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Excerpt:

The following is from the Feb. 6, 2007, edition of The Dallas Morning News.


SMU president is thinking big

Turner discusses goals for athletic department, growth of college sports

By KATE HAIROPOULOS
The Dallas Morning News

SMU president R. Gerald Turner sat down with SMU beat writer Kate Hairopoulos recently to discuss topics ranging from his role as co-chair of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics to the SMU athletic department's goals of reaching the top-25 level in every sport.

Turner, who admits he does a little coaching of the refs during Mustangs basketball games, has served on the NCAA board and various task forces. The Knight Commission ( www.knightcommission.org) was founded in 1989 in response to more than a decade of notorious scandals in collegiate athletics. The commission monitors and reports on issues involving presidential control, academic and financial integrity and student welfare.

How does serving on the Knight Commission [since 1991] shape your views?

Coming through the death penalty is certainly negative, but it provides a point of view that I can give that is unique. As a result, everybody knows SMU is absolutely committed to trying to do things right. ... The number of cable sports channels now, the almost insatiable appetite of the American public for sport, makes it really even harder for presidents to really be in control of their programs than when the Knight Commission started 20 years ago.

Because there's so much money involved in college athletics?

There's so many huge forces. ... Universities are created for academic programs, yet most of the visibility of the institution comes from your sports programs. ...Those two things are constantly colliding and getting out of balance.

Is college athletics getting too big?

Whatever the market will allow, intercollegiate athletics basically pursues in terms of TV, in terms of all sorts of income, in terms of the sports fan base in the country wanting 24-7 sports programming. And because of a desire to be at the very top, there are about four or five conferences that are setting a pace that the rest of the country is going to have a hard time keeping up with. And even they are going to have a hard time maintaining.

How do you limit that?

There isn't really any solution ... until such time as we as Division I-A institutions come to a consensus about 'this is big enough.' ... The Big Ten creating its own cable [network] will now make the SEC create its own cable. ... You'd think saturation would occur, but we haven't found it yet. Does the Knight Commission have solutions? No, not at this time. But are we working on it? Yes. Are we trying to keep attention on what the issues are? Yes.

Athletic director Steve Orsini talks about getting SMU to a top-25 level. What's it going to take to do that in football and basketball?

In football, I think we finally made an important turn this last year. We're in a good conference for us, Conference USA. And the kind of recruiting that we thought would follow building Ford Stadium ... is starting to show up now. I'm very optimistic about the football program going forward. [Coach] Phil [Bennett] has his own players now, and I think that's showing up.

... Having the Crum Basketball Center and redoing Moody [Coliseum], I think is going to be crucial. It's just impossible to be as competitive in recruiting as we want to be when our facilities are decidedly below those who we're recruiting against.

How do you get the athletic department out of the red [which Turner said dates back to the death penalty].

We make the best case we can for why a fan should come to one of our games. Conference USA, our TV contracts are not like the Big 12, where we're going to get seven, eight million dollars a year. It's more than we had with the WAC. But it means we've got to get more attendance at football and basketball. And that's a success thing. It usually takes two or three years of being competitive for that to turn around.

How disappointed were you SMU missed out on its first bowl since the death penalty?

Everybody would've felt we turned the corner with one game difference. ... I just think it was obvious that there was more talent, and we'll be able to hopefully have a winning record. ... It's ridiculous for a 6-6 team to go to a bowl.

You would've taken it.

But when we go to a bowl I want it to be 7-5 or better. ... The first bowl we go to will be big national press. There'll be a lot of bowls rooting for us next year.

What did you learn from the NCAA investigation into the men's basketball program last season?

We have to constantly stay after even the small things because they can add up to larger things. If we've done something, let's report it and keep our slate clean. ... We've got new compliance people in who are trying to redo the approach and meet with coaches on a regular basis.

The investigation is complete?

We haven't gotten a final report. It's completed as far as we're concerned. Until you get a letter back from them [NCAA] saying everything's been accepted, you're not finished.

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