Athletic director Jon Gilbert has been dealing with a multitude of issues lately.
Athletes will soon be entitled to a bigger piece of the financial pie. Athletic department revenue streams, parched by COVID, are starting to flow again. There is a proposal that is gaining popularity to expand the College Football Playoffs. The baseball program is good enough that coach Cliff Godwin has interviewed with LSU. New coaches have been hired in softball and men’s golf. The football program is forging on without an indoor practice facility
Gilbert’s full plate this week included a Supreme Court ruling that will enable more scholarship benefits.
“They were challenging the ability for institutions to further fund initiatives in athletics like — I’m going back here in time a little bit,” Gilbert said. “Before, if you were a full scholarship student-athlete, back before cost of attendance, there were things that you had to pay out of pocket even though you were on a full scholarship. Then we introduced cost of attendance that helped with that. This Alston case provides more freedom for institutions to do things that are tethered to academics. …
“The case is really kind of tethered to the academic piece of the athletic scholarship,” Gilbert said. “You can provide more resources that are tethered to academics. I think, really, all of this is going to be decided on a school-by-school basis of what schools can afford to do and what they’re willing to do.
“It’s really tough because, the Supreme Court and the general public, they look at Division I athletics across the board as we’re all kind of even in what we’re doing and how we’re funded.
” … They’re only 25 schools that operate in the black out of 300-and-something Division I schools. That’s not very many, so I think we’ve got to do a better job of telling our story from a financial standpoint. The NCAA has to do a better job of telling their story from a financial standpoint. Not every championship they run makes money. I think if we all look at the numbers, we probably need a reset in what we’re doing in higher education and intercollegiate athletics.
“I think moving forward, you could pay for graduate school for someone. If you wanted to provide some vocational study abroad program, you can do that. Computers, equipment, I-pads — purchasing those is permissible. An academic award up to $5,900, you could actually give them cash.”
Will this allow some schools to put together a potentially more attractive scholarship to recruits?
“Yes,” Gilbert said.
ECU announced the Student-Athlete Brand Resource Education (SABRE) program this week in conjunction with The Miller School of Entrepreneurship to prepare Pirate athletes for the anticipated passage of NIL legislation that would allow them to be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness while in college.
“The SABRE program will help student-athletes on their brand resource education,” Gilbert said. “It will help them as they go out and are entrepreneurs and create opportunities to generate revenue off their name, image and likeness.”
Could, for example, quarterback Holton Ahlers make a commercial for a car dealer?
“He could,” Gilbert said. “There are some stipulations. He could do that. It would be more similar like when you see Tom Brady do a commercial and its says, ‘Tom Brady, professional football player.’ It doesn’t say, ‘Tom Brady, quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,’ with their logo on.
“It will be more in that realm, but a commercial. If we started selling a certain number in the book store on a football jersey or a basketball jersey and we wanted to share in that revenue with a student-athlete, we could do that.”
ECU athletes currently receive about $4,500 annually in cost of attendance compensation with a full scholarship.
“That’s paid monthly over a 10-month period,” Gilbert said.
ECU makes roughly $1 million for a home football game, but revenue was far less last season due to attendance restrictions.
“I think they will most likely resemble normal,” Gilbert said of the upcoming school year. “I don’t know if it will completely flip in one year. We’re at approximately 11,500 in football season tickets. The last year pre-COVID (2019), we were at 14,000 so we’ve got a little room to grow there. … We’ve got another two months to sell.
“Obviously, we need our sponsorship dollars to come back. So, I think we’ll be trending towards normal. As businesses and individuals recover, it will affect their discretionary spending, which could still affect us in the short term.
Count the ECU AD among the multitude who favor more teams in the College Football Playoffs.
“I’m for expansion,” Gilbert said. “I think it will create more opportunities and it will give every I-A football-playing institution a pathway to a championship. Right now, there is no pathway for the schools that are not in the autonomy leagues. But I do think this will create a pathway.
“The other thing that I think it will do and it may be more important than creating this pathway, is I think the model is going to create this structure where you don’t have to go undefeated to win a national championship. I am very much in favor of that because, I think it encourages teams to play other good teams — not thread this needle of schedule good enough to get you there from a strength of schedule standpoint but you also want to schedule these games to get wins.
“I like the model because you could see a team that goes 9-3 and gets into a 12-team playoff and they get on a run at the end and win it all with three losses. I personally think that’s good for college football because the stress and pressure of trying to go undefeated to get there is extremely difficult.”
Gilbert was in Nashville as ECU’s pitching stood out in 2-0 and 4-1 losses to Vanderbilt in the Super Regional.
“I thought our team competed really well,” Gilbert said. “It is special to be a part of a program like our baseball program. Any time you’re one of the final 16 teams playing in the country, you know you’ve got a great program. I was really pleased about that. We keep knocking on the door. I know that we’re going to get there one day.”
Baseball coach Cliff Godwin reportedly has interviewed for the vacancy at LSU.
“Cliff and I communicate regularly,” Gilbert said. “I know when you have success like our baseball program has had under Cliff, you’re going to be an attractive candidate. I know Cliff is a Pirate and he loves being here and he is really an important part of this entire athletics program and community.
“For us to host three consecutive regionals, it’s just a special run that we’ve had.
“We’ll let the process play out. … We continue to invest in our athletic programs so we’ll continue to do that with our baseball program. We’ll continue to make investments within the program.”
Gilbert announced salary reductions for coaches and furloughs for athletic department personnel that went into effect in November.
Those measures are coming to an end.
“Everybody will be back on July 1,” Gilbert said. “We’ll revert to normal salaries. … It’s impacted everyone during COVID.”
In the more traditional scope of his responsibilities, Gilbert has hired Shane Winkler as softball coach and Kevin Williams to guide men’s golf.
“We hired Shane Winkler to lead our softball program,” Gilbert said. “We’re really, really pleased with Shane. He really stood out throughout the interview process. If you look at what he did at George Washington in a short time — I think the first year he was there, they won 40-plus games. We had a COVID year this year and I think they won 39, won their conference and played in the Baton Rouge regional. He’s familiar with the Carolinas from his time at Charleston Southern and so I’m really pleased with where that is headed.
“I can’t say enough about Kevin Williams, who is coming home to lead our men’s golf program. Kevin’s a Pirate. He’s been the head coach of both our men’s and women’s golf team. I’m just really pleased that he’s coming home to lead the men’s golf team. He’s a great fit. Our staff has great familiarity with Kevin and our donor base, so he is a perfect fit for us.”
Indoor football facility
An indoor practice facility for football has been a need for decades.
“It is something that is certainly on our radar,” Gilbert said. “I do think that it is a piece that ultimately we do need to figure out.
“I think timing is really important when you launch something like that. You really need to do that during a time of momentum. If you look at Coastal Carolina, the season that they had this past year (11-1), they have launched the fundraising campaign for that building. Timing is going to be really important about when we make an official launch of a project of that magnitude.
“We’ve had some preliminary discussions, but nothing final at this time.”.