Getting the lay of UB

Mark Alnutt begins as new athletic director

alnutt

New Athletic Director Mark Alnutt isn’t satisfied with the Bulls’ historic success in recent years and wants to take Buffalo’s program to new heights.

Alnutt, who joined Athletics after two years as deputy director of athletics at the University of Memphis, started the position on April 11 and already has his plan in motion.

“My vision for the program is student-athlete-centered academic excellence, social development and competitive success,” Alnutt said in an exclusive interview with The Spectrum. “We have about 130 staff members and I am setting up one-on-one meetings with all of them.”

A “key goal” for Alnutt is to turn UB sports into a recognizable brand across the country and get more exposure for the university. To start, Alnutt said he is hoping to get a “lay of the land” by meeting with groups both within and outside of Athletics.

Alnutt plans to have every Athletics staff member fill out a survey, identifying strengths and weaknesses within the department. Alnutt hopes to incorporate the information he gets into his future plans.

Alnutt said he has already met with the Division I football, tennis and basketball teams to give them a better sense of who he is and what his goals are for the program. Alnutt said he hopes to meet with every team in the coming weeks.

“He is very well-spoken and wants to continue the success that UB has generated these past several years,” said senior track-and-field thrower Devon Patterson. “Not just academically and athletically, but with the community and across campus. I believe he is the best fit out of all the candidates.”

Patterson, the vice president of the UB Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, was a part of the search committee for a new AD. Patterson said Alnutt scheduled a meet-and-greet for all UB teams Wednesday at Alumni Arena.

Alnutt is moving forward on a new weight room to accommodate student athletes and help alleviate other fitness locations on campus. It will be the first construction project Alnutt plans to start at UB. Alnutt also said that the Murchie Family fieldhouse was on time to meet its scheduled spring 2019 opening and is under budget.

“So far my time here has been very good. I have met some great people,” Alnutt said. “I got to meet with donors and fans who have all been very nice. I look forward to meeting with student government in the future to talk about their needs. It is about what people want to see from UB and getting that vision to be able to move forward.”

Alnutt said he has a planned meeting with the Student Association to negotiate its needs and advertising. This past semester, SA decided not to advertise with Athletics after having been a sponsor for years. Alnutt said it’s a relationship he is hoping to improve.

“We really look forward to seeing what director Alnutt can do for the university and what we can do for each other,” said SA Vice President Ben Harper.

Gunnar Haberl, the SA president-elect, said he has not been contacted yet by Athletics to set up a meeting. That doesn’t surprise him, however, as he expects to have a meeting sometime after May 21 when he takes office.

“Over the years, we have seen this divide between Athletics and SA because of the mandatory fees and how the money is being used,” Haberl said. “It is important that we make sure that the money is being put to good use –– for all students, not just a select few.”

Haberl’s other main concern was making sure SA’s 32 club sports teams would have less difficulty finding practice space. Currently the teams have to pay for practice space and field services even though they pay the athletic fee. Haberl said he feels this is the best time to improve relationships, as a new athletic director tends to be “more open for discussion.”

“I hope our new athletic director is willing to actually sit down and not just meet with the incoming e-board,” Haberl said. “I hope they listen to what we are saying and advocating for and follow through with action. We have seen administration take meetings and they will listen, but nothing will happen.”

Alnutt stressed throughout the interview that input from beyond Athletics was crucial for his department’s success.

The fan experience was something Alnutt felt UB had done well but hopes to improve moving forward. One of Alnutt’s top priorities for creating that environment is working with True Blue. Alnutt said the club is essential to growing student interest and bringing in a “high energy” to games.

“He seems to have done a good job of making himself available,” said junior UB True Blue member Kevin McCormick. “He has been at most of the sporting events, and I think that’s important early on, just to be present.”

McCormick said the fact that Alnutt has started contract negotiations with women’s basketball head coach Felisha Legette-Jack shows he is listening to fans. McCormick said at times the community has had a rough relationship with Athletics, but if Alnutt could keep the program successful, the community will be pleased.

“True Blue is super optimistic about the future of UB Athletics,” McCormick said. “Between volleyball and football in the fall, we are expecting to see a lot of big crowds because of the success. We think it will be a big year for the teams.”

With basketball season over, Alnutt has started looking for opportunities to grow the teams currently playing and the upcoming fall sports. For Alnutt, that starts with creating a family-friendly atmosphere for all UB events that still caters to students. To do that, Alnutt wants to turn not just Athletics, but UB as a whole into a brand associated with success.

“So from a football standpoint, in the way the NCAA is laid out, we are what you call a ‘Football Bowl Subdivision’ program,” Alnutt said. “Which means it is very important for us to elevate this program so it is in line to win MAC championships and go to bowl games. And when you're competing at a high level, it acts as exposure for not just the teams, but more importantly, the university.”

Even with pressure on the football team to succeed, Alnutt does not feel it is the most important sport in the department.

“It is definitely an important part of our program, but so [are] our basketball teams, so [are] our Olympic sports, which provide opportunities for student athletes,” Alnutt said.

Alnutt’s plans aren’t specifically oriented around one sport. Instead, he is looking for opportunities to grow every team, whether its by upgrading facilities or using other means to improve the programs. Alnutt now has the “opportunity” to attempt to achieve his goals, he said, less than a month after he was announced as the new AD.

Thomas Zafonte is the senior sports editor and can be reached at thomas.zafonte@ubspectrum.comand @Thomas_Spectrum