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De Carolis' Beaver athletics program a mixed bag

by: COURTESY OF OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - BOB DE CAROLISCORVALLIS — Bob De Carolis quietly turned 60 in November. Now a year and a half after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the Oregon State athletic director is coping rather well.

“I’m feeling good,” De Carolis said last week during an interview in his Gill Coliseum office. “No major changes in my health.

“I do hot yoga four days a week, Pilates two days a week. Try to exercise every day. Need to eat less, but I’m doing pretty good. I started taking some medication in August. It’s made a difference. They ramp it up to the level you need. It’s been good.”

De Carolis, who took over for Mitch Barnhart when he skirted to Kentucky in 2002, has overseen a department that has had mixed win-loss success over the past year.

Football had a bounce-back season, wrestling and gymnastics are nationally ranked, baseball is in the top 15 in all the preseason polls and there is optimism in softball under new coach Laura Berg. Women’s basketball is struggling but is in good hands with coach Scott Rueck, who has an outstanding freshman class on hand.

Men’s basketball and volleyball are the principal concerns.

Craig Robinson’s basketball team is 2-9 in Pac-12 play.

“I’m frustrated,” De Carolis said before last week’s split of home games with Utah and Colorado. “I think everybody is. We’re right there. We just can’t get over the hump. It’ll take a win or two to get the confidence back. We just have to be patient and keep working at it. The kids are doing that.”

While De Carolis has made a number of good coaching hires and decisions during his tenure, he erred in twice extending Robinson, whose contract now runs through 2017 and is being paid $1,182,508 this season. Robinson, 76-83 overall and 29-53 in conference games in his five seasons at the helm, had the misfortune this year of losing guard Jared Cunningham early to the NBA and senior center Angus Brandt to knee surgery.

“I’m confident he’s the guy,” De Carolis said. “He can coach. He certainly can recruit. It wasn’t in the original equation that Cunningham would leave early to the pros. Angus makes that much of a difference, not only on the court but in leadership. You hope somebody else steps up and provides that for you.

“I think they’re that close. A shot here, a couple of foul shots there. I know everybody can say that, but for us, that’s where it’s at right now.”

Women’s volleyball has never gotten off the ground under Taras Liskevych, the former U.S. Olympic head coach (1988, ‘92 and ‘96) who is 89-149 overall in his eight seasons. His highest conference finish was seventh in 2005, his first season. The Beavers lose five seniors from the team that went 14-18 overall and 4-16 in Pac-12 action this fall.

“Terry’s done a really nice job in all aspects of the program,” De Carolis said. “You could say it about a lot of sports, but the conference is so damn tough. Two years ago, they were .500 (overall). Under this year’s rules, they’d have been in the NCAA tournament. They’re right there knocking on the door.”

It certainly doesn’t appear that way. Liskevych, with two years left on his contract, would seem to need a more successful campaign in 2013 to retain his job.

Berg, a former Fresno State All-American and member of three Olympic gold medal teams (1996, 2000 and 2004), joined Kirk Walker’s staff last season and moved up when Walker resigned to become an assistant coach at UCLA. The Beavers were 36-23 in 2012 and made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.

“Laura and Geoff (Harai, the associate head coach) helped changed the culture and work ethic of the program last year,” said De Carolis, a former softball coach at Michigan. “They got a little success early, got some confidence going with the players, and it took off.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens under their leadership. It’s her first time as a head coach, but she has been around the block and knows the game. I have no doubts she is going to have success.”

The department’s financial picture, De Carolis said, is improving.

“We’re in good shape,” he said. “We’re still getting $4 million (for the current academic year) from the institution as an investment, so we should break even, which is good.”

Each of the Pac-12 schools will reap an average of $21 million to $22 million annually from the 12-year television contract with ABC, ESPN and Fox that began this year — starting at $16 million and ending at $25 million the final year of the deal. It sounds better than it is, De Carolis warned, because of the buyout of the previous TV contract, paying off debts, updating facilities and other expenditures.

