by Chris Bahn
Posted 10/20/2011 11:00 am
Updated 3 years ago
After more than an hour of outlining a master plan for athletic facilities and all the facts and figures that went with it, Jeff Long had to stop and think. A fairly simple addition problem briefly stumped the Arkansas athletic director.
The question: How old would Long be 30 years and $320 million from now? Because the proposal outlined by Long on Tuesday came with a conservatively estimated $320 million price tag and a timeline that could extend up to three decades.
“I wondered if anybody was going to ask that,” Long said, laughing as he worked through the math a couple times, finally settling on 82. He would be 82 years old when the final ribbon cutting takes place on the upgrades or additions for all 19 sports.
It would take some Frank Broyles-esque longevity at Arkansas for Long to still be around when this vision becomes reality. That’s how far off in the future some of these plans are being made.
Long-term vision is clearly not something Long lacks. This is also proof Long isn’t lacking in confidence. He believes strongly in what he’s doing, the team he has assembled and the direction they have the Razorback athletic department heading.
Why shouldn’t he? Long has locked up capable coaches in the three top sports at Arkansas. Critics are finding fewer things to complain about with Long in his fourth “season” as athletic director, particularly since he let go of an attachment to John Pelphrey and hired Mike Anderson in basketball.
Most complaints boil down to “he does things different than the last guy.” As we’re beginning to see more and more, that’s not always a bad thing. Long's methods and personality are different than what a lot of folks are used to, but whether you'd like to join him at Theo's for dinner or not, it's hard to argue with the results so far.
Fundraising is at a high. Ticket sales are up for football, rebounding in basketball and remaining strong in baseball. Academic success — something Long began his press conference addressing — has reached record levels in most sports.
“I do believe in what we’re doing. I believe in the progress we’re making,” Long said. “And I believe if we rest on it, then we fail. We can’t stay satisfied with the progress we’ve made. It is ambitious, but I believe in what we’re doing.”
Announcing a plan this big shows that Long also believes in the people he has in place. He’s asking a lot of them and the state of Arkansas.
It’s not uncommon for a fund-raising campaign to set $100 million as a goal over a 10-year period. Ole Miss recently launched a $150 million campaign. Mississippi State is in the midst of a $100 million drive. South Carolina began a push toward $200 million in 2006.
Combine those three campaigns and you have about what Arkansas will need to pull off all the details of the master plan. That $320 million estimated cost will cover a north end zone expansion at Razorback Stadium ($78-95 million) and basketball practice facility ($20-25 million). It doesn’t include other components like an underground parking garage with green space on top for tailgaters or a Razorback Walk connecting the athletic facilities, projects that don’t even carry a price tag at this time.
It’s ambitious. A little daunting. And totally doable in the eyes of Arkansas administrators.
Instead of looking for funding on a project, building it and then resting (like the old days), the focus is on continual fundraising. Now donors and potential donors have a vision of what their donations are making possible.
“Man, fundraising should be every day,” said Chris Wyrick, senior associate AD for development. “Why not throw it out there and make it a continual effort? We’re really just beginning to scratch the surface on our fundraising."
Not all the project costs will come from private donations. Bonds, SEC media distribution, ticket sales and multi-media rights profits will help fund these projects. “All forms,” of fundraising will support the project, Long told reporters after his presentation.
Still, $300-plus million seems like a lot of money. That total looms even larger considering the state of the economy, but Long said he is optimistic that better financial times are ahead in the country.
And Long is equally optimistic the athletic programs at Arkansas are poised for bigger things. It’s a different approach than the program has seen in the past and Long is hopeful the confidence he has in himself will rub off on others.
“We’re not afraid to dream big,” Long said. “Hopefully our fans and supporters believe too.”