Today in the LSJ and at GreenAndWhite.com, we examine the impact that Michigan State winning its first Rose Bowl in 26 years has had on the university and its football program. And here at Spartan Shadows, we’ll answer a few more questions, including the big one you’ve probably wondered: How did MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon end up dancing to Rich Homie Quan in the victorious locker room?
One of the primary things we learned over the course of this project is that MSU likely won’t feel the full effect of the Rose Bowl for a few years, in particular with applications and admissions. However, there are some key areas where the impact has been immediate.
Chuck Sleeper of the Spartan Fund details how the Rose Bowl and other factors contributed to his organization’s record-smashing $48.95 million in donations from the 2013-14 school year. Brian Calloway looks at how football season ticket sales are expected to hit an all-time high and what the win over Stanford has meant to merchandise sales. And Graham Couch examines the recruiting component and how kids from around the country are starting to talk about Michigan State.
As always with an in-depth project of this nature, the cutting room floor gets littered with quotes and stories that can’t fit into our print editions. So here is more from president Simon, athletic director Mark Hollis and Spartan Fund director Sleeper looking back at Pasadena and into the future about the Rose Bowl’s impact on MSU.
Let’s begin with the more personal side of the Rose Bowl experience, starting with President Simon surprisingly getting dragged into the postgame locker room dance circle and feeling some type of way alongside the jubilant players. (Here’s the video in case you missed it; jump to the 3:35 mark.)
LOU ANNA K. SIMON
“That was something that was a conspiracy, from my perspective, between coach Dantonio and director Hollis. It was not my attempt to be in that position – I was sort of in my usual position, standing in the background. And the next thing I know, Mark was coming around and talking with people. Coach Dantonio had me by one arm, Hollis was standing next to me and had me by the other. Then you’re in the moment, as they say.
“I think it’s the kind of celebration that, for many who have been watching Spartan athletics for a long time, it took away some of the doubts. When we hired Mark (Dantonio), we really felt we had someone who would build a program. And we knew he would do that with class and integrity and a great caring for the young men in the program. It’s no different with Tom or Suzy or other people that Mark Hollis has hired. There’s a pattern here. It’s about people. That’s goes back to the success we had early on. It’s just a page out of the John Hannah playbook.”
“To me, it was the gathering of people at L.A. Live, Santa Monica Pier, at the pep rally outside. It was coming over the hill the first time with the football team and seeing the stadium and shaking your head, going, ‘We’ve really accomplished this.’ And it really comes when you run into Spartans in East Lansing, Boyne City, Detroit that just want to share their story of the Rose Bowl with you. I think, if nothing else, that’s the intangible we’ll never be able to measure – a father saying, ‘I’m so glad I got to take my son to that game. It was an amazing experience, and we bonded like we never have before.’ It’s hearing each one of those specific stories this many months later, no matter where you go that’s pretty cool.
“The first time it felt real was standing on the field right before kickoff. It was just surreal to look around and see all the green sitting there and to know that I sat up in those stands the last time we were there, with (former MSU athletic director and WAC commissioner Joseph) Kearney’s son, and just got to go and cheer. And to have an opportunity for a little bit of input on returning there was incredible.
“There were those magical moments. The team went out and celebrated, and I waited in the locker room – nobody in there but me, just waiting for them to come in. Those moments are things that you never forget. But to me, it was the big gatherings of green out there and the continued conversations and story sharing that resulted from it.”
“It was great, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. What did that mean for us as an office? It was like a lot of bowl games, only kind of squared almost. There’s so much demand – people were anticipating this for so long. From the championship game to the bowl game, it was pretty hectic. But a good hectic. We didn’t do anything that much differently. We had a major donor event while we were out there, at the Grammy Museum, which was a great event. Kirk Cousins came in and spoke at that, and the donors enjoyed that. There were a lot of the bowl activities that people participated in. …
“That pep rally (at L.A. Live) was something. I didn’t quite expect it to be at that level. But it was everywhere you went. Everywhere you went, you saw some green and white. It was really great. And then to win the game. It’s one thing to go out there, but to finish and win the game, to me, made that. But it’s funny – a lot of our donors we talk to enjoyed that Ohio State championship game as much as the Rose Bowl. That was a great event, too. It was a special year, and our staff worked so hard. All the coaches have been extremely cooperative. To me, you couldn’t ask for a better environment than to be here at State right now with everything going on.”
And here are some more leftovers of interest, covering a variety of topics.
