SBJ/June 12 - 18, 2000/Special Report

One of the ‘old boys,’ Crouthamel builds on decades of success

JAKE CROUTHAMEL
SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY
NORTHEAST REGION


Conference: Big East
No. of years as an AD: 22
No. of NCAA-sanctioned sports: 18
Education: Bachelor of arts degree, history, Dartmouth, 1960
Career highlights: Won the 1999 National Football Foundation’s John L. Toner Award for dedication to college athletics and, in particular, football; helped form the Big East Conference, has served on numerous Big East and NCAA committees, and was a member of the College Football Hall of Fame’s Honors Court.

It may not have always been easy for him to admit, but longtime Syracuse University athletic director Jake Crouthamel has come around to acknowledge that he's one of the "old boys" in the profession.

"I used to consider that moniker a little unkindly because I was one of the young boys," said Crouthamel, who will turn 62 later this month. "But I received an award [the John L. Toner Award for demonstration of administrative abilities and dedication to college athletics] in January from the National Football [Foundation]. It made me realize I'm now an old boy."

That, though, hasn't stopped Crouthamel from being one of NACDA's NCAA Division I-A Regional Athletic Directors of the Year.

Crouthamel has been based in central New York for the past 22 years, taking the reins at Syracuse after a successful stint as football coach at Dartmouth, where his teams won two league titles in seven seasons. At the time, it was common for coaches to make the transition to athletic director.

Today, of course, it's more likely that the AD will come from the school of management rather than the playing field.

"That may be true, except I would say that everyone competed in intercollegiate athletics as an undergraduate," Crouthamel said of his peers. "I think that's important, not that it leads everything in your professional world, but I think it's important to have an understanding what coaches and student athletes go through. I think the business has changed pretty dramatically. Notice I used the word 'business.' It didn't used to be the business it is now. It encompasses pure business."

One peek at the athletic department budget at Syracuse illustrates that.

The budget has grown to more than $38 million, a figure Crouthamel estimates to be five times what it was when he came aboard in 1978. Soon after his hiring, two other significant events helped bring Syracuse back to the national collegiate sports stage: membership in the Big East Conference in the late '70s, and the opening of the Carrier Dome as the home for Syracuse football and men's basketball in 1980.

Success has followed both on the field and at the gate, particularly for men's basketball. For an 11-season stretch, from 1984-85 to 1994-95, Syracuse topped the nation in basketball attendance, and it has finished second to Kentucky the last five seasons. In 1989-90, the Orangemen established a home-court record by averaging better than 29,000 a game.

This past season, average attendance was 20,807, obviously a number most schools would relish. Enviable or not, though, Crouthamel is aware of the drop during the last decade.

"The challenges are no different than any other I-A program in the country. That's financing," he said. "Whatever we're lacking in attendance at the Carrier Dome is not a result of a lack of quality. We knew 15 years ago we would not be able to continue to have 28,000 for basketball."

For football, "While we're not selling out all games, we average only 2,000 less than capacity [which is 50,000]. I say 'only' compared to Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, Florida, Florida State and Tennessee," he said. "But we are all facing the same concern across the country. Costs are increasing, not just incrementally but dramatically in certain areas, and there are primary revenue sources [such as] tickets. At Syracuse and everywhere else, there is only so much you can do with [ticket] prices."

Keeping a top-flight program in the Northeast is not easy.

Syracuse the city has suffered from population losses and slow, if not stagnant, job growth. Also, though some may think otherwise, the university is a private institution and is not affiliated with New York state. Sounding more like the old coach, Crouthamel said, "We have to work harder, try and outwork the opponent — without state funding, without student fees, without the support of the state and without the identification of the state."

Identity is what Syracuse has regained since Crouthamel took stewardship of the programs more than two decades ago. The successes have been numerous, such as the sixth national championship in lacrosse that was recorded just a few weeks ago. Those landmarks are easier to remember than his years of hard work.

"Time goes fast when you're having fun," Crouthamel said.

Rick Maloney writes for Business First in Buffalo.

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