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Athletic director Jim Bartko at a press conference addresses the media. (Keith Kountz/Fresno State Athletics)

Bartko backs Bulldogs

Athletic Director Jim Bartko has a tough job ahead of him as he tries to implement his vision for the athletic department. Bartko has been with the school since Jan. 1, 2015, and immediately made an impact. The Bulldog Stadium renovation project is now underway. The football team is off to a rough start, and game attendance is low. Football drives the department financially, and it is an inopportune time for poor ticket sales given the expected $60 million cost for the stadium renovations.

Head football coach Tim DeRuyter is in his fifth season in charge, but it is looking more likely each week that the team will suffer its third consecutive losing season. DeRuyter is under contract through the 2018 season and is owed approximately $1.5 million per year.

Money is the name of the game in athletics, and Fresno State students may be asked to contribute more money to the athletic department through their student fees. The Collegian sat down with Bartko to discuss these interesting times.

DG: The football team is off to a rocky start. What is the future of head coach Tim DeRuyter?

JB: His future’s to go to UNLV and win Saturday (the interview was the week before the UNLV game which Fresno State lost 20-45.) Tim’s done a great job here since he’s been here. Obviously last year he had a rocky road a little bit and started off here a little shaky.

I have full confidence in the staff that they’re going to turn it around this year and get it going. We always tell our coaches that we look at everybody at the end of the year. We’ll see what happens, but I have full confidence that they’re going to get it turned around. If we can win these next two games, we’ll be leading the league in our conference at 2-0 so it can change fast. When I was at Oregon, we were 1-3 in ’84 and they wanted Rich Brooks fired, and we ended up winning seven straight games and went to the Rose Bowl.

DG: If at the end of the season you decide to move in a different direction with DeRuyter how will his contract affect your budget?

JB: I haven’t really gotten that far. I don’t tend to think that kind of way – I don’t think about the what ifs. We’ll make the decisions that we make for all of our programs – we have 21 sports – at the end of the year based on what’s best for the program and the university, and the dollars and cents don’t really play a factor.

DG: Given the rough start, do you think the projections for ticket sales will be met?

JB: I think we’ll know in the next couple weeks. I think we’ll have a great crowd against San Diego State. I think we’ll have a great crowd against Air Force. It kind of depends on how we’re doing, that really is dictated by how the football team does, and that’s why we keep our fingers crossed. I think every school does that.

It’s not just Fresno State, it’s everyone across the country. Notre Dame’s 1-3, I’m sure they’re worried about attendance. Oregon is 2-2 and they’re dropping attendance, so it’s a matter of fans, a little fickle some of them are. We’ve got to show them a good product which I think we will do, and our kids will start playing better. We’ll go from there.

DG: Where do we stand right now with the Bulldog Stadium renovation project?

JB: We should have the architect on board here this week. We did the interviews; we made a selection; and we’re getting the contract finalized. That will be any day now. Once that’s done, we’ll probably have a six-month design and development phase. We’ll now take some of the drawings and maybe tweak a few things and look at some of the ground surfaces and see if there are any issues underneath.

[We will] get the contractor on board, get the project manager on board, and a year from December, we’ll break ground on Phase 2 which will be a lot of cross aisles, concourses, restrooms, fan amenities that we need to do. Phase 3 will be done the year after, opening the ‘19 season with our skyboxes, press box and sky suites.

Fundraising is going great, people have really stepped forward. We’re getting close to where we need to be at our goal. We’ve got a skybox already committed and a lot of club seats. So we just now have to wrap up things, get the design in budget and see if there are any other issues out there. We’re looking hard at a ‘19 opening for the whole thing.

DG: What’s the state of the athletic department financially?

JB: We had a balanced budget last year. The fiscal year just ended in July, so we’re starting our new year right now. It’s kind of early to tell. Obviously football season drives a lot of revenue and a lot in donations. So we are having a little, I don’t want to say a rough start, but we’re having a 1-3 start. It doesn’t help, but it’s still a long season, and I think we’ll be fine. Donors have been helping out a lot. Season ticket sales were kind of flat. We didn’t have a great crowd for Tulsa (official attendance was 23,273), but it’s still a long year.

DG: Right now, Fresno State students are paying $99 per semester in the instructionally related activities fee. Let’s say you need more money for stadium renovations or whatever it may be, would you look to increase the fees?

JB: Our student fees are probably one of the lowest in the conference. I also know the campus looks at other needs it has for the students with different projects they’re working on, so we don’t want to interfere with that.

I’m always a big fan of students not paying for tickets and just building it into your fees and getting free tickets. Right now, students pay for tickets so I’d almost prefer to charge every student $20 in their fees and get free tickets to every event they go to than have them paying $15 to go to the game.

DG: Do you think you can get to charging students $20 in their fees to get free tickets for every event?

JB: I think so. I think it’s on the campus and on their screen first. They’ve been so generous to us and how they support us that I don’t want to interfere with that. I think we can get the stadium built without that, but I also want to have students involved. There’s an easier way for students to become more involved than buying their tickets every day. I’d love anything, but again it’s not something that we’re looking at right now.

The model of Fresno State's Bulldog Stadium Expansion Project after receiving a $1.5 million gift in June 2015 from a former student-athlete who asked to remain anonymous. (Courtesy of Fresno State Athletics)

The model of Fresno State’s Bulldog Stadium Expansion Project after receiving a $1.5 million gift in June 2015 from a former student-athlete who asked to remain anonymous. (Courtesy of Fresno State Athletics)