Even taking away the once-in-a-century pandemic, Martin Jarmond may feel like he’s being greeted by a cruel new campus tradition upon his arrival in Westwood.
Call it the eight-slap.
UCLA’s new athletic director, whose six-year contract is expected to be announced Tuesday, will be besieged by a slew of challenges that go well beyond the uncertain resumption of play amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Banner seasons in the school’s major sports in recent years have meant planes flying overhead toting pointed messages. Donor fatigue may be setting in after record fundraising. The athletic department is in the red — always a revolting color among Bruins fans — and poised to go significantly deeper in debt after a nearly 15-year run of balanced budgets.
So what can Jarmond do to alleviate this big blue-and-gold mess?
Plenty, according to one high-level college athletic administrator familiar with Jarmond who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not feel comfortable publicly divulging his opinion before the hiring was announced.
The administrator described Jarmond as a “very energetic, passionate, outgoing” personality who knows how to work a room and engage with people and build relationships. Jarmond, who will turn 40 in November, parlayed those interpersonal skills into a significant windfall during his three years as Boston College’s athletic director, raising more than $108 million toward a $150-million capital campaign that was the largest of any athletic department in Atlantic Coast Conference history.
“I think your goals should be scary and that’s what we did with the Greater Heights campaign,” Jarmond told the Boston Globe earlier this year, referring to his fundraising efforts. “There were some that wanted us to do a smaller number than that, but I said, ‘Why not?’ This is what we need and if we’re going to boldly go where we haven’t been, we have to ask our fans and our alumni and our parents things that we haven’t asked them before and that’s the reality.”
Jarmond was also known for engaging with the casual fan. He was active on social media and started many promotional videos with the same phrase: “We heard you.” He lobbied to have ESPN’s pregame show, “College GameDay,” broadcast live from Chestnut Hill, Mass., before Boston College played then-No. 2 Clemson in November 2018 after having hobnobbed with co-host Kirk Herbstreit from his time as a deputy athletic director at Ohio State.
Martin Jarmond takes questions from members of the media during a news conference at Boston College in 2017. (Steven Senne / Associated Press)
That type of relationship-building will be invaluable at UCLA, where athletic donors have forked over roughly half a billion dollars in the last decade toward a variety of causes, including the school’s centennial campaign, renovations at the Rose Bowl and Pauley Pavilion, and new practice facilities for the football and basketball teams. That money has also helped pay school-record salaries for coaches Chip Kelly and Mick Cronin after shelling out hefty buyouts to predecessors Jim Mora and Steve Alford.
The Bruins donors have stepped up to put themselves on par with their counterparts at Texas, Ohio State and Michigan. Now UCLA’s football and basketball teams need to win at a comparable level if there is any hope of sustaining that kind of spending.
One of Jarmond’s first major decisions could be the fate of his football coach after the 2020 season, barring a significant turnaround. The Bruins have gone 7-17 under Kelly, the home-run hire who has hit into an unassisted triple play in his first two years on the job, and probably need at least that many wins next season to generate any sort of buzz.
Yes, there’s the specter of that $9-million buyout looming but there’s also the likelihood of further hemorrhaging ticket sales and donations unless the team starts winning. UCLA is coming off a season with record lows in both season tickets (25,136) and average attendance (43,849) at the Rose Bowl, with the $9 million in ticket revenue less than half the $20 million it pulled in while setting attendance records under Mora in 2014.
Jarmond reinvigorated the Boston College fan base with the hiring of Jeff Hafley, a former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator who also has NFL experience, and probably hopes he doesn’t have to commence another major coaching search in his first few years at his new post.
Money could be at the forefront of almost every decision Jarmond makes while navigating UCLA out of a deficit that could more than double from the $18.9-million shortfall its athletic department faced during the 2019 fiscal year. Campus support is negligible given that the athletic department receives only a sliver of its $130-million budget from student fees and the university provided an interest-bearing loan to cover the most recent deficit.
Cutting sports is not believed to be on the table but cutting back on the football training table might be. UCLA spent $5.4 million for the football team’s meals under Kelly during the 2019 fiscal year, up from just $997,000 just two years earlier. Even accounting for the higher catering costs required to feed players inside the Wasserman Football Center, there are likely some significant savings that could be achieved here by going with lesser options than organic, grass-fed beef.
Jarmond will need to get creative to find new revenue sources with the Bruins locked into long-term apparel and marketing contracts. A Pac-12 Conference television deal that lags well behind its Southeastern and Big Ten conference counterparts could yield additional millions when the rights are renegotiated in 2024, but that feels like light years away given the urgency of the current crisis.
Martin Jarmond, welcome to Westwood. You might just have to pay for your own honeymoon.