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Southern Miss Athletic Visioning Summit

April 20, 2011

Two weeks ago Dr. Saunders and I had a chance to sit down with about 75 of our stakeholders (University faculty, staff, administrators, students, Circle of Champions, Eagle club members, fans, city/county staff and area corporate leaders) to discuss the future and vision for Southern Miss athletics. Some 10 years ago a similar group met to chart the course from 2000 to 2010. We addressed the critical needs of the athletics programs at that time and now we must focus on the future.

We were fortunate to have three outside individuals who participated in the focus group discussions. Gene Bleymaier, longtime director of athletics at Boise State; Bob Goin, retired director of athletics at Florida State and Cincinnati; and Dennis Cryder, former NCAA Senior Vice President for Branding and Communications all played major roles in the discussions. Danny Mitchell, Chairman of the Godwin Group, a Southern Miss graduate and long time supporter moderated the discussions.

We opened the discussion with a review of the last 10 years. Southern Miss Athletics has accomplished much, particularly in area of facility improvements with the Athletic Center, End Zone suites & East Club levels at the Rock, new and renovated space at Reed Green Coliseum, baseball club house, suites, new press box and current expansion of the seating, state of the art softball facility, new tennis complex and the start of a golf teaching facility. During that span, athletics added $70 million in private giving, the most of any C-USA institution.

The proudest achievement has been our academic progress and graduation rates on a consistent basis. Football's 84 % is better than all MS IHL Institutions, the SEC and only Rice in C-USA has better mark. Overall our graduation and academic progress have been very high.

We have had success on the fields of competition. 17 consecutive winning seasons in football, only three others have a higher mark, 13 bowls in last 14 years and nine consecutively. Two C-USA titles in Baseball, eight consecutive NCAA Regional's, the College World Series in 2009 and top 20 attendance annually. We had the first ever NCAA Track & Field Champion and our women finished 13th in the nation in the indoor meet. Both men and women's golf teams have been solid and volleyball won the C-USA title in 2010. Basketball success has been a work in progress; however, our final RPI this year was in the mid-60's, our highest rating in 10 years.

There have been challenges. Hurricane Karina caused many issues and the economic recession has been a real issue from a fund-raising and ticket sales standpoint.

It is now time to focus on the future! The main purpose of the vision meeting was to look ahead and to improve in every area so we remain competitive. We are identifying the challenges and obstacles that hinder success, discuss strategies to overcome our barriers and focus on establishing a vision that we as a body can embrace and strive for in the next 10 years. Our stakeholders are vital to our vision and we must make sure it matches the vision of all of our constituents. Our supporters and fans will make a difference in our future.

The goals are simple...We cannot stop now! Our vision must match that of our university and its mission.

1. Our primary goal must be to educate and graduate our student-athletes and do it on a high level. 2. We must win championships at the highest level of competition particularly in our revenue sports of football, basketball and baseball. Our others sports must be competitive within C-USA. 3. We must always strive for excellence and do it with integrity and playing by the rules of the NCAA. 4. We must fill our stadiums to capacity and continue to increase our connection with our students, faculty, alumni, donors and fans. 5. We need to seek financial stability and growth, especially in the area of annual giving and major gifts. 6. We must continue to maintain and improve our facilities.

Our stakeholders must understand the challenges and barriers we face. You will play a very important role as together we strive to make our dreams and vision a reality.

Our University has a well defined mission statement and goals and our athletics program must remain a vital and integral part of that future. The task force will participate in smaller groups to meet and at a future date, come back with detailed findings, recommendations and input. This will include opportunities, problem issues, and unfinished business. The results of these group discussions will become part of our overall planning and visioning process as they provide strategies and make specific recommendations for the future.

We are excited about the future of Southern Miss Athletics and in the coming months we will develop and share with you the road map that will set the tone and course for the next decade of Golden Eagle athletics.


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