* Simon on what she’s heard from alums: “I think that you get – obviously among many, many Spartans – a great sense of pride. For our older Spartans, if you go alumni who believe that the John Hannah era was one of the best for Michigan State, they hearken back to those great football teams that were part of that era in the growth and development of Michigan State. And they see this as the bellwether for that same kind of growth and development across the board.”
* Hollis on the cost-benefits of playing in a Rose Bowl: “When you look at a budget process, to play in a Rose Bowl game – and frankly, you could say this about almost any bowl game – it’s going to cost you more and you’re going to net less than what you would if you don’t play in a bowl game at all. That’s strictly talking about what’s coming from the bowl game, from the standpoint of revenue sharing and the expenses associated with playing in a game.
“That being said, there are a lot of other variables that come into play. There’s the mood and positioning for ticket sales, sponsorships, philanthropy, connection with the university in almost any facet. A Rose Bowl or a Final Four is what I would call a mood changer and creates the opportunity for doors to open.”
* Simon on using the Rose Bowl to help build MSU’s brand: “Well, if you think about the events that we do, whether it be all the receptions hosted by alums, the major events that are part of the bowl tour, those are all oriented toward getting Spartans closer to Michigan State. It’s a long-term process of translating that into support of all kinds, not simply the rah-rah kind. In the context of the bowl event, I think it’s more in presenting Michigan State University in extraordinarily positive ways so that hopefully if it’s a close call for us to come back someday that they’ll invite us back.”
* Hollis on retaining MSU’s coaching staff: “The part you look at is coaching staff continuity, ensuring that we’re in the marketplace. Let’s not win a Rose Bowl and see all of our football coaches leave for another program or to the NFL. What can we do to put in place that continuity without going crazy? You can always get outbid, but you at least want to put yourself in a position where the coaches feel like they’re in the marketplace. And that’s something we had to do. That would be another one of the long-term costs, but also benefits that you can look at from a season like this.”
* Simon on hiring Mark Dantonio: “We wanted a person who would bring quality and character to the program. And a great deal of consistency – and consistency at a very high level. Because when you’re consistent and build a strong program, then you have the opportunity each year to compete for championships. There are lots of factors that go into whether or not you win a championship. You can have an injury at the wrong time, a call at the wrong time – it’s not all in your control. But you want to be a program that has enormous integrity, that you would be proud to have young men be a part of working with a coaching staff, and you want to give yourself an opportunity to win on a consistent basis and win championships. And I think we’ve been able to do that.
“The goal was that. The Rose Bowl is extraordinary and a wonderful experience, but you got to have a program with a very, very strong foundation and the one that, in the following years, will have the same values, quality and integrity and that can nationally compete for championships. And that kind of sustained excellence is what we want in academic programs, and it’s what we want in athletic programs.”
* Sleeper on Dantonio’s longevity and success in attracting donors: “It’s huge. It’s gotten to the point where people, I don’t even know if they think about that anymore. All it takes it one little change and one move. There’s so much we take for granted now. The people that are here, even our donors, I don’t know that they understand how this is so unique. Major college athletics, they’re pretty volatile usually. And there’s a lot of changes going on, and you’re always adapting. It aids our cause because of the stability and the confidence we inspire by having those people in those positions.
“Coach Dantonio’s vision might be to go out there to get out and win again and maybe compete for a national championship. But his bigger vision and bigger commitment is that, ‘I want to leave this program so much better for the next coach.’ And he’s done that already. And that’s what he’s consumed with.”
* Simon on how the university uses bowl games: “I think we would be doing development in Southern California no matter what, so you have to put it into that context. You just wrap it around a bowl game. We’d be doing recruitment in Southern California no matter what. So it’s hard to sort of partition those, you just happen to be using an event. We’d be doing development in Arizona no matter what. You just wrap around the bowl game what you’d have done otherwise.”
* Hollis on the Rose Bowl effect between MSU and its corporate sponsors: “When you talk specifically about a corporation – we’ll use Meijer as an example – Meijer is supporting Spartan athletics for a very broad-based purpose. And at the same time, when you have the capacity to play in a Final Four or a Rose Bowl, that becomes value added back to that relationship. And it has the potential, with some corporate partners, to either sustain those relationships for a longer period of time and/or have increases in revenues that they’re able to justify. They have to make sure they’re doing it in the best interest of Michigan State, their shareholders and their customers. They have several angles they have to look at. Going to a Rose Bowl, going to a Final Four – helps corporations like Meijer and General Motors and others to justify those expenditures because of the connectivity between their organizations and a successful program. I would argue that most do it for the good of a broad-based, 25-sport program. But I’d also argue that when you have success in those two sports, it justifies what in some cases are pretty significant expenditures.”
* Simon on MSU’s push into Southern California: “Between the bowl events and our own events, it was a full schedule. It was just wonderful to meet so many Spartans who came from literally around the world to be part of that experience. I also did an admissions event, and it’s clear that the visibility that we were getting in Southern California will, in the long run, translate to I think better recruitment. We’ve gotten some very, very positive comments from individuals representing corporations and businesses in Southern California, in part because of the billboards, the ads in the Los Angeles Times, that connected people like Eli Broad and Bill Mechanic and Earvin (Magic Johnson) to Michigan State in much more direct ways that most people did not fully understand.”
* Hollis on what to expect in the future: “That being said, as you go through and think of the common sense things, it gets down to how do you quantify? And I don’t know that you can quantify. In most cases, it’s a year or two out when you really experience a lot of the return you hope to get from participating in these kind of events. We’re seeing some of it right now. But I think you’ll see more of it as we go through the next 16 months.”
* Simon on what the Rose Bowl means on the academia side and to professors and prospective staff: “Athletics, I think, is it more of a front door to the university, so it gives you an opportunity to talk about your academic message. But it’s not an automatic connection – it’s an opportunity to talk about academics. There’s a certain amount of excitement that comes from campus success that can be contagious, but it’s not why people come. They come for the quality of the academic programs. We hope that’s what we can do at Michigan State.
“We’ve used the phrase with faculty that we want to create for them and their students the Rose Bowl equivalent for them in their field. It might be a laboratory or a piece of equipment to make a discovery. What’s in the paper is all about the Rose Bowl. The commitment is to create Rose Bowl-like experiences across the campus. The Broad is a Rose Bowl-like experience, it might be a national championship-experience. The FRIB is a national championship experience. So you can connect it that way in terms of your commitment to having those kinds of extraordinary experiences across the campus, not just in athletics. But one doesn’t necessarily create the other.”
* Hollis on the impact on the university enrollment: “Trying to secure top professors, top students, it all plays a small percentage into each one of those decisions. There are profs that like to be around this kind of success on the athletic field. You may be able to get a certain physician or a certain business prof – likewise, when our business school has done really well, we have the ability to secure a prospective student-athlete that maybe wants to have that curriculum and understands the value of that education. There’s a lot of play back and forth on how this helps across the university in a positive way. …
“It becomes a more desirable place to go. How you quantify it is, when you look at grade-point averages, are they rising – with this freshman class, but more importantly, next year’s freshman class? Is it having an impact on kids who are in 10th, 11th grade on wanting to go to Michigan State and being part of what they saw out in Pasadena?”
* Hollis on allocating resources in the athletic department: “I think as you go through our costs, it’s compensation, operations, about $14 million in scholarships, and then its those capital projects – that debt retirement – that you have to sustain a cash flow for. Those are the challenges. As an AD, I think it’s trying to lead people to what’s going to make a difference and not spend MSU athletic department dollars in a bad way, but to make sure we can sustain. And that’s where at athletic director, you gotta keep pushing or progress. And you’re trying to pull 23 other sports along with those two. You want them all to have an opportunity for success, understanding that the revenues for that success come from two sports (football and men’s basketball). And when you’re looking at resource allocation, that’s the most difficult part of being an athletic director – blending those resources over 25 sports, making sure you’re putting resources into things that matter to student-athletes and making tomorrow better than today. It’s a complicated process, and it’s something that in the private sector, you frankly don’t deal with because of what we are and what we desire to be in the future, with a lot of very good regulations and limitations placed upon us as leaders in this industry. The growth and the revenues are important. But what’s more important is how we make decisions in allocating that growth in a prudent way.”
* Sleeper on a comparable demand and interest over MSU: “The two that stand out are (the Rose Bowl) and the Detroit Final Four. You can’t answer your phone without having other voice mails. It just gets pretty crazy as far as demand, people wanting to know what’s going on and where are the events going to be and how can they help. Anything you can imagine, they’re asking about. It gets a little hectic, but it’s also a lot of fun. Those are the times as a staff that you really look forward to.”
* Simon on what’s next: “I think we have to work hard to continue to capitalize on what was a moment on January 1st that was a source of great pride for many Spartans – not all, but many. We continue to work because we have another season, we have other projects to do. It’s both feeling good about it but never being satisfied.”