As DU winds down the current athletic year and Denver Vice Chancellor for Athletics and Recreation Karlton Creech prepares to depart for the next chapter in his career, we die-hard fans at LetsGoDU have our wish list for the next athletic director, whomever it may be.
Here are our wishes, in rough order of priority:
- Coach Retention: DU must extend David Carle’s contract as DU hockey coach. At just age 32, he’s already won an NCAA title, and has a lifetime runway to become DU’s greatest-ever hockey coach. Of course, we know the NHL is watching him closely, and his phone may someday ring with a big NHL offer, which we’ll understand. But until that happens, please keep the best young coach in college hockey behind the Pioneer bench by investing in him, his staff and in the hockey program. And while we’re on the subject of retaining coaches, DU needs to find more money to keep good coaches here in all sports. Certainly, Covid-19 and its funding drain has played a big role in not renewing contracts of some very good coaches (especially in the more minor sports) in recent years. Reward good coaches with good performance bonuses. And while we’re on the subject of coach retention, it’s not just financial. We hope the next AD will continue to listen to (and act on) the wishes of DU’s coaches, for DU’s athletic programs are only as good as its coaches. Keep them happy!
- Work to Upgrade DU’s Primary Conference by Investing in Men’s Basketball: Conference affiliation remains a chicken-and -egg issue for DU. While DU remains somewhat comfortable in the Summit League as its primary sports conference, there is no question that many Denver fans (and some of its coaches) would prefer to see Denver play in a conference comprised of all private schools of similar enrollment and stature. The West Coast Conference is the most logical aspirational conference fit for Denver right now (enrollment, endowment, west coast recruiting, student base, etc.), and the key to getting there, we believe, is upgrading the men’s basketball program so it performs at a higher RPI level regularly. The WCC, as a conference, was ninth this year nationally, and the Summit was #21 out of 32 D-I conferences so this is no easy feat. Whomever the AD is who can achieve this upgrade will become a legend…
- Invest in DU Traditions/Game Day Experience: We’ve been beating this drum for years — most of DU’s teams are excellent, but they all deserve a better, more collegiate game-day atmosphere, not only to help the teams win, but to accumulate more emotional capital and connections over time, which in turn, generates more ticket sales, more donors, and builds long term-affinity with the University and its brand. DU’s own Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) has also been asking for a better game day experience, too — this matters to athletes — and they need to be happy competing here! Here some specifics we’d suggest:
- Bring back a bigger, better pep band to DU. Good college pep bands are a big part of a college sports experience and help to differentiate us from the generic canned music of pro sports. Invest in, recruit (with partial band scholarships and pass/fail credits) and budget for at least 50 home dates per year across different Pioneer sports, plus select road trips to conference/NCAA tourneys. If Michigan Tech, a school with a similar undergraduate population (5,000-6,000) to Denver can build a 100+-piece pep band, we should be able to build at a least a 75-piece band!
- Invest in a visual game day experience. DU sports has a great sports tradition, but it needs to be seen and embraced by the crowds! We want to see our venues dripping with tradition everywhere you look. Bring the hockey locker room visual experience to the concourse and scoreboards. Upgrade the DU Hall of Fame. Light up the statue of Murray Armstrong. Fans should be genuflecting in our concourses at photo posters of our 80 NHL alums, All-Americans, Olympians and other sports legends.
- Hire a Game-Day Experience Manager (as our competitors do) to promote (and maintain) a loud, energetic and engaged fan base, not just for powerhouses like hockey, hoops, gymnastics and lacrosse, but for secondary sports like soccer and volleyball. DU is on the cusp of being national powers in those latter two sports, yet games remain under-attended.
- Finally, we hope the next AD will be not just a great administrator who hires great coaches, but who will become a great evangelist — for selling DU sports in the community and nationally.
- Upgrade Facilities: DU can no longer play the “all new facilities” card as it has for the last 20+ years. The reality is that Magness Arena is now 22 years old — older than any of the athletes being recruited. To their eyes, the place is showing its age. Hamilton gym is also not a quality D-I venue for basketball. Other than a few scatted upgrades – a 2018 hockey locker room upgrade for the hockey team, a recent new floor for the volleyball team and a 2014 scoreboard upgrade, DU sports facilities are fairly average for DI, even for the Summit League. There needs to be more upgrades to get many of the programs to 2020s facility standards. It’s a long upgrade list – dedicated sports practice facilities, better sound, moneymaking luxury suites, standing room party decks, etc. It is also time DU that began building a dedicated planned basketball/gymnastics-specific game and practice facility to keep up with our D-I competition. Whether this is a new, upgraded Hamilton gym or a stand-alone 4,000-ish seat arena next door (perhaps as part of a long planned hotel complex on DU land near University and Buchtel Boulevards.), this new AD will need to know how to fundraise well so it can happen. To accomplish this heavy lift, the new AD will need to be able to identify and cultivate the next level of large DU donors who are likely not in the current stable of large donors.
- Do more in Name/Image/Likeness: While DU is a lower profile sports program (versus the Power5 schools and the big NIL payouts there), it still needs to be more active in generating name, image and likeness opportunities for its athletes. Why? DU competes for recruits who may be offered NIL opportunities and compensation at other schools, and to remain effective as recruiter, it must learn to play in this the game, as distasteful as that may be to athletic administrators who came of age in a different era. That old era is ending now. DU has taken some steps in the NIL direction with its 2021 partnership with INFCLR, as well as a DU NIL policy. That said, we’re still in the relative infancy of the concept in college sports, and we hope DU becomes a model for effective mid-major handling of NIL, and the new AD should be incisive (and proactive) at navigating this new era in college sports.
We wish the best of luck to the people in AD search process!
We hope our readers will share their hopes for the next AD in the comments section, so that whomever is selected has some fan-generated action-items!