A Conversation With EMU's Director Of Athletics
Eastern Michigan University announced this week that four sports would be eliminated immediately. This represents the latest round of budget cuts at a University facing large deficits heading into the last quarter of their fiscal year. Scott Wetherbee, EMU's Vice President and Director of Athletics, sat down with Patrick Campion to talk about the past, present and future of EMU's Athletics programs, how they'll fund growth moving forward, and what the University sees as long term keys to successly maintaining financial stability.
Editor's Note: EMU has been in the MAC since 1971, not 53 years as mentioned in the interview. The following transcript may contain minor grammatical or spelling errors; these will be corrected as they're discovered.
Patrick Campion: I'm Patrick Campion, Program Director for 89 one WEMU and joining me this afternoon is the Athletic Director for Eastern Michigan University, Scott Wetherbee.
Scott, actually give me your full, actual title here. I know a lot of people just refer to you as the AD. What's your actual title at Eastern?
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, it's Vice President and Director of Inter-Collegiate Athletics, but [crosstalk 00:00:22]
Patrick Campion: And you can fit all of that on one business card.
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, I just say I'm the AD or the Director of Athletics.
Patrick Campion: Right, but in the grand scheme of things, Athletic Director is what people would associate with your responsibilities or level of ... your level here in the hierarchy at Eastern.
Let's talk about that for a moment. As far as Eastern Michigan is concerned, in the overall hierarchy, you answer to Dr. Smith. You are essentially in charge of every decision that has to do with the athletics department.
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, that's correct and being on his executive council with the other vice presidents. That's become pretty common in our role now as athletic directors to have a seat at the table with the executive council.
Patrick Campion: You are then responsible for being a part of decisions or being at least part of the conversation that may entail other things at the university as part of the council that advises the president on different facets of what's going on on campus.
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, that's right.
Patrick Campion: You came from Mississippi State and I know that your journey started on the other side of the state and Western Michigan, in Kalamazoo, where you grew up. Kind of give me the 20 years, last 20 years or so that from graduating at Western to getting to Eastern.
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, I had the opportunity, Kathy Beauregard, who was the Athletic Director ...
Patrick Campion: I'm sorry, I'm gonna correct myself here, you graduated from Ball State.
Scott Wetherbee: Ball State, that's right.
Patrick Campion: Yeah.
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, and Kathy Beauregard gave me an opportunity. Her husband was my football coach and actually wrestling as well in Kalamazoo. So I called back to her and was able to get an internship and be able to graduate from Ball State with that internship. Then worked at Ball State as a graduate assistant and did my graduate work there. Then I went on to Fresno State for three years. And then San Diego State for a year, and then met my wife during that time and got married. And then we decided to move back east and spent 10 years at East Carolina. Both my kids were born there in North Carolina. And then had the opportunity to go to Mississippi State and spent four years there and had a really good run. And then the opportunity to come back to Michigan and bring my family here. My dad still lives in Kalamazoo and my sister, so it was an opportunity for me to get closer to them. So we made the move and it's been about eight months now.
Patrick Campion: I read an interview with you while you were at Mississippi State that it was kinda your first experience for feeling like what it is to be the guy who the buck stops with. Standing on the sideline of a football game and watching an injured player laying on the ground, and suddenly having that feeling like, well, the next few minutes are all gonna come down on me. How we react to this is maybe his future. How do we notify his parents, what hospital does he go to, is he okay?
Was that a point where you felt like that you could do this, that you could take on this responsibility, and that you wanted to be in that sort of decision making place?
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, actually, it was. Because I had coaches wives looking at me. We had, you know we're communicating with the Universities of Kentucky's personnel and then we're starting to think how are we gonna get this young man home? Because he's not gonna fly back with the team. That was a powerful moment for me and it's one I'll never forget because you're realizing that there's nobody else to turn and look to. That everybody else is looking at you and in that time, how do you react? Do you panic and run away? Do you step up and say okay, you gotta remain calm and let's get the facts and let's do the right thing.
