By CycloneFanatic.com fan blogger, psychlone99
I was recently reading an article in ESPN The Magazine about the best franchise in sports. (Not exactly hard-hitting sports journalism, I know. But when they offer you 26 issues for five bucks, it makes for some cheap bathroom reading). The article wasn’t an enjoyable read for this Chicago fan, naming the Green Bay Packers as the No. 1 franchise in America and placing my favorites pretty low on the totem pole. It was a sobering reminder of the overall state of my two favorite professional teams – the Bears and Cubs.
Like most fans of professional teams, I didn’t exactly choose my favorites. I sort of inherited them due to the geographic location of my hometown and pre-existing family loyalties. Growing up in eastern Iowa, my hometown bank often organized bus trips to Wrigley. At the age of nine, I got to enjoy my first trip to the friendly confines. Walking into the park, my dad turned to me and bet me that the Cubs would beat the Phillies (then NL East foes) 14-1. It sounded like a crazy bet at the time, but my dad should have put some real money down as we watched the Cubs prevail 15-2.
On that day, I ate my first ballpark hot dog and watched Shawon Dunston and Andre Dawson hit homeruns. You could have stamped “Cubs Fan For Life” on my forehead as we boarded the bus for home, but I digress. The point is that I didn’t choose the Bears or the Cubs. It just sort of happened, so it’s hard not to feel like I got the short end of the stick at times. And by now I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with our beloved Cyclones. I’m getting there.
As I continued reading the article, wallowing in self-pity over the status of my favorite pro teams, I started to think about Iowa State. What if Iowa State was graded out as a franchise? Would I feel any better about my favorite college team? The writers at ESPN rated each organization using several criteria, including the ability to win a title, ownership, coaching, players, fan relations, affordability, stadium experience and bang for the buck. While I don’t believe it’s fair to rate a college athletics department using the same criteria, I think you can learn a lot by simply applying the overarching theme from the article: Are those in charge acting as good stewards of the resources at their disposal?
When you ask that question with our own athletics department in mind, you need not look any further than athletics director Jamie Pollard. As I started to think back on his tenure, I quickly realized I was going to need a piece of paper and a pen because the list of advancements was longer than I apparently expected as I began to recite them in my head. After a quick 60-second brainstorm, I had already jotted down the following as indicators of a strong leader and good stewardship:
- Communication: Pollard quickly and clearly communicated his vision through the Next Big Step, showing Cyclone fans what we have to overcome and how we can go about doing it
- Personnel: Pollard’s coaching hires have been extremely impressive, all things considered. While not every hire turned out to be a homerun, Cyclone fans love who we have on board, and two of the three coaches who left after being hired by Pollard have since won national championships.
- Branding: After tolerating far too many years with one of the most embarrassing excuses for a brand identity, Pollard headed up a much-needed rebranding, leading to the creation of a clean, consistent and classic look.
- Creativity: Pollard and his staff have shown a knack for coming up with creative ways to try and spur on Cyclone fans to greater giving. Recent examples have included the Each 1 Bring 1 and the I Give 110% fundraising efforts.
- Customer service: There are many examples of improvements in this area, but one of my favorites is CloneZone. The free video content is excellent, especially during periods like spring football practice, and must be invaluable for out-of-staters craving a Cyclone fix.
- Customer appreciation: Heading out across the state for the annual Tailgate Tours has been tremendously positive, allowing the coaches and administrators to get out and show their appreciation to those fans in the hinterland.
- Tradition: Historically successful athletics programs are associated with well-known traditions, which is probably why they’re rare in Ames. While I’m not a believer that you can artificially create traditions, I do believe that you can successfully cultivate a budding one, which is what Pollard has done with things like the Spirit Walk.
- Eye towards the future: If you think programs like the Lil’ Clone Club are about nothing more than scraping together every last dollar, you’re missing the point. It’s about creating lifelong Cyclone fans and winning back some of the state that was lost to darkside after Earl Bruce left Ames and Hayden Fry moved to Iowa City.
When you start to consider some of these advancements, it’s hard to believe that Pollard has been in Ames for just a half-dozen years. The resume is impressive and we haven’t even discussed facilities yet. When it comes to evaluating Iowa State the franchise, one must consider our progress within the context of the arms race that is big-time college athletics. There’s no better expression of this arms race than the never-ending pursuit for bigger and better athletics facilities, and Pollard has been the mastermind behind dramatic improvements on this front. Below are some projects that were completed (or are soon to be completed) on his watch:
- Installation of new Hilton videoboard and ribbonboard
- Replacement of Hilton seating and banners
- Construction of Johnny’s and other Hilton concourse improvements
- Construction of the Student Success Center (a university project, but largely driven by athletics)
- Reconstruction of Jack Trice Stadium concourse, plazas, and entrances
- Construction of new Jack Trice Stadium luxury suites and club seating area
- Construction of new Jack Trice Stadium scoreboard and installation of new sound system
- Construction of new basketball-only facility
- Construction of new football-only facility and restructuring of vacated space in Jacobson
- Construction of new track & field/softball complex
This is an impressive list of facilities improvements, even without the crown jewel- the Jack Trice Stadium south endzone project. And if one believes the rumors, Pollard was apparently one fateful business deal away from securing a large lead donation for this project. Regardless, our AD has accomplished much more in the last six years than I ever thought possible. Many of these projects were completed sooner than anticipated, yet still turned out to be top-notch. The Sukup Basketball Complex is a perfect example of Pollard’s ingenuity when it comes to getting his coaches the facilities that they need to compete.
I’ve spent a lot of time discussing recent successes, but that doesn’t mean that the Pollard era has been immune to failure and bad ideas. One of my biggest pet peeves is the failure to organize some semblance of a cohesive and well-orchestrated football team entrance. That may seem trivial, but I think it’s critical if you want to create a big-time college football environment. And white helmets? Really?! I don’t care how much Chizik wanted Ames to be like Austin, the Cyclones should never wear white helmets.
But by far, Jamie Pollard has proven himself to be a tremendous steward of Iowa State athletics. He can’t control the wins and losses, but he can hire good coaches and provide them with the resources they need to be competitive. He’s done that consistently throughout his tenure, even under the constraints of limited financial resources. Iowa State the franchise is in good hands, and I can’t wait until that TV money starts rolling in.