Such is the life of an athletic director.
Kennedy carved a chunk from what's left of his offseason on Thursday to discuss the key issues currently surrounding the Golden Flashes' program as another hotly anticipated campaign quickly approaches.
Q: Mr. Kennedy, will you discuss the state of the athletic program, which is coming off arguably the best overall season in school history?
A: We hit some really high watermarks last year. We had six conference champs, won the Reese Trophy (men's all-sports award) and almost won the Jacoby Cup (women's all-sports award), had six Mid-American Conference coaches of the year in Gary Waters (men's basketball), Kerry De Vries (field hockey), Herb Page (men's golf), Mike Morrow (women's golf), Steve Rainbolt (men's track) and Rick Rembielak (baseball). Something I really believe in is providing equal opportunity for men and women, so I'm especially pleased that those coaches represent both our men's and women's teams. Now another season is here, so we get to do it all over again.
Q: Keeping some of your more successful coaches, namely Waters, has been quite a chore.
A: The summer has flown by, and it's been a very hectic one in that respect. Keeping our coaches is a tremendous challenge. They've actually turned down some tremendous opportunities from programs at the elite level, which is very gratifying to me personally. I know they feel supported by the administration, or they wouldn't stay. We've been able to sign several coaches to long-term contracts, and we feel we can keep these outstanding individuals at Kent State.
Q: Waters' contract was extended through the 2006 season last summer. Are you still working on a similar deal for women's basketball coach Bob Lindsay?
A: That's our next project. He has three more years left on his current contract, and we'd like to extend that. One thing I like about our coaches is that they usually don't come up to me asking about what they can get added on to their own contract. They ask for more for their assistants and their support staff. That tells you something about their character.
Q: You mentioned how much importance you place on gender equity. Do you feel good about the current situation at Kent State?
A: We've come from having 72-percent male athletes to very close to 50-50 (male-female) without having to drop a program. One of the criteria the NCAA uses to evaluate gender equity is what a school has done lately to increase opportunities (for women). We've added two women's sports and increased our budgets in the areas of scheduling, recruiting and salaries for coaches and assistants. We feel very good about how we've handled the gender equity issue.
Q: One of the methods you've used to equalize the number of male and female participants is roster management, which limits the number of walk-ons the men's teams can accept. That's obviously not a popular philosophy with your men's coaches.
A: It does make it tough on them. But it beats the alternative, which is to eliminate certain sports altogether. If we continue to be aggressive with roster management, we won't need to add another women's sport or eliminate a men's sport in the short term. We will consider adding a women's sport in the future if we find one that's a good fit for our school and the MAC, a significant roster sport that will utilize our existing facilities.
Q: Does the university still intend to build a new baseball facility at Dix Stadium, east of the current softball field?
A: We're still pursuing the possibility, but we need to finalize the proposal and fundraising plans. No target date has been set, but I'd personally like to at least begin construction by next spring.
Q: Any other facility improvements in the works?
A: Nothing that would be considered major, but we've made several image-related improvements at the M.A.C. Center. We've redone the floor and improved the overall look from top to bottom, and we're working on locker room improvements. I'd also like to replace the east side (opponents) bleachers at Dix Stadium. When we added turf, lights and a new scoreboard, it exposed some of our warts, like those bleachers. I'd like to build permanent seating on the east side _ the same as is currently on the home side, but just not as high.
Q: Any plans in the near future to build a new basketball facility?
A: It's a concern to see other schools like Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Northern Illinois developing plans to construct new convocation centers and basketball facilities. When you get a chance to see some of these new buildings all over the country, you wish you had one of your own at Kent State. But we've decided to devote our resources to our students and our staff. Our facilities are good across the board, they just aren't new.
Q: Will you discuss the issues that continue to plague the MAC, such as the many problems associated with unbalanced divisions?
A: I'd like to see the conference expand to 14 teams to solve the scheduling dilemma, but I don't support expansion just for the sake of expansion. We need to find the right fit for our conference. We can't add a team just to make scheduling easier. But the current scheduling method does make it very difficult for us. We have a difficult time finding non-conference opposition, and we have to schedule those teams well in advance. Then we have to tear up some of those contracts when the MAC schedule comes out.
Q: The Kent State football team is expected to be much-improved in year three under Dean Pees, but must open the 2000 season with road games at Pittsburgh and Purdue. Pees has said he wishes the non-conference schedule would be a little less demanding.
A: Yes, and I agree. I believe we have more talent than I've ever seen here this season, but we may very well still start out 0-2 after playing two excellent teams on the road. That's tough for a young team still trying to find its identity to recover from. But if you start out 2-0 or even 1-1, especially if you open with a win at home, that can really get you off and running. Right now we're scheduled through '08 or '09, but we may try to restructure some of those schedules. We may explore the opportunity to play some Division I-AA teams. And, if we're going to go up against tough non-conference competition, we'd like to play Big Ten schools. We have a lot of connections with that conference, so there's a mutual respect, and those are excellent games for MAC schools.
Q: Mr. Kennedy, you've said for the past several years that you intend to close your career at Kent State. Have you thought about when the end may be?
A: When I look at our strategic plans for the future and see all the exciting things in the works, and I still feel happy and passionate about doing my job, retirement doesn't enter into my strategic plans. I truly enjoy what I do here at Kent State.