Knuth knows Wolf Pack athletics
Coming off what could be described as a successful year in terms of wins and losses, University of Nevada Athletic Director Doug Knuth had a lot to talk about Tuesday when he addressed the Rotary Club of Minden during its weekly luncheon at the Carson Valley Inn.
Among those successes, the Wolf Pack reigned as Mountain West Conference swimming and diving champions … finished as the conference baseball tournament runner-up last weekend … reached the semifinals of the conference men’s basketball tournament and went on to cap a 24-14 season by winning the College Basketball Invitational championship at Lawlor Events Center … and the football team went 7-6, capped by a 28-23 win over Colorado State in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl.
Knuth (pronounced Nuth) spoke about the state of Wolf Pack athletics and fielded questions from the Rotary audience.
Knuth spoke of remodel project at Mackay Stadium, which is preparing for its 50th year — starting in 1966 when Dick Trachok was the head coach and Chris Ault played quarterback.
The $11.5 million renovation project started with a new restroom facility in the northwest corner this past year. Next up is an upgrade for the old metal bleachers to include wider seats in five sections on the stadium’s pressbox side and two sections on the east side.
“We’re putting chairback seats with cup holders, just like you’d expect to have at any other arena or stadium or ballpark you go to,” Knuth said.
Other changes at the stadium include hand rails for fans, widening of aisle ways and he added that the number of ADA wheelchair accessible seats is being tripled and moved to a more favorable location.
The remodeled and comfort-friendly seating and aisles will take up extra space, however, and Knuth pointed out that Mackay Stadium’s maximum seating will actually drop from 30,000 to 27,500.
“I have some plans for the near future, hopefully we’ll expand a little bit more, probably that north end zone section to get us back over 30,000,” he said. “But frankly, we need to fill up what we have more than once or twice a year. Then it makes sense to go back over 30,000.”
A new track is planned that will feature new colors.
“It’s 10 years past due to be resurfaced,” Knuth said. “And we’re getting rid of the red track. Right now, it just feels wrong to have this red track around our field. So we’re doing this silver and blue track. Mostly it’s gray, but we call it silver, almost all the way around and the starting blocks and finish line will be blue.”
It’s not official yet, he acknowledged, but a new scoreboard and sound system are in the works.
“The new video board is going to be wall-to-wall video,” Knuth said. “It’s going to be one giant enormous board. So you’ll be able to see it from down here.”
Additional plans call for the construction of outdoor tennis courts on the campus, an indoor field house and practice center designed to accommodate all sports, a baseball clubhouse, basketball practice center, and this coming winter, a new student recreation center is due to open. The basketball practice center is proposed to be housed in a renovated Lombardi Recreation Center, Knuth explained.
A new facility for Nevada’s nationally ranked rifle team is also projected for the Parr Boulevard area, located just north of the campus.
“These projects aren’t all happening tomorrow; that’s our five- to seven-year plan,” Knuth said. “It’s about $30 million in fundraising for us to get those projects in. I’m excited for the future, for sure.”
Knuth also spoke of television revenue money.
“Here is one of my biggest pet peeves, one of my biggest challenges: You see all these huge numbers, like the Pac-12 has a $3 billion television deal, the Big Ten and SEC have billion dollar television deals,” he said. “That’s not what’s going on here, folks. Our television deal is $1.5 million a year. When it comes to salaries, scholarships, travel budgets, staffing, and everything we do, we are thin. We try to do as much as we can. There are 12 schools in our conference and we’re 12th in terms of overall budget. Money isn’t everything; obviously, we’ve done very well, but certainly it’s a major challenge”
Knuth was asked if any new developments have come up in regard to concussions in football. He explained that numerous studies have been conducted nationwide, and the Mountain West is no exception.
“It’s a big deal for us and it’s a big deal for anyone who wants to play football,” he said. “The football guys, coaches and administrators nationally, are scared to death about the future of their sport because it’s real and people are nervous.”
A survey asked Mountain West coaches and athletic directors how they are dealing with the situation. One of the points that came out was that head trauma cases are not necessarily the result of violent collisions.
“What they’re finding is, even on the offensive and defensive line, there are more concussions reported from just the day-to-day practice,” Knuth said. “It’s not that colossal, crunch hit. It’s the day-to-day banging of heads. We surveyed the coaches and asked, ‘How many days a week are you actually hitting?’ And we’re at a point now where it’s two days or less. We’re one day a week (at Nevada), where our team goes full-out hitting and taking people to the ground. Every once in a while, if something has to get done, the coach maybe has them go to a second day.”
Football and other sports are facing a need to make adjustments.
“Women’s soccer has a higher number of concussions than football; lacrosse has a huge number of concussions,” Knuth said. “So, people are adjusting. And soccer, they’re talking about eliminating the head ball. Again, it’s not the collision where they’re running into each other on the field, although that does happen, it’s the constant use of the head during practice every day.”
What Knuth spoke about at the start of his 50-minute presentation were the academic and community service achievements of the entire program, which includes 400 student-athletes (the university’s total enrollment is 21,000). He said the grade point average of those student-athletes in the last semester was 3.0.
“We have a lot of student-athletes who are first generation college attendees and our goal is to make sure they’re first generation college graduates,” Knuth said. “So to have that group earn above a 3.0 gpa is absolutely remarkable.”
That academic success has been achieved by the athletic program across the board, he added. Each of Nevada’s 15 sports exceeded the NCAA benchmark in the annual Academic Progress Report. The report measured eligibility and retention of student-athletes in the four years from 2011-15. In single-year data, Nevada averaged a 978 in 15 sports and four sports had a perfect 1,000 (men’s golf, women’s golf, volleyball and rifle).
“Our football team had a 980, which is off the charts positive,” Knuth said. “If you think about that, you would think a private school like Northwestern, or Stanford or Duke, would have that type of score. And they do. But so does your Wolf Pack, just like the elite academic institutions. We’re getting great students to come here and they’re focused on what’s important, and that’s academics.”
After all, education is the university’s most important priority.
“We want to win everything; we keep score for a reason,” he said. “I also remind people that we are not the San Francisco 49ers, or the Sacramento Kings or Golden State Warriors and we are not even the Reno Aces. We’re not professional. We’re on a college campus for a reason, and that reason is education.”
Knuth emphasized how the Wolf Pack student-athletes work to give back to their community.
Knuth pointed out how shortly after his arrival at Nevada in April 2013, he attended an end-of-the-year staff meeting and heard a report that showed Wolf Pack student-athletes had put in 2,500 community service hours for the previous year.
“That’s going to elementary schools and reading, teaching them how to do athletic skills, going to hospitals and visiting sick kids, doing blood drives and food drives,” Knuth explained. “It’s doing everything you can imagine to give back and support the community. I thought that was pretty impressive, but the interesting thing is, our student-athletes said, ‘We think we can do more than that.’”
That total climbed to 3,600 hours in 2013-14, 5,837 in 2014-15 and 9,432 this year. Nevada has won the Mountain West Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Community Service Award the last two years, Knuth added.
“Here’s the cool part,” he said. “Our student-athletes understand how much the community gives to them. They feel like it’s their obligation to do whatever they can to give back. Oh, and by the way, we’re starting to win more, so it’s been fun.”