That was really a moment where I felt like I an do this, but also you realize the severity of your job and the importance of it and that people are looking for you for that leadership.
Patrick Campion: By the way, how did it turn out for that student?
Scott Wetherbee: So it actually it ended up just being what we call a stinger and we were on the phone with his parents quite a bit. It worked out that we actually had a donor that was gonna leave the next morning on a private plane that he was able to hop on that plane and get back to Mississippi. So everything worked out great and certainly don't want to make light of the moment. But for me it was just something I really remember my very first week kinda being in that interim role.
Patrick Campion: Were you inspired to apply for the job at Eastern or were you recruited and asked to apply for the opportunity?
Scott Wetherbee: They did a search firm and Parker, I had met Daniel a few times, but not ever gone through a process with him. He knew I was from Michigan had an American Conference background. He had actually reached out to me on actually coming to Atlanta to meet other actual basketball coaches as just a get to know. And then through that discussions and getting to know me more then that ... He said, "You know, would you be interested in going back to Michigan?" Then that's kinda where it started.
I didn't really reach out to him, it was more he reached out to me. And just in those conversations it was oh, by the way, oh I didn't realize you lived in Michigan or grew up there. And that's kinda where it started.
Patrick Campion: What were the things you really hung your hat on at Mississippi State? Your proudest accomplishments down there.
Scott Wetherbee: I would say we won in 2016 and 2017 the marketing teams of the year for ... And it's not just our marketing department, it's our whole external team. So it's our video department, it's our communications department, our graphics and all those. Which I oversaw all those and the neat thing was every one of those employees I said, maybe outside of two, were ones that I hired in that timeframe. We built that together and they're continuing to do great work.
When you hire good people and let them go do their job, that's one of the things that I'm most proud of and more proud for them because they get recognized and they have that on their resume. So that's one.
And then just the whole fan experience and trying to take it up a notch there in feeling like I made a dent within the Athletic Department. But even more so with my wife and kids and the community. I feel like we still talk to a lot of people in Starkville and we still try to give back and do things with them there. We're rooting for Mississippi State in the finals for women's basketball. Because they're gonna be in Columbus and my family would love to go see some of those people that we haven't seen in a while.
Patrick Campion: What was the campus environment like at Mississippi State in terms of student support for athletics or administrative support for athletics or even alumni, community support. Was it a community facing athletics department? Was it more for donor facing athletics department? Was it a student facing? Everybody kinda has a primary focus. What was it down there? Or was it kind of a mixture?
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, it was a mixture when I first got there. But it really started to come together after the fall of '13. We started having conversations, we as an external group in athletics started to work with our public relations and our marketing on campus. We started to really work together and we talked about what is the brand of Mississippi State. Through that we actually decided to change our university marks into our athletic marks. Since our athletic marks are gonna be on the SEC Network every day. They're gonna be out on ESPN and people are gonna see that and identify. Well why don't we go ahead and make the whole university that way.
There was a lot of angst among faculty and staff on campus with that. If you looked at all of our Twitter pages that everybody had, some of them you wouldn't even know was a Mississippi State college, or within one of the departments. So we changed all that so we were all uniform and I think it went over really well. They won some awards for how we transformed that.
I was a big part of that process and our staff was included on all the different breakouts and it worked really well. So there's some really good synergy on campus. And by the time I left I think if you went back and talked to the public relations person, Sid Salter, who's outstanding, and the President's Office, they would say because we worked so well together it helped benefit the whole university and be able to do that.
It's certainly a blueprint for me to work on that. But we also had to go on campus. We had to talk to others and realize that we all have the same goals and aspirations for our university. It certainly helped winning some as well through that.
