Feb 032004
 
Authors: Rob Bombard

All things considered, in his first year as athletic director

and long-time Ram, Mark Driscoll has plenty to be excited about. In

only his fifth month on the job, Driscoll commands an athletic

department any aspiring AD would envy. In the near future

Driscoll’s program will have a renovated and expanded stadium, a

national title contender in Women’s volleyball, a strong football

program and, arguably, one of the most well-rounded and complete

athletic departments in the nation. Goals have been set, plans are

underway and changes are being made.

“This is a great school with great fans, best in the Mountain

West hands down. The athletes are top of the line and we hope to

put CSU into the national spotlight and showcase this fine

university,” said Driscoll at a recent news conference.

Changes on the way

Driscoll’s hope is to create a closer relationship between the

university’s athletic programs and the Fort Collins community. One

idea proposed by Driscoll was the “Game Day” proposal, which is a

campaign to bring more community awareness of home football

games.

“I want people in this area to know that on Saturday the place

to be is at Hughes Stadium watching the Rams play football,”

Driscoll said. “We need to create that kind of ‘Big Game’

environment in this community and get people excited about our

Rams.”

The plan is to make Saturday home football games the premier

event in Fort Collins and Northern Colorado. To do so, Driscoll

proposed some ideas like making home games more accessible for Fort

Collins residents and students, making connections with downtown

businesses for game day specials, decorating Fort Collins on game

days and hosting week-long events leading up to the football

games.

Other excitement surrounding the football team is the premier

non-conference scheduling that has head coach Sonny Lubick’s team

playing defending co-national champion Southern California in

Pasadena, Calif., one week after facing the Colorado Buffaloes in

Boulder. There has been a lot of speculation on future scheduling,

specifically for the season opening game at the renovated Sonny

Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium.

“We definitely want to attract a big-name team for that game,”

Driscoll said. “It has the potential to be a huge day in the

history of CSU football and we want to make sure people are fired

up to cheer on the Rams.”

Driscoll inherited a program on the rise, one that in the past

decade has begun to gain national recognition in both recruiting

and overall athletic performance. Since the revival of the football

program, the CSU athletic department has seen many changes; changes

that will likely continue in the Driscoll era.

Three keys to success

In the world of collegiate athletics three things can measure a

NCAA Division I-A athletic program. First, is the football program.

Successful athletic programs and winning football teams are

synonymous. Certainly, some schools translate that to basketball,

but in Driscoll’s case the top priority is a winning football

program. Driscoll inherits a team with, perhaps, one of the nations

top coaching staffs, great recruiting, high caliber student

athletes and a recent history of winning in a burgeoning and

competitive conference. The program is clean and has gotten to the

level of becoming a perennial Mountain West champion contender.

Secondly, an athletic program needs a strong financial backbone.

This is where Driscoll will be challenged the most in his tenure.

Along with the universities financial woes, the athletic program

lacks the necessary funding to make the move to a national

powerhouse. In-state rival CU has far better funding and community

support and belongs to the renowned Big 12 conference, which

guarantees big bucks. One figure indicates that CU holds roughly

about 35,000 season ticket holders at Folsom Field, while there are

only 11,000 season ticket holders at Hughes, financially this puts

CSU at a huge disadvantage when scheduling with the Buffaloes.

Finally, an athletic program must have strong community support.

Right now a huge concern of the department is how to gain interest

in CSU’s teams.

The basketball dilemma

Aside from football, Driscoll plans to market basketball as a

premier sporting event and hopes to give Moby some actual

madness.

“Our basketball teams are a lot of fun to watch,” Driscoll said.

“They play good teams and Moby Arena is a great place to watch a

game. It’s important to get the students more involved with the

games and get people excited about CSU basketball again.”

One immediate solution brought up at a recent question and

answer forum with Driscoll was to rezone the student sections at

home basketball games and put the students front and center rather

than the current arrangement leaving the students stowed away in

the crevasses and corners of the gym. The problem, however, lies in

the universities split devotion to its season ticket holders and

the student body.

“I would love to have the students closer to the court,” said

men’s basketball coach Dale Layer. “However we cannot overlook the

support from our season ticket holders; it’s a very tough issue.

Our goal is to make everybody happy and better the atmosphere at

home games.”

Attendance at men’s basketball games is down and, despite being

the defending Mountain West Conference champions; fan support is

scarce as is knowledge of home games among students.

“You know about the Wyoming game and maybe Utah or BYU, but

that’s about it,” said CSU sophomore Brett Myers. “You see teams

like the (Duke) Blue Devils or the (North Carolina) Tar Heels and

that type of excitement just isn’t’ here.”

Driscoll’s mettle will be tested in the coming years when he

puts his plans into action and results follow. As for now, Driscoll

has received enthusiastic praise from his peers early into his

tenure.

“Mark has brought a whole new perspective to this department”

Layer said. “He was a student here, a player, a coach and he really

has a unique vision and relationship with the university.”

Driscoll’s staff is motivated and full of ideas to take Ram

athletics to the next level. Many roadblocks and obstacles lie in

the way of these propositions, mainly the severe lack of funding.

However, the right people are in place and the motivation is

there.

Driscoll said his personal goal, as AD is to place in the Top 20

for the Sears Cup annually. The Sears Cup is an annual award that

recognizes total achievement for athletic programs and is typically

laden with household names like Michigan, Texas, UCLA and Stanford.

Perhaps in the coming years CSU will become one of those household

names. If so fans can be sure it will have Driscoll’s fingerprints

all over it.

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