North Texas president Neal Smatresk speaks to a gathering of students on campus. Smatresk said recently that he believes success in major sports will be a key element in helping raise the profile of the university. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)
In case you haven’t seen it yet, Jenna Duncan, a writer here at the DRC who covers North Texas from the university side, wrote a great piece of Neal Smatresk for today’s paper.
UNT’s president talks about what’s ahead for the school and what has happened since he was hired back in 2013.
There is always material that doesn’t make the story that is of interest. And that brings us to Smatresk’s take on athletics and their importance to UNT’s efforts to become a Tier One institution.
“If we’re going to compete as a Tier One institution, our athletics teams need to compete as a Tier One institution as well,” Smatresk said. “So we need to expect to fund athletics in a way that’s consistent with success, and we need that success in turn to yield revenue streams that can support and sustain.
“We need teams that get national attention, because like it or not, one of the biggest ways schools get recognized is the quality of their teams – primarily football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. I’m not saying the other sports aren’t important, but those core sports are what advance your brand … That’s going to have to be another piece of how we get to Tier One, getting recognized however we can at a national level.”
Smatresk can often be found at UNT games and has a background at schools with solid athletic programs. He was the president at UNLV, which has a long basketball tradition.
UNT has enjoyed some success in its recent past in terms of revenue sports. Dan McCarney led UNT to a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at the end of the 2013 season. That game took place when Smatresk was in the process of leaving UNLV for UNT.
Look a little farther back and UNT had a run of six straight winning seasons in men’s basketball, including five 20-win campaigns, beginning in the 2006-07 campaign. Johnny Jones led UNT on that run and took the Mean Green to two NCAA tournaments before landing his dream job at LSU.
It’s been tough for UNT to reach that level of success lately.
UNT has won winning season in its last nine in the three revenue sports — football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. That was the Mean Green’s 2013 season in football, when UNT went 9-4 under Dan McCarney.
That season is the UNT football program’s only winning campaign in the last decade.
UNT finished .500 in men’s basketball in the 2013-14 season under Tony Benford, but has yet to post a winning season in three campaigns since Jones left for LSU.
The women’s basketball program’s struggles have been even more pronounced. UNT has posted nine straight losing seasons under four coaches. The hope is UNT Hall of Fame player Jalie Mitchell can turn the Mean Green around in the next few years. She took over the program in the offseason.
Smatresk said he sees UNT’s revenue sports as a key component of the university’s efforts to advance as an institution. UNT win in the Heart of Dallas Bowl was huge in that regard.
It will be interesting to see if UNT’s major sports can get back to that level of success in the next few years.
Smatresk indicated that he will be watching closely to see how they fare.