UNLV AD Jim Livengood yesterday announced he would "step away after three and a half years," with his resignation effective June 30, according to Taylor Bern of the LAS VEGAS SUN. Speculation "immediately swirled about the timing of the announcement with some boosters suggesting UNLV President Neal Smatresk essentially forced out Livengood." But both men "say that’s not reality." Among many possible factors in "hastening that decision could be a meeting between Livengood and Smatresk in the past month, during which Smatresk reportedly got upset and put a lot of blame for the football program’s struggles on Livengood." However, Livengood said that he "didn’t think anything that was said was unfair." The school's Board of Regents in June '12 approved "a three-year extension for Livengood that keeps him under contract from Dec. 17, 2012, through Dec. 16, 2015, at a base salary of $350,000." Livengood said that UNLV "would not ... buy him out of the rest of that deal." He added, "That’s my decision." Bern writes the perceived "head-butting between people from athletics and academics" on the UNLV Now project and proposed upgrades to the Thomas & Mack Center "could be a factor in the timing of Livengood’s exit." Smatresk said that "neither project would be affected by Livengood’s departure" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 5/9). In Las Vegas, Mark Anderson notes Livengood "stuck by his contention" that football coach Bobby Hauck "was the right hire, saying that soon will be proven out." He added that the next AD would "be better served to get the Thomas & Mack back under the umbrella of the athletic department" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 5/9).
SOMETHING AMISS? The REVIEW-JOURNAL's Ed Graney writes of Livengood, "This is not how you would think arguably the finest AD in a program's history would go out." A definite "line of disagreement exists between one side of campus and the other, differing philosophies on how best to grow UNLV athletics." No AD in the country is "forced to deal with the sort of contentious relationship for control that exists at UNLV between athletics and the Thomas & Mack." The relationship between president and AD "has been strained for some time." This is "what happens when presidents become too involved in sports" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 5/9). In Las Vegas, Ray Brewer writes under the header, "Jim Livengood's 'Retirement' Doesn't Feel Right." Livengood yesterday "repeatedly denied notions of friction" between he and Smatresk. Livengood added that he "wasn't being forced out and retiring now seemed like the right time." But Brewer writes, "If that's what you want to believe." Livengood has been a "great ambassador for the university and always finds something positive to say in the face of adversity." Even yesterday he "raved about his time at UNLV, refusing to take the bait of some questions to talk negatively about the school" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 5/9).
Rutgers Univ. is "in the first phase of the interview process in its search for a new athletic director, with a half-dozen university officials set to meet" with Buccaneers Dir of Football Operations and former Rutgers Deputy AD Kevin MacConnell regarding the vacancy, according to a source cited by Tom Luicci of the Newark STAR-LEDGER. MacConnell, who served as an administrator in the Rutgers athletic department for 26 years, is "expected to be among approximately 10 candidates brought in for a first round of interviews." One name that has "surfaced as a surprise candidate" is FSU AD Randy Spetman. Parker Executive Search of Atlanta, which assisted with the school's search '09 search that resulted in the hire of former AD Tim Pernetti, has "again been retained by Rutgers." Wisconsin Deputy AD Sean Frazier, Louisville Exec Senior Associate AD and Senior Woman Administrator Julie Hermann, Stony Brook AD Jim Fiore, Fresno State AD Tom Boeh and Michigan State Deputy AD Greg Ianni also have "surfaced as potential candidates" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 5/9). In Orlando, Coley Harvey wrote Spetman, who has been at FSU since '08, is "exploring the opening, he certainly is doing it at a good time." Spetman is in the "final year of a contract that was extended last August," and it "expires in February." While FSU has "had its share of near-dramas under Spetman's helm, the school has also enjoyed its share of athletic success." Spetman "did not receive a base pay raise" with his contract extension, and "currently makes $350,000 in annual salary." Although he has been "publicly backed by university administrators, Spetman has drawn the ire of some fans during his tenure" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 5/8).
ADMINISTRATION EVALUATION: Rutgers yesterday said that it has "hired a new law firm to conduct an independent review of how it handled the suspension and subsequent firing of former men’s basketball coach Mike Rice." In New Jersey, Melissa Hayes reports Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP will "replace Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, which resigned May 3 after a possible conflict was discovered." Rutgers officials said that Cahill would "help with the transition to Skadden and that the change would not delay the completion of the independent review" (Bergen RECORD, 5/9).
Big East school presidents have "ruled out" former Big East Associate Commissioner and current NCAA VP/Men's Basketball Tournament Dan Gavitt and West Coast Conference Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich as candidates for the newly-formed conference's commissioner vacancy, and are "focusing on the NBA or Major League Baseball as the primary talent pool," according to sources cited by Mark Blaudschun of AJERSEYGUY.com. With an announcement expected "in the next few days, the Big East hopes to have its leadership team in place by the start of its spring meetings next week" (AJERSEYGUY.com, 5/6). ESPN.com's Andy Katz cited sources as saying that neither Gavitt nor Zaninovich "has shown signs that his selection as the next commissioner of the new Big East is imminent." If it is not Gavitt or Zaninovich, it "could be someone from outside the league." That list "could include" MLB Exec VP/Business Tim Brosnan. Someone like Brosnan would "make sense considering that the new Big East has partnered with Fox, which has a strong relationship with MLB." A few administrators would "prefer a strong person in the NCAA membership who has already been a commissioner." But the new Big East presidents are "looking for someone with strong television connections" (ESPN.com, 5/8). In Providence, Kevin McNamara notes the 10 Big East schools are "awaiting guidance from their athletic directors on scheduling issues for next season, but without a commissioner or an office staff, major decisions are on hold." Fox Sports 1 officials are "doing preliminary work on a schedule and there are rumblings of a major Big East kickoff that would be matched against ESPN’s long line of college football bowl games" (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 5/9).
Arizona State Univ. yesterday revealed the results of an online vote to choose its new mascot costume, "after fans protested an earlier version" chosen by the school, according to Ryman & Smith of the ARIZONA REPUBLIC. The new “people’s choice” Sparky “isn’t identical to the current one but is perhaps the closest of the four choices offered voters.” The new Sparky has “gone through teeth lightening,” and the eyes are “larger, the dimples less prominent.” He still “sports a mustache and keeps the distinctive eyebrows that resemble a Nike swoosh.” The online vote drew "more than 17,000 people" over the last two weeks, with the winning option receiving 55% of the vote. ASU allowed "students, employees, alumni and donors pick a new costume from four choices.” While none of the choices ASU provided “was the same as the current Sparky," it is clear that people “have a fondness for the current costume.” The new Sparky is “expected to debut at the start of the fall semester.” The official image of Sparky, the “iconic 1946 drawing, will not change and will continue to be available on merchandise” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 5/9). The AP’s John Marshallnoted the “decision to introduce the upgraded Sparky online was geared toward driving traffic toward Arizona State's Twitter and Facebook pages.” It also was “probably a wise choice considering the vitriol that followed the initial attempt” (AP, 5/8).