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Sunday, Jul. 18, 2010

Q&A with Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs

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Jacobs answers questions submitted by readers

By ANDY BITTER

abitter@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. — Two-and-a-half weeks ago, ledger-enquirer.com solicited readers’ questions about a variety of subjects to ask Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs.

Here are some of his answers, with proper attribution to the questioners in parentheses.

Q: Many readers are curious about scheduling philosophy. It seems like every year Auburn schedules one non-conference BCS opponent and three lower-tier opponents. Why doesn’t Auburn play more quality out-of-conference opponents? (Anonymous, JaSteveFC, Abraham Belt, kinchler)

A: “When LSU won the national championship with two losses in the Southeastern Conference, that was a great example of how strong our league is. …

“So each year we’re going to play a West Virginia or a Clemson or whoever it may be, because it’s exciting for our players and it’s exciting for our fans. And at the same time, you know that the whole goal is to get to Atlanta to win an SEC championship to play for a national championship. So that’s what the philosophy is.

“Really and truly, if you can play all eight SEC games and win the Southeastern Conference championship game in Atlanta, win those nine games, at the end of the day, nobody ever looks back upon who those non-conference games were, because you’re playing for the national championship.

“And so if you go back and look at the SEC schools that have won the national championship and review who their non-conference opponents were, which we’ve done, it resembles a lot of what we’re doing schedule-wise.”

Q: Is there a fear of repeating 2004, though, when Auburn’s schedule was perceived to be weaker than USC’s and Oklahoma’s and the Tigers were left out of the national title game? (Forrest Foti)

A: “That’s what the perception is, but when other institutions have won the national championship, they played similar opponents. What the challenge was in 2004 was that USC and Oklahoma started out the preseason 1-2, and I believe we started out 17th. And we worked our way up, and USC and Oklahoma never lost.

“So for us to jump them would have been something odd to have happen anyway, if one of them didn’t stumble. And they didn’t. ... There’s some debate about those preseason polls. But the strength of schedule hasn’t kept us out of the national championship. It was the fact that three teams that year went undefeated, and we started out so low compared to the other two.”

Q: Last year, Auburn nearly agreed to play a season opener in Atlanta against UCLA. Is that still something you are pursuing? (Jack in Atlanta, Ryan Miller)

A: “We’re always looking at that. The No. 1 thing is when coach (Shug) Jordan said college football games were meant to be played on campus, we believe that. However, because of the establishment of that game, the finances are to the point where it’s a better deal than going on an away trip, going to play on somebody else’s place.

“So to answer your question, yeah, that’s something we continue to look at, as far as when and who we can play in Atlanta.

“First and foremost, I think it would be a good opportunity for our football players because it’s an opportunity to play in that dome prior to the SEC Championship Game. Because having played in the Sugar Bowl when I was a player, it’s a completely different atmosphere playing 10 or 11 ballgames outdoors and then walking into a dome in December or January.

“I think we’ve got about 17,000 Auburn alumni in the Atlanta area, I think it would be good for everybody. But the one thing is that football generates 77 percent of our income, and, in order to be able to compete at the level we want to for all 21 of our sports, we can’t concede a lot of dollars to move a game out of our own campus.”

Q: Has anything been decided about the opening game in the new basketball arena? (Tar Heel Tiger)

A: “It has not. (Associate athletics director) Bernard Hill and coach (Tony) Barbee are continuing to work on that. We’ve got a few teams we are talking to, but, no, there’s nothing decided yet.

“That’ll be in the next couple weeks. It’s so different than football, I guess because there are 323 teams that play basketball. So those are quite fluid sometimes.”

Q: An article on Rivals.com said Auburn has the highest average football ticket prices in the SEC. What’s the reasoning behind having some of the most expensive tickets in the country despite not selling out events? (Alex L., Ryan Miller Skip Hansberger)

A: “Having that BCS opponent here (this year), that dictates what our total season package is. Seven games versus eight games. So you have that additional ticket, and that increases the price.

“And we’ve looked at what other people do as well. Some of them, they make all their tickets exactly the same price every game. We still believe that some of those games should have a lower price ticket so that the people that normally can’t come to every ballgame can have a chance to come to and afford a couple of ballgames.

“So we tier our prices to make different price points on a per game basis, so the person that maybe can’t afford four season books can at least come and buy tickets to a couple of the games.”

Q: Is there a fear that you’re out-pricing certain fans?

A: “I think you always have to be cognizant of that. Right now, we haven’t seen that. We’re not losing very many customers.

“Some people aren’t buying very many tickets as they have in the past, but, in our surveys and our letters to them, it’s all just because of the economics. It’s because they don’t have extra cash to spend. And instead of buying eight tickets, they have six this year, and their family members are going to take turns as to who comes to what games.

“And hopefully most of the e-mails and letters that I get back say in a couple years, when the economy changes, they’ll be back to pick up their tickets.”

Q: The general tone from a lot of readers’ e-mails is that Jordan-Hare Stadium has fallen down the SEC rankings in terms of aesthetics and modernness. Are there any plans to expand or renovate the stadium in the near future? (kinchler, Joel K. Davis, Anonymous, Joe, Rick Sheehan)

A: “Well, when you talk about renovations, five years ago, we did a major renovation in the concourse. We increased the number of restrooms and points of sales. As far as the main concourse, I don’t know if anybody has a nicer concourse, and I’ve been to all of them.

“So the renovation part of it, keeping it updated, the first school to have the HD video board, the restrooms, the concession stands, all those things, with the exception of a food court, we’re not behind anybody in that.

“What we did in October was we hired a master design architect, and we’ve been to probably six or eight different stadiums over the last eight months looking at what other people have done in their stadiums. What we’re going to do is we’re going to come up with a master plan for how we want our stadium to look in so many years.

“And the reason we did that is when our pro forma dictates that it’s time to add additional seats, we don’t want to have gone in and expanded the recruiting lounge in the south end zone and now, two years later, have to go in and add an upper deck and destroy what we’ve done underneath.

“So, what we’re doing is, we’re putting together a master plan of everything that we would want in a stadium, including capacity, in the next number of years. Whatever the years may be. And so, when we’re selling out our season tickets for a couple years in a row and the TUF priority for a couple years in a row, then it’s time to expand it.

“We were there a couple years ago. We had actually started the wheels in motion as far as doing an expansion, and then 2008, when we only won five ballgames and the economy hit, we put that on hold. So we haven’t moved forward with that, because the time and the money don’t dictate doing so. And the demand doesn’t dictate doing so at this time.”

Q: What are your thoughts on potential SEC expansion? (Christa L. Miller)

A: “I think that, if the landscape begins to change, the Southeastern Conference will be a frontrunner in that, just like we’ve always been, like with the SEC Championship Game. As far as speculating who would have been in here, what that would have done to the league, until we get to the point where this is who we’re going to add, then I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about what it would have looked like, what it wouldn’t have looked like, whether the tradition changes or anything like that.

“It’s just that when it comes to change, the Southeastern Conference isn’t going to sit on the sidelines. They’re going to be in the game. At this point, we’re going to do what is best for this league.”

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