COLUMBIA — University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides had confidence former Gamecocks baseball coach Ray Tanner would make a successful switch from the dugout to the board room as athletic director.
But even Pastides has been amazed with the quick and seamless transition since Tanner’s appointment last July.
“It was beyond my own expectations,” Pastides told The Associated Press on Friday.
Tanner was named AD after 16 successful seasons leading the baseball team. The Gamecocks won College World Series titles in 2010 and 2011 and were runners-up to Arizona last year. Tanner was a popular candidate when longtime AD Eric Hyman left for a similar job at Texas A&M. Yet, there were questions whether Tanner have the savvy and ability to administrate a department that had an operating budget of $83 million in 2011.
Pastides has found that he does – and more. The president is also getting positive reviews on Tanner’s early performance from others, including Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive.
“He’s been a sharp and clever administrator,” Pastides said. “He’s been a quick study.”
Pastides acknowledged he worries, at times, about Tanner’s reputation once the blowback from an unpopular decision tarnishes the luster of a championship coach. But he noted that Tanner came into the job with eyes wide open.
But right now, that’s not a problem. South Carolina’s athletic programs seem to be in good hands.
The football team, under coach Steve Spurrier, has won 11 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time ever. The floundering men’s basketball program has a steadying hand in first-year coach Frank Martin and coach Dawn Staley’s women’s basketball team has reached the 20-win plateau for a second consecutive season.
Still, criticism is likely on the horizon. Tanner is backing the first increase in football season tickets since 2008, saying the time is right to raise prices.
Tanner said his new job has been a shot in the arm after a lifetime spent in uniform.
“It’s really invigorated me,” he said.
Pastides said he, Tanner and Spurrier have a solid working relationship and the ability to discuss difficult issues with understanding and perspective.
“Maybe there’s a better three-way relationship out there” among a university president, athletic director and football coach, Pastides said. “But I’m not aware of it.”
The school will continue its $200 million face lift of athletic facilities begun during Hyman’s seven years.
South Carolina created a $30 million tailgating area across from Williams-Brice Stadium that opened this fall, along with a $6.5 million video board for inside the arena. A renovated softball stadium will come on line this season and plans for an indoor football practice facility are also on the front burner, Pastides said.
Tanner hopes to get approval to bring a beach volleyball team – called sand volleyball in NCAA parlance – to the campus soon.
Pastides also addressed conference expansion, saying he’s hopes the SEC would stay away from any additional moves.
The president was comfortable with the SEC’s 14-team format and the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M. But he is concerned that further expansion would cause the SEC to lose some of its common aspects among members. Pastides, citing the Big Ten Conference’s pending additions of Maryland and Rutgers, questions whether expanding a conference’s footprint is the best model for college athletics.
“What is this, a bank? You’re opening up branches,” he said. “You’re headquartered in (Illinois) and you’re opening a branch in New Jersey? That might be fine for bank business, but is it really going to work with us.”
Pastides understands, though, SEC leaders will always have an eye on the college landscape and if expansion is necessary, will make the best choice for the league.
“I hope we’re in for a period of great stability,” he said.
Pastides, a member of the NCAA Division I executive committee, said he was distressed by recent admissions by the NCAA regarding the enforcement process in a case against the University of Miami.
NCAA President Mark Emmert ordered an outside review after the sports governing body found its enforcement staff had botched the high-profile investigation of the University of Miami by improperly conducting at least two depositions while working with a booster’s attorney.
In 2012, the NCAA found South Carolina failed to monitor its athletic program and accepted the school’s sanctions to cut six football scholarships and slash its official recruiting visits by more than half this season. The penalties stemmed from athletes receiving $59,000 in impermissible benefits. The NCAA said South Carolina’s cooperation went “beyond standard expectations.”
Pastides reviewed the South Carolina process after the Miami allegations surfaced, but said school administrators would have likely handled things in the same manner.
“I might have disagreed with a few things,” he said. “But ultimately, I’m pleased with where we are today.”
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