This week, many Cal State Northridge graduates received a university-generated seasonal publication that serves to update alumni on campus news and activities. Among the edition’s features: A question-and-answer session with Paul Bubb, the Northridge athletic director who on June 11 announced that the school was dropping four men’s athletic programs--baseball, volleyball, soccer and swimming.
A few excerpts from the story, titled The Big Sky’s the Limit, New Directions for Matador Athletics. (Suggested alternative answers provided by Mike Hiserman, former Cal State Northridge beat writer and current Times’ Valley/Ventura sports editor:
Question: Let’s start out by talking about the Big Sky Conference. What is it, why did we join it, and what is its significance for Northridge athletics?
What Bubb said: We attempted to start a new conference in 1993-94, the American West Conference. . . . We were all committed to a broad-based athletic program and playing [NCAA Division] I-AA football, while spending less than other I-AA programs. That didn’t work. . . .
The Big Sky Conference seemed to fit what we were doing. It’s probably the best I-AA conference in the country, year in, year out, top to bottom, in terms of how its teams do when they play outside the conference. They generally win. . . .
When we joined, we made a commitment that we were going to upgrade our football to a level comparable with other schools. Most of them are spending about 60 scholarships on football. This past year we were at 40, we’re going to 45 next year, and we’re going to continue to move up ‘till we get to 60 or whatever the I-AA limit is at the time.
We feel football is an important part of this campus. It’s a good part of the college tradition and a key part of the total athletic program. A successful football program can bring recognition to the university and allow other academic programs to get some attention.
What he could have said: The American West Conference folded because the Big West Conference accepted Cal Poly San Luis Obispo instead of us, leaving only three teams. When that happened the Big Sky Conference was the only conference that returned our phone calls. We would have committed to doing anything, which is exactly what we did when we made a huge commitment to a football program that few people really care about.
We hope that someday soon the football teams from UCLA and USC are brought down in some huge recruiting scandal and given the NCAA death penalty. Then we will be the only game in town and, if the cable TV games aren’t particularly interesting on a given Saturday night, we might draw 5,000 fans.
Q: Do [coaching changes in the past year] indicate a culture change in athletics, with greater emphasis on win-loss records?
Bubb: I don’t think it’s a change in philosophy. . . . Northridge had a great tradition of winning. We played for two [Division I] national championships, one in men’s volleyball and one in softball. Our winning percentage as a total program never dipped below .500 in Division I.
We have switched the way we’ll fund some programs. We need to put additional resources behind football and basketball. That’s a little different philosophy than before. . . .
We do have a gap in our operations budget, and we have to work with alumni and community people to raise funds in that area.
What he could have said: We’re obviously not hung up on wins and losses. Heck, we just dropped four of our most successful programs. We have switched the way we’ll fund some programs--we won’t fund them at all. We still have a gap in our operations budget, but due to our sterling track record, I’m sure we can raise funds in the community. If not . . . where did I put those scissors?
Q: What are you looking to accomplish in the future?
Bubb: I want to be one of the top 100 Division I programs in the country and try to crack the top 50--out of 309 programs.
What he could have said: Depends on if we field athletic teams in the future.
Q: What is the purpose of the athletics program?
Bubb: It’s part of the university’s total program, just as the arts are. It’s a way to reach out to the community and alumni. The pride alumni feel for the university can be reinforced with successful athletic programs. . . .
Athletics is the “bark” that gets attention so the rest of the university can show off the rest of our programs.
What he could have said: I don’t know. You tell me.
Q: What’s the status of the new football stadium?
Bubb: In joining the Big Sky, the university has made a commitment for a new stadium. In terms of where it will be built and what it will look like, I don’t have the answers. But it’s being worked on on a regular basis.
What he could have said: It’s coming. When, where and how, I have no idea. Just trust me.
Q: Do the other facilities need substantial upgrading?
Bubb: Baseball and softball both need press facilities redone as well as additional seating. . . . The swimming pool has been upgraded, and we have more seating there than ever before. We also need to upgrade tennis seating.
What he could have said: If we keep cutting sports, we won’t need to upgrade other facilities.
Q: What’s the impact of playing in the shadow of athletic powerhouses like UCLA and USC. Are we trying to emulate them?
Bubb: We’re carving out our own niche in football. I’d like to go in and compete against them in basketball. We’re not the only game in town in terms of both collegiate and professional teams, but we have a niche of our own in the San Fernando Valley. We can establish our own history and tradition.
We do compete with USC and UCLA in baseball, basketball, and men’s and women’s volleyball, and I’m not going to hang my head about how we do. We are competitive with those programs.
What he could have said: We’re obviously not trying to emulate USC and UCLA because those academic institutions value their athletic programs. We can’t compete in football, but we can all take pride in the good old days, when our baseball and men’s volleyball teams gave those schools all they could handle.
Q: What other message do you have for alumni?
Bubb: I think alumni have been waiting for something to grab hold of, and I’d like to think our athletic program can be the flag they want to wave. When they go into their offices on Monday morning, instead of listening to the Trojan and Bruin fans, they can feel proud of talking about what Cal State Northridge did. . . . Like other Division I teams, we need our alumni and community members to step up.
What he could have said: Please, quit calling and leaving hateful messages. I’m just a loyal foot soldier dutifully carrying out my orders. It wasn’t my decision.