Oh, and he wants you to get vaccinated.
With the fiscal year ending, Jim Sterk met with the media on Thursday afternoon to discuss a number of topics ranging from this past season’s performances to where the university stands on facility improvements, how NIL is being handled, and how ticket sales are going for football so far.
2020-21 Season Wrap Up
Sterk started out by mentioning the outstanding academic performance of Mizzou’s student-athletes, which Rock M readers should all be familiar with already given that I point this out whenever I’m given the chance. Out of 18 teams on campus, Sterk said Mizzou had 14 with over a 3.0 team GPA. “Overall, we had a record Fall GPA of 3.18,” he said. “And the second highest Spring GPA ever, with a 3.2.” Additionally, he referenced the school’s exemplary exhausted graduation rate, which is a fancy way of saying that 97% of Mizzou’s student-athletes the past five years had used up all of their eligibility and gotten their degrees, which is pretty awesome. I find this especially important, and Sterk echoed my thoughts, since we all know that not that many student-athletes have the opportunity to turn to the professional ranks each year, so the education piece is imperative.
Another statistic to note? 18 of 20 sports (20 if you count indoor/outdoor track separately, I believe) made postseason play this year. “It was a record,” Sterk said, proudly. “Six finished in the top 25 and 10 at some point during the season were in the top 25.” Wrestling, of course, finished the highest and ended up tied for seventh in the country while also locking up a move back to the Big 12. Gymnastics, swimming (both men’s and women’s), softball, and volleyball ended their season ranked. YAY!
“I’m really, I’m excited about that (the results), but I’m also just looking forward to this coming year because I think we have a great set of coaches. We have our lot of student-athletes coming back that maybe have another year of eligibility that augments the recruiting classes that our coaches have put together. So I think it could be a very, very fun and exciting, exciting year.”
Donor Support/Upcoming Projects
Sterk noted that, despite the pandemic, and without having final numbers, that they are expecting to have a record year in terms of donations from individuals and families, breaking the previous record set in 2017.
“For the second time in five years,” he said, “We’ve reset the bar on that, and it couldn’t come at a better time. As far as our budget goes, which has been reported, revenues were down because of COVID’s impact probably in the $30— $35 million range. We cut expenses by 16 million during that time and then we also had, as reported by the SEC, a supplemental revenue distribution that gives us a shot at really balancing our budget for this year.”
The increase in donations, despite the revenue loss, has allowed the university to proceed with getting bids going on such projects as the new football indoor practice facility, and making necessary adjustments to the basketball arena. All of the student-athlete areas, with the exception of the weight room, are getting a renovation at Mizzou Arena, Sterk said. Besides the new flooring, which was teased on social media a while back, the men’s and women’s locker rooms are flipping and the training areas are being renovated.
In terms of fundraising for the indoor facility, Sterk said they’ve raised $33-34 million for the indoor facility thus far. He believes their estimation includes the rise in construction prices, and they’ve got alternatives prepared in case they need to make reductions or if they have enough funding to say — increase parking lot space. The start date for having shovels in the ground is October 17 as of right now, and parking will not be impacted while the construction is going on. YAY!
NIL “The Christmas Gift No One Really Knew About”
With Missouri’s NIL bill currently on the governor’s desk, expecting to be signed in the next week or two, Sterk expressed an appreciation for the support of Missouri’s legislators to pull something together ahead of the Supreme Court’s ruling and subsequent changes in the NCAA, which allowed Mizzou to create a plan of how they could move forward in the future. He also expressed gratitude to his own staff for their work on this.
“Our staff’s a lot smarter than me,” he said, “so they did that (looked at the MO legislation) ahead of time and that’s where we put our guidelines and materials to our student athletes.”
When asked if he felt about the NIL decision, Sterk said, “I felt like it was something we needed to get to. I wasn’t quite sure how we would get there. but I think the ability for students to monetize their name, image and likeness in a way that other students can is very beneficial.” Sterk estimated that around 50 student-athletes have signed some sort of NIL agreement thus far, and that number will continue to grow. And the department’s agreement, announced back in mid-May with OpenDorse, has helped make it easier for student-athletes to prepare for these changes as soon as they hit July 1.
“We really started to try to educate everyone and have master classes with the student- athletes, with the head coaches, and with the staff, and we’ll continue that,” Sterk said. He continued, “I think our staff, plans to give weekly updates on questions and answers and things to avoid. So, in this way, our student athletes are up to speed on what the latest is as far as opportunities, but also so they know the pitfalls.”
Also, in the fall we want to have classes on taxes and entrepreneurship and we will have seminars with our student-athletes and I think it’s going to be a never ending. It’s continuing education and it’ll be housed in our Mizzou Made education programs,” he said.
COVID-19 Variants & Vaccinations
Unfortunately, we’ve all seen the information that has come out regarding Missouri being something of a COVID hot spot right now, and so it was natural to wonder what the university would do about seating capacity in the stadium should this not get under control. Sterk reiterated that YES, this is most definitely a concern and on calls with the SEC, they’ve discussed how they will encourage people to be vaccinated so drastic changes won’t have to be made come the fall when sporting events start again. “People will still have a choice (in regards to getting vaccinated or not), but there are consequences to your choices,” he said. As of right now, he stressed, they’re still planning on full everything— full classes and full stadiums— and he wants to have the same atmosphere that we had for for the regional softball games for all the sports.
When asked about the vaccination rate amongst student-athletes right now, Sterk estimated it to be around 50% overall, with six programs currently over the 60% threshold (we know from Coach Martin that men’s hoops is on its way to being fully vaxxed— I love that guy). We should remember as well, in case those numbers don’t seem that high, that not all student-athletes are back on campus at this point. Sterk’s hoping they can get to 85% or higher vaccinated amongst all programs. Why? He referenced Springfield’s COVID concerns, as well as those of Arkansas, where 99% of the hospitalizations are people that are not vaccinated and 99% of the people that die from COVID have not been vaccinated.
“So, just from a personal standpoint and from person to person standpoint,” he said, “I want everyone vaccinated, I want everyone safe. I think that’s where we’re going to continue to push, and then the SEC, you know, if you’re not at that level then you’re subject to contact tracing. I think about the unfortunate example with NC State… what happened there and being pulled off the field basically… We don’t want that to happen with any of our sports.”
“If they’re vaccinated,” he continued, “they wouldn’t be subjected to testing three times a week… but we will have testing going on for those that aren’t vaccinated. Hopefully it’s a small number. The SEC medical task force is still working very hard, and they’re going to go into their second year. So they’re not being disbanded.”
Football Ticket Sales
When asked about how football ticket sales are trending as compared to years past, Sterk said that new tickets ticket sales are “up significantly.” By up significantly, he means, looking at new ticket sales from 2019, they are UP OVER 150%. WHAT?!?
“There’s just general excitement,” he said. “I think there is pent up demand, so looking at the COVID variant and what could happen, that’s why I think we all need to work on the vaccination rates and getting those up.” From a social media aspect, Nick Joos said the social media accounts have seen a significant uptick, which is always a good barometer of interest. While it doesn’t always translate to ticket sales, they both said, it’s a good number to look at.
“Budget-wise, fundraising-wise, we’re near the average of the SEC,” Sterk said. “But in terms of ticket sales, we are not near the average of the SEC (i.e. it’s bad, y’all). And so that’s our biggest area for room for growth. It’s obviously a point of emphasis, but I think also the coaching staffs and student-athletes are getting our fans excited about coming back.”