Patrick Campion: Yes, and so you're being approached now, going back in time to last year, you're being approached about looking at the job at Eastern, what was your first reaction? I'm assuming you went and looked at news about Eastern and to see ... What did you find and what was your ... I'm sure you saw the HBO special. You hear the national stories of, not just specifically related to Eastern, but the state of divisional athletics in a mid-major conference on the whole. What was your initial take about the challenges you thought you'd face and the changes you thought you could make immediately.
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, when I looked at it, obviously some of the excitement was where the programs were at, what coaches were here and in place. That's something that you certainly look at. And then I looked at what are some of the things that Eastern Michigan Athletics needed. The areas that I thought they needed were my strong suits. I thought fan experience and raising revenue and having relationships with campus. Some of those negatives that were out there, those were the things that I thought I could spur positive. And then use the other momentum that was already positive to continue that track.
So I didn't have to come in and fire a bunch of coaches or make a lot of changes. A lot of good things were here, I just needed to fix a few little things. I thought Heather did a good job of laying the foundation and getting the upward trajectory going over her three or four years. I was gonna just build off that and then pump in behind. Whether it's revenue or fan experience or student athlete experience trying to make that better.
That's where I thought, hey, this could be a good fit. I come in here. And again, you wanna make a ... Coach Crane and I talk about it a lot. We wanna lock arms and we wanna make a difference here. And whether it's 10 or 20 years from now, somebody will come back and say, "I remember the time when Scott was there. They had to make some difficult decisions, but look at where they took off. And our attendance went up and people started to kinda rally together and help our program. And then look what it did for the university." And they were in a tailspin on student credit hours, but yet, we were able to bottom out and turn this thing around and get our retention going. Get people to come to school here and take advantage of our Athletic Department.
Patrick Campion: I think that it's no secret that the university has been facing some significant financial issues, not just recently. I know it's come to the fore, but especially related to athletics, this has been a conversation both on and off campus for a number of years here. As of a couple of years ago the primary revenue sports, football, women's and men's basketball, were being subsidized at a rate of about seven million dollars a year by the university. Attendance for football before the year of when they went to the Bahamas Bowl in 2015 was the lowest of any Division One football program in the country.
You're looking at those and I'm assuming you're seeing those as significant challenges for growth. So how do you come to a university that, even in the face of laying some groundwork for a better future, has substantial issues that would stand in the way of even getting to a point where you can talk about growth. And then planning for growth afterwards. How do you tackle starting from, what some might describe as being in a pretty big hole?
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah. When you're having those conversations when you're going through the search process and looking at what you're walking into, what I was looking at from an athletic budget was that we were taking less and less from campus. Our revenues were continuing to go up and that I could help enhance that as we go. And we did, this year will be the best year we've ever had financially as an Athletic Department on the revenue side.
But I don't think I had a real pulse of what campus was going through and the fact that at one time ... I'm learning now that we were well over 500,000 credit hours and that we've dipped below that and then that number keeps continuing to decline. And we're looking at budgeting a mid-400,000 and that I didn't see. I didn't know that was gonna happen. And then, in turn, what campus is giving to Athletics to help support our program, that money would be eliminated this quickly and I wouldn't have the opportunity to try to raise more revenue.
That part of it I wish I would have probably maybe done a little more research or tried to find out. I don't feel like it was hidden from me during the process at all, 'cus they're very open about there are some struggles. I just don't think I knew the depth of how quickly it would actually come.
Patrick Campion: You talked about donors a little bit. Athletics, as a department, has struggled with getting a donor base typical of a Division One FBS type school. Especially in terms of its place in the overall income for the department.
You've been here only eight months, but what do you see as the place that'll play over the next year, five years, 10 years, in the department. And how do you grow it into the income source it needs to be?
Scott Wetherbee: So I went back and I did a little history of how is our fundraising been I Athletics. We have records I think back to '82. So if you go from '82 to 2013 it was like 10 million dollars in 30 years. We've done about five million over the last four years or so. And we're continuing to try to ratchet that up.
And how do you do that? You build relationships with people and you get them to buy in to, obviously, the programs and then you also say how can you help us to be a stronger program? How do we make it so we don't have days like we had earlier this week. If we have people step up on the front end and when we're asking for money to try to help our programs that they do that. And, like you said, before I got here, there's been budget issues. This has not been new. Coaches have been walking around on eggshells for the last two or three years knowing that what has happened could have happened even earlier. And probably should have happened earlier. But it didn't. And why haven't we had others or why haven't we had gone after and try to get more of that raised up so we didn't have to do this.
But we're gonna get leaner, meaner now. And we're gonna really hone in on, you know, football is very important, basketball. Buying season tickets helps all of our programs. That's a revenue source that is less money we have to borrow from the university or you get from the university in subsidies. As long as we can grow our different revenue buckets. And there's not a lot of 'em. You've got sponsorships, there's tickets, there's fundraising. There's not a lot of 'em out there, so we've gotta really hone in and focus on those.
Patrick Campion: Fundraising, just not in athletics, in this university as a whole, has been a challenge for a lot of different departments here. In your world the emotional attachment piece, I think is bigger than maybe some of the other departments here on campus. How do you overcome the three major barriers that this university's always had to emotional based fundraising. Which is disenfranchisement among multiple generation that considered themselves Hurons and don't associate themselves with the university since the change there.
20 to 30 years tradition here in the university of being largely a commuter and non-traditional student campus. Which does not embed them into the world of athletics sufficiently, so that down the road they may wanna come back and support it. And not having a tradition of success to build off of. I mean, we've been Division One for better than 53 years. And you can count on one hand the revenue sports. The non-revenue sports, some have been incredibly successful. But the primary one that I'm assuming you would feel need to generate revenue, football, men's and women's basketball, don't have a long tradition of success built over time. Or success that lasted for more than a year or two before it kinda petered out.
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, and I would say you're correct on overall university fundraising. I think, obviously Bill Shepard is coming up on his one year as well. And him and I have talked a lot about just the lack of foresight before on how to go out and tackle and fundraise and try to ask people. I get that a lot in my first eight months is, well nobody's ever asked. Nobody's ever really reached out. And so, we're trying to break down those barriers.
Then what I have to sell is look at our graduation rates. And look at our what kinda students we're putting out. And then also sell the fact that when I can show different universities that we're competing against, when somebody has actually gone out and raised money and built the buildings or gave them the necessary resources that they were capable of winning and making runs that can help the university.
When Western Michigan can run the table and go 12 and 0 and take advantage of that. That's because they had people behind them giving the resources to allow them to do that. So you need to have that. I don't think there's ... I made a comment about UMBC and how much value that had in winning one basketball game. But they just built an event center. Somebody put an investment in to have it so they have a great home that they actually have been recruiting to the last two or three years knowing it was coming, to help them get to where they were better and ready to go to be able to make a run.
Those types of things are part of your sales pitch because somebody's not just gonna hand you a million dollars because we're friends. We've gotta show a vision of where our program is going and, obviously, helping and what kind of student athletes and students we're putting out and building champions for life.
Patrick Campion: How many previous commitments ... And this is just a problem in general with fundraising, not specific to this university, is you get commitments and then staffing changes happen. Staffing transitions happen. What I'm getting at is, how many of the commitments that were made to, for example, Heather Lyke in her previous tenure here as the Athletic Director, are you seeing still willing to commit with the new. And specifically among them, the largest donation which was the six million dollar anonymous pledge to university to kinda jumpstart the Championship Building Program. Are you in touch with all those people and they're all still on board and they're all still excited about the future of Eastern Athletics?
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, I would say that I've had great conversations with just about all of 'em. We've had a few that were certainly disappointed that Heather chose to leave and the timing of it. And then ...
Patrick Campion: How happy are they with you being the choice for Athletic Director.
