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Bemidji State athletic director Tracy Dill, right, introduces new women’s hockey coach Jim Scanlan earlier this month at BSU. Dill has been athletic director at BSU for just over a year. Monte Draper | Pioneer Photo

‘Never satisfied’: One year in, AD BSU Dill still wants to do more for BSU programs

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BEMIDJI — One year later, Tracy Dill is still trying to find the best way to retell Bemidji State’s story.

The BSU athletic director was hired in June 2013 after the university decided not to renew the contract of former athletic director Rick Goeb. The reason cited for hiring a new athletic director was the need for increased scholarship funding and marketing efforts.

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Now, Dill is still trying to reshape the BSU athletic department.

“One of the most important jobs you’re going to have in college athletics is to be able to tell your story,” he said. “From recruiting to what you actually do to market your events, how do you get that message out?

“I was reading an article that said the average attention span is eight seconds. How do you capture that and be able to get that information out? That’s important to us.”

At the moment, the message for BSU seems to be “we’re still improving, on and off the field.”

Dill, who came to BSU last year after 20-plus years in coaching and administration at St. Cloud State, said he’s not as concerned that wins and losses are the measuring stick of the program’s development, but rather how the athletic department engages the athletes, the community and alumni in a positive manner.

Like many things, it comes down to increasing revenue.

“Everything you do when we talk about revenue is really important,” he said. “The alumni are important. The community is huge, the region is huge. Ticketing is absolutely imperative.”

To that end, BSU already seems to have success implementing some of Dill’s ideas.

Partnering with the Sanford Center to sell tickets — not only for the men’s and women’s hockey programs but also for the football and other programs — was an easy way to do that.

“We’ve created more of a partnership with Sanford, and we’re doing our ticketing through them,” he said. “They now have a person over there that was hired to sell BSU, Tony Barber. He and Garrett Kollin do a great job.”

Before, there weren’t as many options for potential ticket-buyers but now the athletic department has made it a goal to make sure people who wanted to attend games had plenty of options.

“A lot of it is just changing how we do things, giving people more options,” he said. “We’re looking at more ways we can benefit our season ticket holders, give them more value and more options. We want to give them first options on tickets for holidays and those types of things.”

In other words: trying to do more to entice ticket-buyers to attend games through packaging. Dill gave the example of Homecoming 2014, which is scheduled for Oct. 18. This season, the soccer, football and volleyball teams are all at home on the same day. Last season, only the football game was at home on homecoming.

“We want to get people excited to want to come,” he said. “We want to try and generate excitement with all of the programs, not just football.”

Staffing issues

Competitively, Dill said the Beavers as a whole do a pretty good job keeping up with their peers — in both Division I Western Collegiate Hockey Association and in the Division II Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

However, he noted the program still lags behind many of their competitors when it comes to scholarships and staffing.

“We have a ways to go,” he said. “If you look at our athletic department as a whole, and you compare it across the schools that we compete against, especially hockey, we’re understaffed. There’s no doubt.”

He singled out fellow Division II Minnesota schools St. Cloud State, Minnesota State Mankato and Minnesota-Duluth as needing to keep up with them especially.

“We look at increasing revenue so we can afford to pay more people, but also look at what roles and responsibilities everyone is doing here and try and streamline that,” he said. “We don’t necessarily have to add a bunch of people but we try and look into ways we can get the most out of the staff we had.”

That’s what the school did with, for example, its strength and conditioning program. Before, each program had part-time strength coaches but Dill decided to hire one person — Gary Boros — to oversee the program across the board.

“Gary Boros has done an outstanding job leading the force when it comes to strength and conditioning,” he said. “When you looked at all the part-time people doing the jobs we figured that amount of money could get you a full-time person and be able to offset some of the things we were doing.”

Dill also said he’s concerned with making sure the school’s facilities are up to snuff. Not only does having premium facilities that everyone wants to use help recruiting but it also improves the university’s standing in the community.

“There’s no doubt that passing the eyeball test is a major push in any recruiting effort,” he said. “We have to continue to look at that overall as an athletic department.”

Recent improvements to Chet Anderson Stadium — including a new FieldTurf playing surface — have increased visibility. He also mentioned making sure the indoor track facility is maintained is important. Both of those things bring many students to campus from throughout the region.

‘We have a lot of high school students come on campus for sports,” he said. “It’s a recruiting tool. It’s another way to showcase our beautiful campus we have here but also make people aware of what we’re doing here.”

‘Never satisfied’

Despite the recent changes, Dill said he’s still looking to find ways to improve.

Attendance at hockey games this past year was satisfactory, as was basketball attendance. The men’s and women’s basketball team were often competing against the men’s and women’s hockey teams for fans. It didn’t hurt that the Beaver men’s basketball had an 18-9 record and the NSIC Newcomer of the Year (Brock Lutes) playing on the team, either.

“Our crowds this year with basketball were pretty good, but we can always improve on that,” he said. ‘We’re working on multi-packaging everything together so that we’re able to create some fan experience out of all of it for all sports. That’s important.”

He said the men’s hockey team — in its first year in the newly constituted WCHA — did a decent job on the ice and also generated interest for ticket sales. That was a concern heading into the season.

“Attendance was pretty good,” he said. “We have a good season ticket base, and we did some special group things that were pretty successful. We need to continue to improve, but attendance wasn’t bad. When you look at it across the country, I feel good about where we’re at.

“We always want to improve. In sports, you never want to be satisfied. We always know there’s room for improvement.”

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
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