Daily Chronicle sports reporter Steve Nitz sat down with new Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier for a question-and-answer session covering various topics. The following is an edited transcript:
What were your initial impressions of the athletic department when you got the job, and have you set any short-term goals?
My initial impression was obviously loads of potential, but more importantly, there’s a deep embedded professionalism as well as great balance between academics and athletics. I saw the balance. I’ve had lots of coaches who we’ve tried to attract to Wisconsin and folks that have left Wisconsin to go to Northern. It’s not a place that snuck up on me on any level. I’ve known since I’ve been in the Midwest what NIU represented, and I’ve had some great colleagues that were athletic leaders, (former NIU and current Northwestern AD) Jim Phillips being one of them.
We’re really at a critical point in our evolution here, both athletically and academically, where I want to add value to those areas. Football is going good, it needs to get better. Things of that same mantra, and I would go across the board in every sport, from tennis to gymnastics to baseball, what can we do? If conference championships have not been won, let’s win conference championships. If we’ve won conference championships, let’s win national titles.
What’s impressed you about what NIU does in balancing athletics and academics?
The balance there being the fact that if you look at the academics, straight raw academics, the APR – academic progress rate or the GSR – graduation success rate, and then you take a look at the competition side of it, if you’re doing both of those, and you’re having success on both sides, there’s obviously a conscious intentional way of executing and making sure that your students are prepared in both ways.
But then you talk to students. I’ve had lots of meetings with coaches and student-athletes, general students as well as faculty and staff, and you can tell, there is a robust intentional thought process to make sure that we have a family environment, that deals with the issues both social, as well as academically and athletically.
In late August, the department put up signs in downtown store windows. Any other plans in place for getting involved in the community, and how important is that?
It’s huge. Working with the mayors of both DeKalb, as well as Sycamore, and just understanding what this institution means to downtown, what it means to the region itself, is extremely important. That whole college town concept is just that. It’s about the shops and the business and the visitors bureau, and everything that is DeKalb, that is Sycamore, that is the surrounding communities. We need to embrace that.
Is there a certain type of a nonconference football schedule you would like to play?
Yes, at the highest competitive level. I tweeted out a number of times, we will play anybody, any time, anywhere.
“...it’s important for us to put together a balanced schedule. Balance to me means we have to have institutions that look like us, we have to have competition that will be at the BCS-level conferences, we need to have it all the way through. We need to make sure that regionally there’s institutions that our fans identify with, and that could be from southern Illinois to western Illinois to eastern Illinois, because I think regionally, I think that’s great, it’s a collegiate feel. So I like that balance. I like the Big Ten, we’re in the middle of Big Ten country, so I’m feeling good about that. I’m also looking at conferences out west and out east, because I think that we have national appeal...”
There will be some announcements in the very near future about some of the things I’m able to do and get done right away. Some other things we’re going to have to wait on because we’re contractually obligated to do it, you just can’t pull out of these games because the financial price tag on them will be very debilitating to our athletic budget.
I will say that this is a real, significant focus of mine. I’ve taken it personally. I’ve lived with it to the point where my wife is saying I might need to check myself a little bit because I’m so passionate on football scheduling, because I’ve done it in such a large degree at Wisconsin. It is a relationship business, football scheduling. I really feel confident that I will be able to move that thing in the right direction.
In what other ways are you trying to improve football attendance?
I think it comes down to looking at the in-game experience. Overall, we just hired a new marketing/external affairs associate athletic director who was with me at Wisconsin, and I think he’s going to bring a lot to the table. He hasn’t been announced yet, but he’ll be coming in relatively soon here.
And some of the things we’ve done is make it really an experience. Looking at concessions, looking at tailgate both pregame and postgame events. Looking at the in-game atmosphere, from the traditions or the things that we currently do not have right now, from live bands to fireworks. To make it an experience, a destination. It is a football game, I get that. I don’t want to lose the idea that we’re here to watch football.
What do you think the next step is in terms of facilities?
I think we need to do something with tennis, to be up front with you. All of our sports there’s a tweak to it. Our baseball field is not where it needs to be, we need to get after that. Our football stadium, quite frankly, is in need of some significant renovations. Those are just three facilities off the top that I’ve been looking at.
Where do you feel Huskie Stadium can be upgraded?
I think, obviously, in all of the patron areas, from the concession areas, to the ramps, the bathrooms, I could go on and on. It’s time, it’s time for an upgrade. Obviously, as a facilities guy, I look at it with a different set of eyes. A lot of the facilities folks that I’ve talked to on campus, which are fantastic, they agree. I think it’s at a point where we are with the level of success, that the type of talent and scheduling we want to attract, we have to have the infrastructure in place.
What is your vision for the athletic department five years from now?
I think what we need to start to be thinking, is strategically in the future, on how we stack up, what are we doing within the MAC to capture all of those championships? How are we going about the recruitment, both on the staff side and the student-athlete side? We need sustainable success. Not just every four or five years, or every six or seven years. Once we get to that point where every year, in every sport, that we can honestly say that we’re competing, or winning a MAC championship, we have arrived.
My job is to make sure that the resources, the staffing, the student-athletes, the cooperation with the community and the campus community is there so that support doesn’t outgrow itself. The infrastructure and the framework, it’s like building a house. Without that solid framework, everything just falls apart. My job is to continue to make sure that I forge those relationships in the community, regionally and nationally to support our efforts.
That’s a lot right there I just threw at you, but that’s my real goal, is that in five years time, we look back and we are better off than we were sitting right here, right now.