Scott Wetherbee: Well, that would be a question for them. I feel like I'm very transparent ... We have an advisory board that we've had, our championship advisory board. We've added three new members, four new members since I got here. I think the response has been good. I try to make it so that we can develop relationships, they understand what our primary focus is in helping our student athletes and trying to build championships.
I think it's been good, but they may turn around and say this guy's a bozo and look what he's doing. But I feel like when we're out I can usually have a sense of if people are okay. The only person on my advisory board I haven't met yet is TJ Lang and after today ... I'm actually meeting him today.
I feel good about everybody. One of the notices that I have from the conversations we have is sustainability. That's something that Greg Durant's here and then he leaves and then Heather's here and then he leaves and then how long is Scott gonna be here? But I would say to the flip side of that is the reason people aren't staying is sometimes you're not getting the support you need. So if you can help support me to build this thing up, I'll stick around and see this through. But if I'm fighting and fighting and fighting, and nobody's here to kinda help make this a better place, that makes it really challenging to wanna dig in and really go for it.
Patrick Campion: Were you the choice of the coaches here? We're they happy with the decision to bring you in as Athletic Director?
Scott Wetherbee: I think so. I've had a lot of really good support. And it may be better for some of my staff members that are here to answer that as opposed to me. But I feel like I've had one on ones with all of our coaches. I come around to all their practices. We try to be very open with them on where we're at with things. I feel like it's gone very, very well and that people enjoy coming to work every day. And you know, hey, every day isn't a great day, but we're certainly gonna work hard. And they know that I'm in the trenches with 'em. I'm there. I'm accessible. I try to get to as many events as I can. And my wife gets frustrated, my family does, but they know how important it is. That's how you develop the relationships and realize that you're a part of this.
Patrick Campion: A couple months ago, you met with the faculty senate here just to get in front of 'em I'm assuming and just talk about how athletics and academics can work together better and answer specific questions. In that meeting you mentioned that as part of this plan to build the new athletics training and sports medicine facility on the athletic side of campus that you had to present a business plan to the President and the Board of Regents.
What was the overall goal with that business plan? I guess long term, i would assume you're not trying to get the department revenue neutral because there's only a handful of schools in the country that can really sustain that level of income versus output. So what is the business goal, short and long term for the department? How did that presentation make the university comfortable enough with the department to start funding $20 million worth of a project.
Scott Wetherbee: When talking with the board and with the President and trying to do phase one of multiple phases. And looking at what is this building gonna cost and doing that. We were in the 18 to 20 million dollar range trying to get this kicked off.
When we were talking through it I said, "Well what do I need to bring to the table as an athletic department? And then what would the university be willing to help." Just like they're going to fund Strong Hall or Sill or anything else. Others, they're not fundraising. We at least have an arm that's gonna go and help fundraise that. My goal was to get to 12 million. Is what they asked me to go and fundraise and figure out ways to do that.
Patrick Campion: Sorry, just a clarification. Is that including the commitments that have already been made?
Scott Wetherbee: Yes.
Patrick Campion: Okay.
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, so yeah, correct. With that, you look at can we go get banking, can we go get healthcare, can we go get other sponsorships? What different areas? So we had to kinda lay out a plan and then who we've been having conversation with. And then, obviously, individual donors as well. I feel like we're set up very strong to ... My hope is by a year from now we will have all that. We're gonna be in a good place for that.
Patrick Campion: Well you said 12 million. Obviously half of that is from one commitment. Is that a sound plan to base 50 percent of your fundraising on one commitment that wasn't made during your time here?
Scott Wetherbee: Well I think ...
Patrick Campion: Or is it risky?
Scott Wetherbee: Well, some people could look at it as risky, but I feel comfortable that we're gonna get to our number and beyond. That's just for that part. I've got two or three other projects I wanna get going on as well.
But again, you're right, I just said, hey after 30 years we only raised 11 million. And so now in a window of two years or so, I gotta get this 12 million and beyond. I realize the challenges there. But there are people here that are willing to help and that are willing to step up. But yes, do we hang our hat on one big donation here and then another big one? Yes. That's the ... Boone Pickens at Oklahoma State keeps ... Do you wanna keep going to the same well? No you want multiple people to come and help step up and make the commitment. But you've gotta figure out who they are and cultivate the relationship and then show the vision of what and how that actually effects. And then, again, a couple of the ones that I know have capability, they wanna see sustainability within EMU and athletics. It's not just athletics, it's the whole university and making sure we're heading in the right direction.
Patrick Campion: So what is the overall goal for the department that the subsidy level from the university ... Just by that I mean the general fund allocation that has to come to athletics to meet the needs, including scholarships for athletes. The difference between the revenue you can generate ... Short term, what is the goal, you've mentioned a couple years here, what's the goal of over a couple years, what's the goal over five years?
Scott Wetherbee: I would say the ... I'd have to go back and look maybe three or four years ago what that percentage was. When we look at our operating budget of our salaries and our SS&M as well. That part, the goal this year was to be 65% campus, 35% from athletics. Which is the best it's ever been. I think it's probably gonna end up being more 37, 38% from us. So we're even more to the good in that regard.
So I'd like to see that percentage get bigger for our part to give less to come back. And there's a lot of things that go into that. Whether it's fundraising or football guarantee games and gate receipts and then sponsorships. Those are the different buckets that we'll start to ratchet up. And this year we sit and do goals on what our new ticket revenue's gonna be for next year. What's our fundraising goal gonna be. That's a fundraising goal for annual, but there's also a fundraising goal for capital. Those are two different things.
I would say, my goal would be in a five year span is to try to get closer to 50 percent. Knock off a couple percentage points every year and make it so that we're less and less relying on campus. I don't want to rely on campus. I want to be self-funding. But you're right, the reality is, there's like 10 schools in the country. Mississippi State was finally just getting to where we didn't have to use student fees and student money. And that's in the SEC where we had a 41 million dollar check from a conference. I've seen that side of it, but I also know everywhere else there is a balance there. My goal would be to ... take less and less and less and less. And then be an advocate for campus to help them get better students and be able to get better faculty and allow us to get more students to come here.
Patrick Campion: You've mentioned a couple of times, and specifically at a press conference you did this week. Really it starts with the notion that the President and the Board of Regents have a mandate, which is that they pass along to you, which you've said you agree with. Which is that we're going to remain in the MAC as a school that Eastern Michigan's going to remain in the Mac and going to remain Division One. That is not a place where discussion is happening. That is the long term goal. That we continue to remain, that we continue, I'm guessing, to be competitive there.
Scott Wetherbee: Yep.
Patrick Campion: How do you succeed in something that no one has been able to do for 53 years here at Eastern?
Scott Wetherbee: I think, again, you continue to knock down doors and I can't come in and take a giant leap. I think my staff probably gets tired of hearing me. I say we gotta take baby steps. We gotta have little wins along the way. Whether that's increasing our football attendance, which went up seven percent. And I look at actuals. I wanna know how many butts are in the seats. I'm not talking about fudged numbers of any tickets out or whatever. I wanna know who's coming to our game, how many people are there. We just had a high for football. Basketball was the best we've had in eight or nine years since I think Rob's first year. Women's basketball just had an all time high.
Those are little things, so now next year, we're gonna reset those. Then wherever that percentage is on a ticket revenue, we're gonna increase that as well. Those are the things ...
Patrick Campion: Right, I guess what I'm getting at though is that you know, the type of investment that's necessary to build a winning program. And winning breeds further monies down the road from more engaged funding sources.
I'm sure probably have a number in mind or a number that you've developed that football would need to spend, basketball would need to spend, to get to us to a place where year after year, we're competitive in the MAC on all those revenue sports.
With the university pulling away general fund allocations and only minor incremental revenue increases coming through things like ticket sales, how do you fund that growth?
