Interim Athletic Director makes presence felt

Interim Athletic Director Steve Robertello (left) welcomes new head volleyball coach Jonathan Winder (right). (Fresno State Athletics)

Steve Robertello has taken the reins of an athletic department facing a flood of questions about its future.

Robertello was appointed interim director of athletics after Jim Bartko’s resignation from the position in November. The athletic department Robertello took control of was not exactly in the most favorable financial position.

According to a report in the Central Valley Observer, a local analysis website, the athletic department could be facing a $2 million budget deficit for 2017-18. Robertello said the department is working hard to remedy that.

“We’re still working through our budget as we speak. We’re always planning and looking at ways to be more efficient in every aspect of what we’re doing,” Robertello said.

Robertello did not talk about what exactly caused the deficit or the specifics of what the athletics department is doing to make it up. But he did say that the department is “evaluating every expenditure on a day-to-day basis.”

One way in which Robertello has begun to implement his philosophy into the program is what he calls the “reprioritization” of the money that was going to go to the Bulldog Stadium renovations.

Now, instead of solely using those funds to pay for the stadium, they will also be used to renovate and improve the facilities in the student-athlete village.

“Looking at [the Robert E. Duncan Building] and trying to bring our day-to-day facilities up to where we want them to be, that’s what our focus is, but in conjunction with looking at the football stadium and the defer to maintenance and the issues that need to occur in Bulldog Stadium to bring that up to where we want it,” Robertello said.

He added that this places an importance on the student-athletes and their needs and said he believes these upgraded facilities will give Fresno State more to offer to incoming recruits.

But attracting recruits is not the only worry on Robertello’s mind. He also must make an effort to attract more Bulldogs fans.

Ticket sales are down across the board. According to a report by The Fresno Bee, ticket sales accounted for 36.6 percent of the budget in 2009-10. In 2016-17, ticket sales only accounted for 12.6 percent of the budget.

In other words, expenses are rising faster than ticket proceeds. That problem plagued athletics and likely has contributed to the deficit, said Robertello.

“[Ticket sales] is a big part of our budget,” Robertello said. “The more people we have there, the more people that buy tickets, the more people that buy season tickets, the more revenue we have.”

He added that having large crowds is definitely a priority for the department, and he hopes that Fresno State fans continue to do all they can to support the school’s teams.

Robertello hopes changes like the one he made within the volleyball program can give Bulldog fans more to cheer about. Head coach Lauren Netherby-Sewell was fired on Nov. 28 and replaced with Jonathan Winder not soon after.

“We believe that’s a program, as with all of our programs, we should be competing at the top end of the Mountain West, and we haven’t been there recently. We think we’ve got the right coach that will help us get to the top end of the league,” Robertello said.

Changes like these and the recent successes of a few athletics programs, especially football, excite Robertello about the future of Fresno State athletics.

“We’ve got great student-athletes, great coaches and a great community. You put all those things together, and I think the sky’s the limit for us,” he said.

Of course, Robertello’s time as athletic director is – for the time being – temporary. University President Dr. Joseph I. Castro announced that the search for a permanent athletic director would not begin until later this year.

Robertello’s name will be included in that search as a candidate, but that is not where his focus lies.

“My focus right now is on the day-to-day work that needs to be done in our athletics program in moving our folks forward, but like I’ve said, I’m very happy in Fresno and hope to be here long term,” he said.

Only time will tell what the future holds for Fresno State athletics and Robertello.

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