Dave Heeke, athletic director for the University of Arizona, takes questions during a press conference in the Lohse Room at McKale Center on May 31, 2018.

The UA athletic department released a strategic plan for the future on Tuesday, an expansive document that is the result a year of research involving input from more than 160,000 people. 

Its goals are ambitious. Listed among the department's core values — integrity, compassion, exploration, adaptation, inclusion and determination — are standards for on-and-off-field success. The UA plans to send 70 percent of all Wildcats teams to the NCAA playoffs each year, a high bar at any university. 

"And that's going to take resources, that's going to take fan support, that's going to take a student-athlete environment that's better than usual," athletic director Dave Heeke told the Star on Saturday.  

Heeke says the plan, which can be accessed here and is attached as a PDF, is "a living document." Feedback on questions about perception helped fuel the strategic plan.

The question, "What do you value most about the University of Arizona athletics program?," yielded the following answers:

• “Teams that consistently compete for championships and are part of the community”;

• “Commitment and tradition of excellence”;

• “Connection to the community”;

• “I value being able to represent a University that has put so much effort and resources into making each student-athlete reach their full potential in sport, academics, and in life”;

• “Seeing young people being given the opportunity to develop athletic skills and compete at a high level”;

• "Excitement! The fan experience contributes to this as much as wins and losses.”

Asked about the challenges facing the Wildcats, those polled touched on everything from negative publicity and the difficulty of recruiting in college athletics to a lack of facilities and staff turnover. 

The strategic plan was led by a steering committee of a dozen athletes, coaches and athletic department employees. Each of the plan's five "pillars" was guided by a separate committee.

"This isn't something that was created in a corner office by a couple people," Heeke said. 

Here's a summary of the plan, modeled after the campus-wide strategic plan presented by president Robert C. Robbins in November:

Pillar 1: The Wildcat Journey 

"The Intercollegiate Athletics Department will lead a Commitment to an Athlete’s Total Success (C.A.T.S.) driven by a multi-faceted, cutting edge, integrative programs focused on empowering students with the skills and mindset to lead in the fourth industrial revolution and developing strategies to enhance performance, wellness, and safety."

What it means: Pillar 1 includes standards for medical treatment, which includes mental health; promoting inclusion; tracking APR and academic scores; improving C.A.T.S. support services and plans to partner with UA global to support cultural exploration by student-athletes.

Pillar 2: Grand Challenges

"Tackling the critical problems to ensure the University of Arizona can compete at the preeminent level of Division I Intercollegiate Athletics. Addressing our grand challenges ensure our intercollegiate sports programs have sustained success in the Pac-12 and NCAA competition."

What it means: Pillar 2 lays out a plan for revenue growth, improved fan experiences, on-field success and recruiting success, and emphasizes the importance of relationships between the athletic department and the rest of campus. 

Pillar 3: The Arizona Advantage

"Leveraging the strengths of our department, our campus and local community and its diverse populations to drive the success of our mission. Continue to positively contribute and serve the Tucson community and our Wildcat fans who support our teams."

What it means: Pillar 3 focuses on improving customer service and community outreach, engaging fans and a commitment to Title IX and gender equity. 

Pillar 4: People: Developing our Greatest Resource

"Attracting, recruiting, onboarding, and retaining highly-qualified employees is a critical dimension of building a successful organization. Arizona Athletics is committed to being an industry leader in creating a healthy, thriving culture for our employees."

What it means: Pillar 4 focuses on professional development, attracting and keeping top employees and providing then with support once they're on campus. 

Pillar 5: Departmental Excellence

"Commit to fiscal, operational, business and NCAA compliance excellence in all aspects of our department. Identify opportunities to improve overall operations through key campus partnerships and commit to achieving goals of the strategic plan."

What it means: Pillar 5 lays out a plan for fiscal responsibility, financial sustainability and what it calls "business intelligence": a "creative, data driven and informed decision making culture."

The plan is "about an overall strategic effort," Heeke said.  

Similar plans "can be a big book that sits on a shelf that, really, don't get much (attention)," he said. "We've been very intentional and very careful, because I don't want this to be a wasted effort. I don't want this to sit there and gather dust and in five years, we pull it and go, 'Well, we better do another one.'" 

Heeke said the plan has been "very well-received." 

"People have rallied around it and found their niche," he said. 

The UA still has obstacles to face. Football attendance is down, and the Pac-12's television contracts in both football and basketball have led to awkward start times that are felt at the turnstiles. The west side of Arizona Stadium must be rebuilt, a project that will cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And ongoing internal and NCAA investigations could affect the Wildcats' most successful, and profitable, program. 

Those are, by comparison, short-term issues. The strategic plan is a big-picture view of the department's stated values and goals, which Heeke says aligns with the plan laid out by Robbins for the UA. 

"When we talk about our pillars, they're very similar," Heeke said. "When we adopt core values, we adopted the core values of the university, it's then our responsibility. And our challenge was to see, 'how do we develop a plan and initiatives and action steps that connect, that move our ball forward, but connect back to the university into their core values and what they think are the key pillars?'"


Read the UA athletic department's strategic plan here: