Iowa's run to the championship game of last year's NIT - and its preseason national rankings entering the 2013-14 season - are evidence of what happens when strategic investments are made in facilities.
Sept. 19, 2013
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Later this month, the UI Athletics Department will officially close one book and open another. The first is its strategic plan for the last five years. The second is a similar document created for implementation over the next five years.
"Strategic plans are important road maps. As a department, we discuss where we want to be in five years, establish and confirm our priorities, determine how to get to where we want to be, and determine our resources and how to allocate those resources. We then commit it to writing and use the document as our road map," explained Gary Barta, the UI's director of athletics and chief road map designer and reader.
The new plan will be introduced on the heels of a 2012-13 athletics year that saw the UI Athletics Department set new records for the graduation rate of its student-athletes and fund raising, and make substantial moves forward in terms of the facilities available to its talented student-athletes. The Iowa Hawkeyes also closed the book on 2012-13 as one of an elite class of four when it came to fans in the stands.
According to the NCAA, student-athletes that entered the University of Iowa in the fall of 2005 graduated at a rate of 77 percent. That mark - which uses the federal government benchmark for graduation success -- was three points better than a year ago when Iowa tied the former school record of 74 percent set first in 1994-95. It was also six points better than the UI student body and 12 points better than that achieved all by student-athletes nationally.
"Strategic plans are important road maps. As a department, we discuss where we want to be in five years, establish and confirm our priorities, determine how to get to where we want to be, and determine our resources and how to allocate those resources. We then commit it to writing and use the document as our road map."
UI Director of Athletics
The UI also set a new record by posting a score of 87 percent in the NCAA's "Graduation Success Rate" or GSR. It marked the seventh time in the eight years of the GSR's existence that Iowa's student-athletes scored 80 percent or better.
With respect to fund-raising, the National I-Club received pledges and gifts totaling more than $28 million in 2012-13. Much of that total is commitments made to support the construction of the Iowa football program's new multi-million dollar operations center which is slated for occupancy late next summer. However, the giving total also includes gifts to other capital projects of the UI Athletics Department like the new Hoak Family Golf Facility and to "Hawkeye Visions," the UI Athletics Department's campaign that creates endowed scholarships in addition to support of annual expenses like team travel, equipment, and recruiting.
Personal financial support of the intercollegiate athletics program is one way to measure the passion fans of the Hawkeyes have for their teams. Another, more traditional, barometer is fans in the stands and the 2012-13 year was an excellent one for the UI. The Hawkeyes joined Tennessee, Michigan State, and Wisconsin as one of only four programs across the country to have teams in the sports of football, men's basketball, and women's basketball rank among the Top 25 in attendance. In addition, Iowa also again ranked No. 1 in attendance in the sport of wrestling.
Barta knows, however, that for the majority of fans of the Hawkeyes, graduation rates are great and new facilities are important, but more regular season victories and championship appearances will always be at the very top of their list.
All counted, the UI had 69 different teams participate in NCAA championship competition or post-season bowl games during the last five years. The highlights of that list include victories in the 2010 Fed Ex Orange Bowl and 2009 Outback Bowl, national championships in wrestling in 2009 and 2010, and six straight NCAA Tournament appearances for the UI's women's basketball program.
"Our expectations are high. We need to be competing for Big Ten Conference championships. And, when - not if - we're competing at that level, we know we will also be experiencing success on the national stage because of the depth and strength of our conference," Barta said.
Iowa's director of athletics also knows a simple a fact of life in intercollegiate athletics: Facilities are the difference-maker because they are difference-makers in the recruiting process and the development of student-athletes once they land on campus.
Take, for example, Iowa's men's basketball program. Fran McCaffery's third season with the Hawkeyes ended in New York City at the championship game of the NIT. The Hawkeyes will be picked by most to finish in the upper division of the Big Ten Conference in 2013-14 for the first time since 2003-04 and some suggest they might have what it takes to challenge for the league's regular season title.
Iowa's success on the court paired with the tireless efforts of the McCaffery and his staff have put the Hawkeyes in the mix when it comes to attracting the attention of the nation's top high school talent.
"Our expectations are high. We need to be competing for Big Ten Conference championships. And, when - not if - we're competing at that level, we know we will also be experiencing success on the national stage because of the depth and strength of our conference."
UI Director of Athletics
Ask McCaffery how he has been able to return the Hawkeyes to a position of relevance nationally and he'll tell you it all begins with the facilities that are available to his staff and student-athletes: A practice facility that the Hawkeyes have access to 24-7-365 and a strength and training space that's almost as large as two full-sized basketball courts. Toss in an academic support facility that is centrally located, a game-day facility that ranks among the nation's best, and membership in a league that commands attention, and you have all the tools required for success.
"You can point to Fran and Lisa's (Bluder) programs as examples of how important facilities are to our team's success in competition. You can also point to our men's and women's golf programs, our men's and women's swimming and diving programs, our field hockey program," said Barta.
"All have recently been beneficiaries of an upgrade in the facilities they use for training, practice, and competition. All are competing at a higher level than prior to the upgrade in their facilities."
In no particular order, Barta clips through the list of facility initiatives that were a part of the strategic plan for 2008-2013 starting with the two that are most important to the entire athletics department...
"I like the fact that the pieces of the puzzle - exceptional staff, exceptional student-athletes, state-of-the-art facilities, outstanding fan support - are coming together. Now we need to seize the opportunities, build on the momentum, and see where it takes us."
UI Director of Athletics
As he eyes the next five years, Barta notes that the bar is set pretty high in the Big Ten -- the UI's annual operations budget for 2012-13 ranked seventh among its 12 league peers, more than $50 million smaller than that of Ohio State and Michigan, and more than $20 million smaller that of Wisconsin and Penn State - but it's a challenge his staff embraces.
Financial advantages don't guarantee wins, but they help.
"We compete in a league where many of our peers have greater financial resources and easier access to talented student-athletes, and that's understood. As a staff we've embraced the responsibility to be 100 percent self-supporting and we've embraced the responsibility to create a plan for the future that takes into consideration our need to compete for championships and to graduate our student-athletes and to do both in a way that makes Iowans and our many friends and fans proud," Barta said.
"I like the fact that the pieces of the puzzle - exceptional staff, exceptional student-athletes, state-of-the-art facilities, outstanding fan support - are coming together," he added.
"Now we need to seize the opportunities, build on the momentum, and see where it takes us."