Greg Hansen: Byrne sets foundation for future UA success

2013-06-21T00:00:00Z 2013-06-21T12:14:28Z Greg Hansen: Byrne sets foundation for future UA successGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Winning a Pac-12 championship in any sport has become so increasingly difficult that Arizona didn't win one this year. The Wildcats were 0 for 18.

In fact, over the last five seasons, the Wildcats have won just three league titles: women's golf, 2010, men's basketball, 2011, and baseball, 2012.

That's 3 for 54 if you're counting.

Over the same five-year period, in the same 18 sports, Stanford has won 28 titles, Oregon 16 and USC 12.

And yet it some ways, the perception of Arizona's athletic department is that it is soaring into the early 21st century, an exemplary outfit the way it was when Cedric Dempsey's Hall of Fame coaches Mike Candrea, Lute Olson, Dave Murray, Rick LaRose and Frank Busch annually made the Wildcats a top-10 finisher in the Director's Cup standings of the '90s.

Much of it is that Greg Byrne, who just completed his third year as athletic director, is a master of the positive spin. He has undeniably become a player on the national stage, and with unexpected suddenness.

In turn, Arizona is viewed in as an on-the-rise franchise in college sports.

Byrne's image has been so uplifting that even those who follow UA sports closely often fail to look under the hood. Women's soccer, women's basketball, men's golf and men's tennis are in notable distress. That's almost 25 percent of the department.

Beyond that, even as Fred Harvey has shaped the Wildcats into a consistent top-10 power in track, field and cross country, his facility, Drachman Stadium, isn't much better than the one at Pima College.

Can you imagine where the UA would be had Byrne not been willing to leave Mississippi State and reshape the perception and financial health of Arizona in the spring of 2010?

It could be Utah or Colorado, or worse.

Byrne, seemingly inexhaustible, will be in Chicago this weekend, meeting with donors - isn't that a typical week for him? - and, after that, gathering there with a group of athletic directors, who, he says "care deeply about the enterprises of college athletics.''

That's in addition to Byrne's latest role, one of 10 ADs selected to serve on a monthly council with NCAA executive director Mark Emmert, one that will be charged with giving athletic directors more of a voice.

"This is in its infancy,'' says Byrne. "But I had been vocal about some concerns, about the future, in our conference meetings. I guess it made a little bit of sense to recommend me for (Emmert's) group.''

The Pac-12 is hardly a group of lightweight athletic directors. Washington State's Bill Moos, USC's Pat Haden, Oregon State's Bob DeCarolis and UCLA's Dan Guerrero, among others, swing mighty big sticks nationally.

Byrne, 41, the youngest of the group, hasn't been shy in anything. He has set a torrid pace across the board, from his pursuit and acquisition of Rich Rodriguez and pulling the trigger on a $74 million football makeover, to insisting that Arizona regain its footing as an elite basketball power, both financially and competitively.

It hasn't been easy. Similarly, the future of Arizona athletics in a brutally difficult conference is such that it can't afford any missteps.

The irony here is that Dempsey, viewed 20 years ago as perhaps the nation's top athletic director, or close, left to become the NCAA's executive director on a platform that included "cost containment.''

In 1993, the soaring costs of college athletics were thought to be near a threshold. College presidents, who were then given full control of NCAA decision-making, were ineffective in preventing runaway spending.

All of that has changed. Byrne's new NCAA council is formed to give the ADs more control. And why not? A college president should have far too much of day-to-day importance than to be on the front lines of athletics.

The new platform is this: If you don't have a lot of money, you can't play.

The San Jose Mercury News this week reported that the Pac-12 will receive $185 million this year merely from ESPN and Fox Sports rights fees. It will accelerate by $50 million in the next five years.

And no one, not even pennies-counting ASU, needs that money and future revenue from the currently cash-poor Pac-12 Networks the way Arizona needs it. Put it this way: That money is already spent when you're planning an $80 million makeover at McKale Center and must address facilities issues in track, tennis, soccer, softball and at Arizona Stadium.

As Byrne enters Year 4 at Arizona, the Wildcats may not be winning any more than they did upon his arrival, but a foundation has been poured to see that it doesn't stay that way.

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362. On Twitter @ghansen711

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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