This might not be a popular statement, but in my opinion, the Duquesne athletic department is without question in a better position following Greg Amodio’s tenure than it was prior to his arrival. The department is financially more solvent having dropped several men’s sports that allowed them to redirect funds and scholarships elsewhere. Football now plays at a considerably more relevant level. Facilities across the board have seen some improvement. Women’s basketball has developed into a top 60-75 program in the country, even if they have fallen just short of an NCAA at-large bid two of the last three seasons. Meanwhile the Olympic sports, most notably the women’s Olympic sports, have finally gained some traction and won a few A-10 championships.
Despite all of this, the average Duquesne fan will likely tell you that Amodio’s tenure was a failure. Common arguments include the flagship program of men’s basketball failing to get over the hump, the dismissal of Ron Everhart, poor media relations, declining fan interest, and department-wide facilities improvements equating to putting lipstick on a pig.
That said, I do believe the new AD will have a considerably easier job than the previous AD when he signed up. However, he or she will need to address the lingering concerns of Amodio’s detractors as well as some new external challenges.
Repairing Damaged Relationships
For some fans who walked away from Duquesne athletics during the last ten years, restoring relationships with spurned fans may be as simple as extending a handshake and saying “Hello, my name is <something other than Greg Amodio>.” For others, it might not be so simple. Many will need to be impressed by strong action, and this may include seeing some heads roll among department staff. Some may need to see a grand gesture to show that the department is committed to winning, such as a huge investment in facilities or the misguided demand to restore some of the programs slashed by Amodio. Others may need to see actual results.
Regardless, the Athletic Director needs to acknowledge the limited pool of fans to draw from and do their best to bring as many back to the fold as quickly as they can. More response means more revenue and that might be the key to sustaining success moving forward.
Build Sustainable Revenue Sources
While I’ve often challenged the argument that Old Main hasn’t supported athletics during the past 10 years, valid concerns have been raised recently over degrading support from the Board, including the delayed funding for end-zone seats at the AJ Palumbo Center. While Duquesne was spending near the top of the Atlantic 10 for several years running in men’s basketball and with recruiting across all sports near the top of the league, they’ve fallen back to the middle of the pack the last two seasons. To this point, the department has seen little return on the investment it has made. While women’s basketball has a growing local reputation, it’s not the draw that men’s basketball would be if it were able to sustain a similar level of success. So far, the men’s team has fallen well short of that mark, finishing in the top 100 RPI once over the past decade and flirting with the top of the Atlantic 10 only twice. On top of that, the administration’s most aggressive move to this point, the firing of Everhart, has been met with disdain, especially after new coach Jim Ferry has failed to return to the program in his first three years to even the modest level of success under the previous coach. Needless to say, they’ve fallen short of earning those lucrative NCAA tournament shares and generating the interest that drives alumni to games and prospective students to apply.
The new Athletic Director will need to develop revenue streams to sustain the department through uncertainty at the board level to where the success becomes more tangible. As relationships are repaired, the new Director will need to parlay goodwill to good dollars. Amodio started the Duquesne University Fund for Basketball in 2013. The new Director will need to make it more than a press release.
Keep Up With the Joneses
When Amodio took over the athletic department, the A-10 wasn’t nearly as competitive. Outside of Duquesne, the conference was also home to a number of athletic departments with questions about how interested they were in winning. They included St. Bonaventure, La Salle, George Washington, Charlotte, and Rhode Island among others. The new Athletic Director will be competing in an environment where everyone wants to win in men’s basketball.
While the facilities like locker rooms and weight rooms were improved considerably and the arena modestly, other A-10 schools are starting to behave like BCS schools. UMass approved covering cost of attendance expenses for student athletes while VCU is building a state-of-the-art basketball building.
Duquesne raised the bar first with their early facility upgrades, but others have passed them by like they’ve been standing still. In essence, they have been. The next AD will need to find ways to not only raise sustaining revenue as I mentioned above, but also find ways to keep up financially with short run improvements, much easier said than done.
Finding a Solution to Rooney
For Duquesne’s Olympic sports like soccer and lacrosse, Rooney Field is an excellent facility and one of the best in the Atlantic 10 following its renovation. It was even fine for the school’s MAAC football program. However, it simply doesn’t befit an FCS team that has come close to reaching the Championship Tournament two of the last three seasons. Other FCS schools don’t want to travel there as the swimming pool doubles as their locker room and the stairwell outside the entrance offers opposing coaches the only opportunity to talk shop away from their opponents and their own players, even if fans can eavesdrop.
The next AD will face a major dilemma as there is no simple solution. Do you add permanent bleachers and a visitors locker room across academic walk? Do you build a new off-campus facility? Do you sacrifice revenue for a modest upgrade by working out a deal with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds to use Highmark Stadium? There is no easy or inexpensive answer.
Changes won’t happen overnight, but the new AD will need to hit the ground running and they may want to start by kissing some major rear end and bringing whoever they can back on board. That’s a challenge that their predecessor at least in part created. Tie an administration growing more lethargic to league competition growing more fierce and you suddenly have a problem you can control making one you can’t exponentially worse. While fewer issues have been kicked down the road, the new AD will have to deal with the one that has in Rooney Field. There needs to be a sense of urgency, because while things are relatively better now than they were ten years ago, playing catch-up will get more and more difficult as time passes.