league. In volleyball, it is like playing the national championship game every weekend. The quality of play now compared to what it was when Taras first got here is much better. But in this league, that's not good enough. He has a pretty young, athletic team next season. We'll see how those kids do as they mature.
Kirk had a great run with nine straight years in the NCAA tournament. Then he had a hiccup in recruiting for a couple of years. We may be suffering from some of that. He has a game plan. The pitching was better last year. He has a good recruiting class coming in. In softball, freshmen can make a difference right away.
Tribune: What are their contract situations?
De Carolis: Kirk has one year left, Terry has three.
Tribune: Can you provide an update on the facilities projects?
De Carolis: Construction of phase one of the boathouse, with locker rooms and boat storage, should be done this summer. We had the groundbreaking ceremony earlier this month for the Student Success Center. It should be completed at this time next year, so it can be used in the fall of 2012. It's a cooperative venture between central campus and athletics. It works, because they're going to take the majority of the building during the daytime hours and we'll get the nighttime hours, when we really need it for study table. (Tuesday) was the groundbreaking ceremony for the new track. It will be ready for next season.
Tribune: What about the proposed basketball practice facility?
De Carolis: We're about halfway toward the $15 million fundraising goal. We were hoping to break ground this summer, but we're not going to make it. It'll probably be next spring. We need it big-time. It will be two courts stacked on top of each other next to the Sports Performance Center, with four floors of program space, locker rooms and coaches offices.
Tribune: On July 1, the Pac-10 officially becomes the Pac-12. Your thoughts?
De Carolis: It's great. Everybody was amped up over the potential of the Pac-16, but in retrospect, I'm glad it didn't happen. I'm not so sure that the cultures wouldn't have clashed, with Texas and Oklahoma coming in. This is a better match.
TV is the reason you do all of this. It's about expanding your footprint and gaining more revenue. Going into it, people were skeptical if Utah and Colorado brought enough to the table to move the needle. (Commissioner) Larry Scott has proved that the planets were aligned, because this deal is monumental, and we're not done yet. Forget about the money - it gives us a tremendous platform as far as the exposure and the marketing piece of it, and he hasn't even dealt into the international scene, which is his strong point.
Tribune: How soon will the final pieces of the new Pac-12 television contract with ESPN and Fox, which covers 12 years, be put in place?
De Carolis: The first negotiation bundled the over-the-air piece (ABC and Fox), and the second part was the cable piece (the ESPN channels, Fox SportsNet and FX). The next piece is the potential for the Pac-12 Network's own channel and the digital rights. These things move pretty quickly. I would think in the next 45 to 60 days, we'll have an answer on what that looks like. The goal is to launch the network in the fall of 2012, and there's a lot that has to be done.
Tribune: The contract will more than triple media rights, with $2.7 billion in earnings over the life of the deal. Is the reported combined $225 million per year for the 12 schools an accurate figure?
De Carolis: The annual average per school for the duration of the contract is $21 million, but in Year One it's going to be more like $16 million - and that's without the deductions. There's a $10.5 million difference between that and our current deal, which is $5.5 million a year. We have to buy out of agreement with Learfield Sports at about $1.5 million per year, and our contract goes through 2022. That gets us down to a $9 million increase. Then you start looking at the bills we owe, between the university and the foundation. … but are we in better shape than we were before the deal? Absolutely.
Tribune: Where is your debt right now?
De Carolis: What we owe in short-term stuff is at least north of $15 million. Then you have the annual debt service on all your projects, which is about $7 million, but most of that has a revenue source tied to it. Once we know what the (final) TV numbers are, we'll sit down with university officials and figure out a game plan - what we have to pay first and how fast we have to pay. The good news about the TV package it's not like tickets sales and donations. You're not hoping for anything. It's guaranteed money you can count on.
Tribune: Has the department ever been in the black since you came to OSU as assistant athletic director in 1998?
De Carolis: When I first got here, we were $12.5 million (in the red). We got it down to zero in 2005. Then two things happened. We expected donations to rise faster than they have, and we got hit with the economy. In 2007, we took a $3 million cut in our budget from the university, and we started the slide backward. The new TV contract will give us the opportunity to pay everybody off, and in time give us the opportunity to release or eliminate the (Education and General) funds from the university.
Tribune: What programming will the Pac-12 network air?
De Carolis: It's going to be a little more valuable than the Big Ten network, which got to show whatever was left over (from what the over-the-air networks televised). My understanding is we will have some access to valuable assets. Let's say there are 12 picks for the over-the-air football games. Normally, ABC and Fox will divvy them up. In our case, (the Pac-12 network) is going to get two of those picks. We'll have even more opportunities. in basketball. The theory is, all football and men's basketball games will be on one of those three entities live.
Tribune: ESPN will air four prime-time football games on Thursday and Friday nights. Will Oregon State be involved in those games?
De Carolis: We haven't figured out how we spread the paint on that. We could probably do one of those games a lot easier than a school in a major metropolitan area, where there is total gridlock at rush hour. We have a rush minute.
Tribune: What is your current donor base?
De Carolis: From 6,300 to 6,500 for a total of about $10.5 million. The average donation is $1,700. Our donors have been very generous.
Tribune: Where are you with football season tickets?
De Carolis: Last year, we set a record at 26,700. We're down about 7 percent, somewhere in the 24,000 to 25,000 range. But if you take into consideration it's a non-Civil War year - you always get a spike with that - we're coming off a 5-7 season and you throw the economy into the equation, maybe 7 percent isn't too bad. The thing that is encouraging, we sold 4,000 seats last year in the 'Valley View' section, and we're down only 5 percent. People stayed with us. There are some silver linings in a lot of this stuff. If we get out of the chute quickly, we should pick up.
Tribune: You're the Pac-12 representative to the NCAA's Football Issues Committee, which last met in April. What are your duties?
De Carolis: The primary responsibility is the licensing of bowl games - making sure they meet the requirements to have a bowl, and that there are enough teams eligible to fill the bowls.
Tribune: What did you think when the Fiesta Bowl improprieties scandal came to light?
De Carolis: It caught everybody by surprise. Prior to this, if you asked people which was the best-run bowl, it was in the top three. Our committee's response to the Fiesta Bowl was, 'We'll license you, but you have to come back next year and tell us the result of all the changes you're going to make.'
Tribune: Does it worry you that these things could be happening with all the bowls?
De Carolis: Yeah, no doubt about it. It should give everybody pause. It's like what happens to us in the compliance world. You hear what happened at Ohio State, the first thing I'm doing is going to our compliance guys and asking, 'What are we doing about vehicles? Let's not take anything for granted. Let's do our due diligence, and if we're doing something wrong, we correct it.'