Scott Wetherbee: Again, I don't know how best to answer that. We continue to chip away at fundraising dollars. There does have to be a focus on football and basketball because those are the revenue generators. If those go away or you don't have those, I don't have other sources of income to be able to go out ... Yes can you fundraise for your rowing program and those. They don't, there's not a revenue generator there. When you have those 18 other sports that are not revenue generation.
Again, that's where you build the relationships, you fight like heck, you roll up your sleeves and you put together goals for that.
Patrick Campion: One last question. Actually, we could have a chat for a couple more hours.
Scott Wetherbee: Absolutely.
Patrick Campion: But one last question, which was, and this is really specific. The basketball game that was played here on campus at Convocation Center, the first round of the CIT.
Scott Wetherbee: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Patrick Campion: What was the audience, or the intended audience for that game. Who was that game played for?
Scott Wetherbee: Played for? It was played for our student athletes. That's why we're here.
Patrick Campion: Right, but how much did playing a game for the student athletes cost this university.
Scott Wetherbee: It didn't cost them a penny.
Patrick Campion: So who paid to open the Convocation Center and for Coach Murphy's bonuses and for the entry fees in the tournament. Was it all funded by outside entities?
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, so we used donor, our donors that we talked to. And we talked to Rob and Rob went out and helped us fundraise that. And so what we had to give to the CIT to host was covered through that. All the money that came through ticket receipts, gate receipts was about $4500 we got to keep that helped pay for the building and opening doors. What number they have out there publicly is not what we paid, just to be transparent. We said we would not really talk about that because they have a tournament to run. But they were very fair to us, so it wasn't a significant amount.
Patrick Campion: But just out of curiosity, did a donor specifically say, "Here's," I'm going to use the number hypothetically of $10,000, "Here's," hypothetically, "$10,000, for you to enter this tournament." Or was this paid for out of donor funds that may have been just unrestricted funds that could have been used for other things?
Scott Wetherbee: We went around and it wasn't just one person. Rob and I, we talked to a few people to get it. Because again, that's what the President was very factual with me or upfront and said, "You know, we can't spend money on a basketball game. Look what we're going through."
I'm the very first person to recognize that. Yeah, we went and got a couple of people, it wasn't just one, to help buy in so we could give these ... And look, we were gonna send 'em on the road, it didn't cost us any money to go on the road, the CIT came back to us and said, "Hey, we would like for you to host. We'll take care of you with a really good deal if you can find the money for it." We went and found the money for it. We paid that and then we got to keep the gate receipts for that. That'll go into our basketball revenue for this year. That gave those student athletes ... They got to stay on campus that whole week, go to class, they got to have the experience of playing in post-season.
Hey, we had one senior, I thought it would be good for our program to help set them up for next year. I think you've seen what Loyola-Chicago just is into the final eight, they paid a lot more. They spent three years ago to be in this $240,000. But this is what they believed help them by going through that process.
Patrick Campion: You, obviously, from the background and media relations and external relations, understand the value of PR.
Scott Wetherbee: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Patrick Campion: Did you not anticipate that in a time where massive budget cuts are being announce across the university, that the news of an additional expense, whether being funded by donors or not, would be received fairly negatively on the campus?
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, and the President and I talked about that and I said, "Look, as long as we're not taking from our general fund and spending university dollars on this, I feel comfortable to allow them to have this experience and to have the opportunity to play in the post-season ... "
Patrick Campion: Why not say that in advance of the game? Why not alleviate concerns that could pop up across campus? Why not issue a press release saying, "We're doing this game. None of the money came from the university. We stand in solidarity with the campus community right now that is losing good people that have worked here for 10 or more or 20 or 30 years. We understand the value of those dollars and want you to be assured that there is no money coming out of anything that could be spent on off-setting the funding deficit."
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, and I will say that, one, hindsight certainly would have kinda put that out there. I didn't realize that ... I just didn't see that it was gonna be that dramatic of an impact that people question it that much. [crosstalk 00:36:01]
Patrick Campion: Well welcome to Eastern.