“Going forward, the question will be, how much are we going to eventually get out of the Pac-12 Networks?” he said. “That’s going to probably take until year three before it starts to mature. It could be anything from zero or $4 miilion or $5 million (annually). We’re not budgeting anything, and if we get something, great.”

Each FBS school, too, will receive funds once the football playoff system is implemented in 2014.

“It’s going to be significant,” De Carolis said. “With that and what we hope will be money from the Pac-12 Networks, the question is, how fast can we get from $4 million (provided by OSU) to zero?”

The football budget will rise next year with raises of 15 to 18 percent projected for each of coach Mike Riley’s assistants.

“I feel good about that,” De Carolis said. “We’re more in line with the other (Pac-12) schools now, which we hope will allow Mike a better chance to keep his staff.”

Oregon State is in the early stages of a feasibility study to renovate and expand Reser Stadium, though that probably wouldn’t happen until 2019.

“You need that much time to do a significant fundraising campaign,” De Carolis said. “People would need five years to fulfill their commitment. And the number of bonds we’re paying now — like on the boathouse — go away by 2019 or ‘20. You can take that money and apply it to the bonds for the stadium project.”

De Carolis has no estimated cost of the project and isn’t sure what capacity would be. Part of that will depend, he said, on expansion of the Valley Football Center, which probably will take place after the 2015 season.

“We need to redo the locker room, and we’ll lose some seats in that end zone with the renovation,” he said. “We’re at 45,600 now, so we’ll probably end up at around 48,000. For us, that’s a good number.”

Plans for Reser renovation are to “mimic” what was done to the east side in 2005, with chair backs on seats except for a “standing” section for fans like that in the student section.

"We’ve found a lot of people like to stand for the whole game, so we’ll try to have a section for the fans who want to do that,” he said.

There will be loge seating on the west side, but an open, more shallow concourse without the amenities of the banquet hall on the east side now. There will be a new press box with suites available for public use, too.

De Carolis’ staff is doing a survey of fans and current season ticket-holders about their needs, desires and ability to contribute to the Reser project.

“By June, we should have a pretty good sense of how doable this is,” he said. “It’s a 30-year mortgage. If it’s dicey, you could be risking the financial health of the athletic department, which you don’t want to do.

“The Pac-12 Networks is a wild card in all of this. if you’re getting $4 or $5 million (annually), that’s a lot different than if it comes in at $1 million. It’s almost like everything has to hit. The numbers are daunting and significant.”

The new basketball training center is under construction next to the Sports Performance Center and is scheduled to open in June. Just under $10 million has been raised for the $15-million project.

“It would be great to have the money already in,” De Carolis said, “but we’ll get there.”

The $14-million Student Success Center opened in the fall. During the day, the general student population gets the first two floors, and athletes get the third floor. At night, athletes get the whole facility.

“We’re already getting great usage,” De Carolis said. “It’s been a tremendous addition.”

Fundraising continues for the track and field program. The track was completed in the spring. Second phase is to finish the stadium and event facilities. Third phase is to create an endowment to fully fund the men’s and women’s teams. The final phase is construction of a cross country course.

“We’re working hard on it,” he said. “The plan is to get it done. I don’t know when.”

A year ago, with the diagnosis of Parkinson’s fresh and the uncertainty of his future health, De Carolis told me he hoped to complete his contract, which runs through 2016. I asked him last week if he plans to retire at that point.

“I hope not,” he said, evidently buoyed by the slow progression of the disease. “I’d like to go beyond that if they’ll have me. We’ll see, but that’s the game plan.

“A lot of it depends on what’s left to do. If we don’t get to the stadium, believe me, we have plenty of other things that have to get done. Soccer, track, softball, the Valley Center — no shortage of facility projects. That’s why Pac-12 Networks money is so important going forward, to have money that will be plowed back into either facilities or operational costs and coaches salaries.”

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