New UTEP President Coming Soon, But What Does it Mean for Athletics?
The UT System Board of Regents were set to vote on a finalist to take over the UTEP Presidency on Monday, but it was postponed by the board on a 72-hour notice.
The Regents finished the interview process with candidates to replace Dr. Diana Natalicio, who announced her retirement in May of 2018, on Feb. 27.
While the UT Regents and the search committee have no choice but to remain silent during the process, it leaves us to interpret the different areas of emphasis for the new president and what he or she plans on doing.
Through her 30 years as UTEP's President, Dr. Natalicio has made her staple on UTEP by allowing access to higher education to thousands of students and by making significant improvements to the campus of UTEP itself. She was named a Top 50 World leader by Fortune Magazine, with many other accolades under her belt. UTEP's enrollment also jumped from 15,000 to present-day of over 25,000 students during her tenure.
As far as athletics go, Dr. Natalicio allowed the athletic directors to govern the department as to how they saw fit, yet she always supported the different sports and the athletic programs. She was always a speaker when announcing the hirings of a head coach.
UTEP fans have made the argument that there hasn't been enough emphasis on athletics from the top, which will be interesting to see how they address with the next president.
But we have no clue on what the UT Regents touched on with candidates and how much athletics was emphasized during the interview process. A source close to the situation told me in regards to athletics that every question we might have had, the committee probably asked.
Here are a couple of points that could have been discussed:
Renovations for facilities
Throughout the Bob Stull years, UTEP was able to advance further in renovations than it ever dreamed of. From adding a softball complex to building the Foster Stevens Center, the improvements have been well developed and continue to build upon the athletic department.
But what’s next?
Athletic Director Jim Senter has hinted on the department's priorities to continue to make different renovations across the athletic department. And, it will be interesting to see where they decide to turn their focus once they finish renovating the Sun Bowl.
A new president could take the approach that UTEP needs to continue to grow in advancing its facilities and its renovations. But on the flip-side, the new president could also say that renovations shouldn’t be an area of emphasis for the athletic department because the school has what is already required.
Personally, I would like to see the next president work hand-in-hand with Senter and the UTEP athletic department in order to make lasting renovations and embark on new improvements in order to continue to appeal to recruits.
Every time you talk about dollars and cents, things tend to get a little screwy. In this case, talking about the athletic budget as a whole becomes very general and these strategies that we see today have probably been in place for over a year now.
But what a new president coulddo right off the bat is show how much priority sports and athletics will be to the university, with respect to their budget and toward their fundraising efforts. Again, a lot of this has to do with the athletic department and their internal operations, but having a president backing up certain projects that require extra funding would be extremely helpful to UTEP.
Why not break the bank on a head coach from time? For example, let's say Rodney Terry builds a strong program at UTEP and the university wants to keep him after his contract. It would be really interesting to see how they react to contract extensions or evaluating new head coaches and their contracts. Can we finally see our first million dollar head coach?
This might come off as sort of a corny topic to discuss with an incoming president that will have tons of things to worry about over who is going to the games and who isn’t. It’s no secret that in the past five years we have seen attendance numbers fall through each major sport at UTEP.
Some will argue that they need to simply win in order for more people to show up, while others complain about things like the atmosphere, in-game promotions or other topics not having to do with the teams themselves. The way that the president can help out in this is possibly offering more incentives and trying to get the students back at the games.
Toward the end of the season, you would see scattered groups of students come and go at UTEP men's basketball games, but there are no consistent student supporters.
Look in the stands—the crowd continues to age and you have to think about the future. One day the millennials will be in El Paso and have families of their own. UTEP needs to make sure it continues to appeal to families and to its number of season-ticket holder‘s which it has worked so hard to develop. If they don’t spend time investing in the future, there would be far fewer fans in the stands that we see today.
Bottom line: A president and an athletic director should work hand-in-hand to improve the UTEP athletic department. While it may have not the biggest area of emphasis, sports and athletics should be some priority for the new successor at UTEP. As Dr. Natalicio showed her support and allowed the athletic department govern as they see best fit, maybe the next president will be more hands-on with the athletic department. Maybe that's not the best thing either. What we do know is that the next president will be imperative toward integrating the new era of UTEP athletics.