Scott Wetherbee: I totally misgauged ... You're right. I've misgauaged on a lot of things. That's something that I'll learn from. But I also had the conversation with Rob that, look, we're not in ... It's an NIT, NCAA or bus type thing and we're not gonna spend money. It was more about we feel that we have got a lot of good guys coming back. They got a few more weeks. They got to taste the post-season. Hopefully we can make that NCAA run next year, so that we can have those moments that help Eastern Michigan an we haven't been in a while.
Patrick Campion: I guess, the last thing here, fundamentally let's talk about that. Basketball team makes it to the NCAA next year. They win the MAC, they get the automatic bid, they're in the NCAAs. We play a game, obviously there's media revenue that comes to the whole conference that we get a piece of as a school at Eastern. What is the benefit to the university? Is it just an intrinsic value thing? Is it a prestige thing? What do you and I'm imagining the Board of Regents and the President have a similar view of this, that the benefit of making it to that level.
Scott Wetherbee: Yep, absolutely. So to me, you always have to have a strategic plan ready to go. You have to be able to say, okay, what are our big talking points that are happening on our university that we can sell ... We have a week leading up. What are the things that we're out there engaging people about Eastern Michigan. If this is the first time they've heard about us or actually went on to our website. You can see where UMBC, their website crashed because people went to their website. Their Twitter handle went up. But we have to have all that prepared to tell about. Whether it's our forensic debate team or it's the number one student center. We need to talk about those things so that helps.
And then what happens is ... They have a pretty good study that somebody actually sent me right after this about how much applications went up. And it helped enrollment and helping those. Because there's a sense of pride to that and people are excited to be a part of that ... Students can rally around that and say that's my school and wear their colors. It helps you with sales with apparel and getting your name out there and having the opportunity to show what is the perception of Eastern when that happens. We have to show them what we are and who we are in that short time. 'Cus there's not a guarantee we're gonna win. And if we win we gotta capitalize even more. 'Cus then you got about a 48 hour window to show who you are.
Those are the things that I've talked to Faculty Senate and talked to those on campus to say, "Give me our top 10 moments." Or, "Give me these things that we can share at football games and on ESPN and CBS College Sports." We have a platform to sell our program and to sell our university. Just the branding alone is a really big thing to just get ... Whether it's the block E out there or Eastern Michigan or True EMU, whatever that is. We need to make sure we're laser focused for just those 48, 72 hours to help our school get students to come here and have pride in it.
Patrick Campion: If you don't meet your goals, you don't get to that place, you've said a couple years. You're try in about five years get to a more of a 50 50 revenue split or the revenue source split with the university. Do you make more cuts like you just had to make?
Scott Wetherbee: I would hope not, but I can't forecast where we're gonna be. I told the President my goal is to help get our student credit hours up and to help retention. That's where I feel like athletics can help do that by making it a sense of pride amongst the students. Get them active and involved. There's proof that if they get engaged and they're doing recreation sports or coming out to sporting events that they are gonna stick around in school and have some pride.
I'm gonna focus on those things. I think we need to focus on the core group of students that are full time students here and try to grow that base. And then, hopefully, I can infiltrate those freshman and sophomores to get them to come and be a part of our events, all of our events. And that they're engaged and that'll increase our enrollment. That's where I can help the university just as much as fundraising and ticket sales and making that a 50 50 type of split even more so. If I can get us from 450,000 credit hours back up to 500,000 and we're breathing life into Eastern again. That's the ultimate goal.
Patrick Campion: Sure. I think that's all I have for you. Gracious for your extra time here. You had a half hour, so we went a little over here.
Scott Wetherbee: Yeah, that's good.
Patrick Campion: Appreciate it and looking forward to conversing in the future.
Scott Wetherbee: Okay, great, thanks.
Patrick Campion: Thanks, Scott.