SBJ/September 26-October 2, 2011/Colleges

JMI brings big names to college consulting

Editor's note: This story is updated from the print edition.

With collegiate athletics facing an ever-changing business landscape, San Diego-based JMI Sports, the firm that planned and oversaw the building of Petco Park, is creating a college division that will offer a broad range of consulting and services to athletic departments.

Jeff Schemmel, the former athletic director at San Diego State University and a veteran athletic administrator, has been hired by JMI to be managing director of the new college division. The firm also has signed the University of Houston, which is working on a plan for a new football stadium and upgrades to its basketball arena, as a client. JMI will work with the Cougars’ administration on a variety of operational and Title IX issues as well.

NICK ABADILLA PHOTOGRAPHY
Former San Diego State AD Jeff Schemmel will head the operation.
JMI was founded in 2006 by Erik Judson and John Moores, who is an owner of the San Diego Padres. Along with Petco Park, the firm planned the Matthew Knight Arena at the University of Oregon and delivered it on time and on budget.

In addition to JMI’s core competency in facilities and development, the college division will work with athletic departments on ticket sales strategies, budgeting, compliance, legal, gender equity, coach and administrator searches, event management and revenue generation.

Among the key consultants for JMI will be Chuck Neinas, the interim  commissioner of the Big 12 Conference and one of the industry’s leading coaching-search coordinators. Neinas, who was selected by the Big 12 last week as Dan Beebe departed, will assist school clients with coaching and AD searches, something he has done previously through his own business, Neinas Sports Services. JMI also has secured former NCAA President Cedric Dempsey for its team of advisers. Dempsey, 79, has been a consultant to institutions since he departed the NCAA in 2002.

“We want to take the valuable lessons we’ve learned off the shelf and take them to campuses,” Judson said. “Having worked on projects in the college business, we’ve seen the challenges that athletic departments face and they need to be addressed. We can come in with our group of experts and provide answers to their challenges.”

JMI has assembled a panel of 17 consultants who are current or former college administrators or coaches. They will take on projects as JMI secures new clients. Among those consultants are Neinas, Dempsey, former Oregon AD Pat Kilkenny and former UCLA chancellor and former Florida President Charles Young. Among the sitting ADs on the advisory team are Texas’ DeLoss Dodds, UC San Diego’s Earl Edwards and UNC Charlotte’s Judy Rose, while sitting commissioners include Conference USA’s Britton Banowsky and the Mountain West’s Craig Thompson.

The list of advisers is rich with relationships that go back to Schemmel, who ran track at Kansas State for Dodds. Schemmel also was hired at San Diego State after a search that Neinas led for the school.

Former administrators will be direct consultants to the school clients. Current administrators, to prevent a conflict of interest, will work more as general advisers to the company.

Consultants will be paid on a project-by-project basis.

“The reason our team of advisers is so diverse is that we wanted to take the best people and put them under one roof,” Schemmel said. “It provides a one-stop shop where schools can go if they have an infractions case, an issue with Title IX or a coaching search.”

Schemmel and Judson view JMI as more of a complement than a competitor to the rights holder businesses like Learfield Sports and IMG College.

One area where JMI could find itself competing is in ticket sales, a function of the athletic department that is being outsourced on a growing basis to companies like The Aspire Group and IMG College.

“You almost have to outsource these days as an administrator to keep up with what life is,” Neinas said. “In ticketing, for example, who thought there would be a StubHub? This business changes so quickly.”

Schemmel met JMI’s co-founders, Judson and Moores, when he was AD at San Diego State. Schemmel worked for the Aztecs from 2005 to ’09 before resigning under a cloud of scandal.

San Diego State investigated claims that Schemmel used his school credit card to pay for expenses related to an alleged affair he was having with a woman in Alabama. The school concluded that Schemmel “disappointed the university” by improperly using state funds, said Stephen Weber, SDSU’s president, in 2009. Weber at the time described Schemmel’s actions as “tragic on a personal level and an institutional level.”

Judson said he had full faith that Schemmel’s unseemly departure from SDSU would not hinder his ability to bring in new business.

“John and I have known Jeff a long time and we admire him for his expertise, his leadership skills and his work ethic,” Judson said. “We know the passion he has for this business and the respect that people have for him.”
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