Greg Hansen: Livengood lost battle to UNLV president

2013-05-14T00:00:00Z 2013-05-14T13:00:07Z Greg Hansen: Livengood lost battle to UNLV presidentGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

When Jim Livengood announced he would be leaving college athletics last week, done in by a series of conflicts with UNLV president Neal Smatresk, I thought back to the Arizona-Harvard NCAA tournament basketball game.

Standing behind the UA bench, school president Ann Weaver Hart cupped a hand to the side of her mouth and shouted "ZEUSSS!!'' when Wildcat center Kaleb Tarczewski was introduced.

Greater love hath no college president for her athletic department than she who would stand and cheer for big ol' Zeus.

I mention this because Livengood lost two notable skirmishes with school presidents across the last four years, first with Arizona's Robert Shelton and now with UNLV's Smatresk.

At Arizona, the source of Livengood's demise was a feud with and the fractured end of Lute Olson's career. At UNLV, it was a lack of money. My goodness, the Rebels averaged just 15,208 at home football games last fall and have gone 6-31 on Livengood's watch.

That's unsurvivable.

Livengood stepped into a boiling mess at UNLV, a midmajor in a big city with a small-town appetite for college sports.

When Livengood began to negotiate terms for Arizona to buy out a September football game in Las Vegas, permitting the UA to move it to Glendale for about $1 million, it was the ultimate concession in college sports.

If you're putting your home football games out to bid, you are doomed.

No college president is going to stand up and shout "ZEUSSS!'' when the athletic department is selling out.

The irony here is that it is Livengood's Arizona successor, Greg Byrne, who continues to find new ways to run a business that essentially put Livengood out of business.

What goes unspoken is that Byrne is working with a new boss, Hart, who is new to big-time college athletics and did not leave Temple with a reputation as an athletics-friendly boss.

Hart had limited experience in big-time college sports; none whatsoever at New Hampshire, and little at Temple, where the football team doesn't have its own stadium and must lease the Philadelphia Eagles facility, where it averaged 26,980 this year, or, 42,000 empty seats per game.

Arizona's athletic department suffered through the 1950s and 1960s with a sports-are-a-nuisance president, Richard Harvill. It took until Cedric Dempsey came along in 1983 to fully set Arizona on a trajectory to be a player on the national stage.

So you might imagine there was some tension when Hart took office.

When Hart began work last summer, she must've been floored by Byrne's ambitious nature and by the scope of expectations in an athletic department that is spending $74 million to update its football plant, and soon, about $80 million more to make McKale Center suitable for the next quarter-century.

Arizona's basketball revenues reach almost $25 million per year, which is in the top five in college hoops, but that's not all of it. The aura of success, community spirit and commitment goes far behind dollars and cents. It's a big family pushing together.

That environment can bring your university president to her feet, cheering for Zeus.

That's what Livengood couldn't match at UNLV. Do you realize that the Rebels' basketball arena, Thomas and Mack, is operated not by the athletic department but through the president's office? Its football stadium is so dated, and so far from campus, that it might as well be in Mesquite.

Let it be said that Livengood raised the first $10 million for Arizona's Lowell-Stevens football building, and established a blueprint for almost $400 million of athletic development stretching into the next decade or two.

His choice to go to UNLV, in retrospect, wasn't a good one. That's such a dead-end job. He told Las Vegas reporters last week that his "Let's grow, let's take some chances, let's be visionary" approach was rebuffed at higher levels.

It's a sad departure for a man who worked 20 distinguished years in the Pac-12, first at Washington State and from 1994-2009 at Arizona.

When he was hired in the fall of '93, succeeding the popular and respected Dempsey, Livengood was perceived as the new breed of college AD's, a bit of a visionary in fund-raising and Title IX matters, a new-age, get-out-of-the-office-and-chat-up-the-populace guy who did just that for eight or nine years.

Ultimately, the game changed.

A college athletic director has a brief shelf life, 10 years if you're really good (or at a school with a football powerhouse) much less if you are at UNLV, a school with no money, no patience and no vision.

The old school ADs like Jim Livengood, bless his have-a-good-Wildcat-day shtick, are being phased out. Today's athletic directors are architect-hiring, PR-savvy, corporate-branding workaholics.

Byrne, for example, is never off the stage.

After Arizona won a basketball game at Utah in early February, Hart, her husband, their children and grandchildren assembled at the door to Sean Miller's locker room. The ever-present Byrne accommodated all of them, acting as tour guide, introducing them to UA basketball players and coaches.

Especially Zeus.

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

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

Activate

Latest Sports Video

More videos

Sean Miller and players on Oakland win

Sean Miller, Stanley Johnson and Brandon Ashley discuss their win against Oakland.


Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Deals, offers & events

View more...