In the process of Greg Byrne’s departure from Arizona, he met with Tucsonan Mike Lude and asked for counsel.
Was it time to go?
Even though Byrne didn’t disclose his landing spot, Lude knew it would take a school like Alabama to turn the athletic director’s head.
“I told him he had done just about everything he could do at Arizona,” said Lude, the former athletic director at Washington and Auburn, and a former mentor/colleague to Byrne’s father, Bill, the athletic director at Oregon from 1984 to 1992.
Arizona offered to match Byrne’s $900,000-a-year salary at Alabama, but he chose to leave. It was a no-brainer.
In my opinion, Lude, Stanford’s Ted Leland and Arizona’s Cedric Dempsey have been the Pac-12’s three premier ADs of the modern years. Greg Byrne was on a path to join them.
Byrne leaned heavily on his mentors while in Tucson, especially former Oregon football coach and AD Rich Brooks and, of course, Lude, who has lived in Tucson since retiring.
One of the few things Byrne didn’t accomplish in his 6½ seasons in Tucson was to implement an athletic fee for students, one that could raise in excess of $5 million a year. Arizona pays about $7.5 million a year in athletic debt service; the student fee would be a fiscal game-changer.
Washington and Arizona are the only public universities in the league not to raise money through a student fee. Arizona State has realized about $10 million per year from a student athletic fee.
UA administrators have been envious of ASU’s ability to apply a $75-per-semester student fee; some insist Sun Devils president Michael Crow applied some hocus-pocus to get the deal passed by the Arizona Board of Regents two years ago. I’ve said similar things.
But in documents Crow’s office supplied to the Star last week, that’s not the case.
ASU’s initial proposal to implement an athletic fee came from the student government Council of Presidents, consisting of five members: the presidents of the Tempe Campus, Downtown Campus, West Campus and Polytechnic Campus, as well as a president elected by graduate students.
Their proposal included provisions to provide free admission to sports events for all students, and to improve their game-day experience, among other things. After making the proposal to Crow, the COP held a series of public student forums to solicit comment and feedback from students. After that, Crow and the Board of Regents approved.
Arizona will need to follow a similar course under incoming AD Dave Heeke, who takes office April 1. Heeke will work with presumptive new UA president Robert C. Robbins on following ASU’s lead to implement a student fee.
The fee might be the most important issue Heeke tackles in his early UA days.
Heeke becomes just the second Pac-12 AD hired from a Mid-American Conference school, Central Michigan. The first was Lude, who left Kent State to turn Washington into the league’s most powerful, and profitable, football program of a 12-year period from 1981-92.
Small world. Good karma.