Fresno State athletic director Jim Bartko discusses the future of the athletic program in his office in the North Gym. Bartko, who began his tenure on Jan. 1, outlined a five-point plan to make the Bulldogs competitive. (Paul Schlesinger/The Collegian)
Three months into his tenure, Fresno State’s new athletic director Jim Bartko has unveiled a five-point plan including the reinstatement of wrestling and addition of women’s water polo. He sat down with The Collegian sports editor Christopher Livingston for a one-on-one interview outlining highlights of his plan and his thoughts on the future of Fresno State athletics.
Q: When you got hired back in November, what did you see as the main priority coming in?
At first, I took time to evaluate our current budget, staffers and facilities and also look into program expansion. So my biggest priority for the first 30 days was to come in and get an idea of what was going on, get a feel for where we were and where we’re going.
It’s always hard to get an idea when you first get hired as to what needs to change and what needs to happen. But I just wanted to give myself a little bit of time to look at everything and evaluate everything and look at where we’re headed in the future.
Q: What are some of the things that attracted you to the job opening here at Fresno State?
You never look to leave. I had a great job at Oregon. I had my family there. I settled well, and we were on our way to the national championship game. Things were going pretty good. But when the job opened, I knew it had potential. I know what the Valley means to people and what the school means to people. So if I were to leave Oregon, it would need to be some place that I think has a chance to be great.
Q: What kind of changes do you see Fresno State going through under your tenure?
We need to take care of our current sports before we do anything. There’s a few tweaks that we have to make on track and tennis [facilities], and we’re going to look at Bulldog Stadium. We’re going to get some architects in there to see what will need to be done. We need to re-engage our donor base, and we have to get our fans to grow our budget to be in the upper level of the upper Mountain West Conference.
So when I look back five years from now, I’m hoping we can have some changes to Bulldog Stadium that our fans can be proud of. It’s a great facility, but it’s getting a little tired in some areas. We want to get our stadium full, and we want to get our scholarship cost paid for. Those are the things we need to do.
Q: Lately we’ve seen a lot of promotions that Fresno State Athletics has been throwing in order to get more fans to attend games. Do you see that as the first step to get more fans to attend games?
You have to get a buzz going, and our marketing staff has done a great job. We’ve also had some donors who have helped out with some resources. It’s just a way to build a buzz around basketball. Both teams have had their ups and downs this year, but they’re having some success heading into the tournament next week.
In football, we have to find ways to get fans there. We hope that they can just come no matter what. But in football, obviously when we’re having success they show up. We have to make sure that atmosphere is electric, because that’s what it’s all about. We have to find a way to make sure the fans are taken care of, enjoy their time and have fun while they’re there.”
Q: Have you chatted with all of the coaches to get on the same page?
I met every coach during my first two weeks on the job. I sat down with them, spent an hour with them and listened to what their pros and cons were. We talked about what they would do if they were in my shoes, what they are happy with, what they could change, and what can we do different to make everything better. They’re great people, we’re all together, and we’re going to have 21 sports when it is all said and done.
Q: How did Fresno State (and the community) tell you about the importance of bringing back wrestling?
This is a huge wrestling population. It’s hard to drop a sport, but it’s harder to bring one back, especially nowadays with cost. There’s no doubt that the passion for bringing back wrestling is huge. But the donors also know that it is a process. It’s not going to happen overnight. The president has been very committed to it. We needed to find the right timeline and the right plan to put in place, including what women’s sport we can add to offset it.
It’s not going to be a one-year plan. It takes about two to three years to fundraise for a coach, get the facilities figured out, recruit and get the kids on campus. It’s going to be a little bit of time, but we’re going to get it done.
Q: Where do you see Fresno State Athletics 10 years from now.
Well, I’ll do five years since I have a five-year contract. What I told our coaches is there’s lot of NCAA landscapes changing. I want to have our programs competing for championships in the Mountain West Conference in every sport in five years. We’re right there now, and there’s no reason this community cannot support a program when we’re the best in this conference. We’re gonna strive to be the best.
In five years from now, if we could have our budget up where it’s upper-level in the conference, our student-athletes still graduating at a high level, Bulldog Stadium with a little improvement and have wrestling and water polo up to speed, that’s where I want to be.