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Published: Sunday, 5/7/2006

UT athletics part of mission

On July 1, upon the merger of the University of Toledo and the Medical University of Ohio, Dr. Lloyd A. Jacobs will become the 16th president of UT.

He has been president of MUO since November, 2003, at which time he left the position of chief operating officer of the University of Michigan Health System.

Previously, he had lengthy associations with medical schools at UM and Wayne State University, both as a professor and dean.

In none of his previous positions has Dr. Jacobs, a vascular surgeon, held any supervisory roles over an athletic department.

That will change when the graduate of Miami University and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine takes over as president of UT, where the athletic department operates on a $14 million annual budget and sponsors 16 intercollegiate teams.

Dr. Jacobs sat down last week with Blade sports writer Dave Hackenberg for a question-answer session regarding his interest in athletics and his thoughts on UT athletic issues.

Q: Would it be safe to say that having administrative oversight of a college athletic department will be uncharted territory for you?

A: That's true. My background has been in academia. I've been a tenured professor for 30-plus years. I've held multiple administrative posts but in none of them, as either an associate dean or assistant dean, did I have any responsibility for athletics. I will admit that I don't know too very much about it, but I'll say that I'm looking forward to being more involved in that area. I'm excited about it. The fact is, there will be a lot of new territory for me. My background is in medicine. I have never had any role with a department of philosophy or a department of history, either. Athletics won't be the only new area. I'm

eager to become involved in all

aspects of the job.

Q: You studied at Miami (Ohio) and were affiliated with the University of Michigan for many years. You couldn't help but be aware of athletics, could you?

A: No question about that. In fact, when I was in college at Miami I worked for Bo Schembechler and, as a result, we've had a relationship through the years. One of the more difficult courses for athletes was physiology. So during my senior year Bo hired me to tutor athletes and I really enjoyed that association. Of course, at Michigan we often joked that the reason the health system was so successful was because of the name recognition from the football program and the athletic department. I say that we joked, but there was probably a little something to that.

Q: Do you have any background as an athlete?

A: I never played sports to speak of, other than the usual school activities. I played some in the Marine Corps [1958-62] before I went to college. I remember the British Royal Marines took us on in their version of football. And they pounded us. That's probably the last time I was on a playing field. So my background is minimal. But I'm very serious when I say I understand how important it will be for me to support UT athletics. They are extremely important to the university and to the community and foster a sense of camaraderie and pride. Title IX issues, women's sports, the so-called minor sports are all very important. Athletics is very much aligned with the mission of the institution in that regard.

Q: Talk of a downtown arena seems to never end but we can presume one will be built at some point. The university went on record at one time that it preferred to keep basketball games on campus, which would seemingly call for a renovation of Savage Hall that, in some plans, includes an indoor practice facility for football and other sports. Although that $15 million practice facility would reportedly be accomplished through private donations, any Savage Hall project would be an expensive proposition that would fall under a campus-wide capital fund-raising campaign. Your thoughts?

A: The issue was discussed at the last meeting of the Board of Trustees. [No action was taken on a $32 million Savage Hall renovation proposal as trustees expressed skepticism over revenue projections in light of competition from a downtown arena. A less-expensive $19 million renovation of the building's infrastructure also remains on the table. Dr. Jacobs seemed to re-open the door to possible UT participation in the downtown project by encouraging board members to meet with county and city government leaders responsible for the downtown arena.] My own position is that at this time the data is not all in and, to the best of my knowledge, no one has all the data. As for any UT participation in a downtown- arena plan, there are questions of the exact site, the relative cost, and issues of transportation. Exactly what needs to happen with Savage Hall is a similar situation. The data isn't in. What would the cost be? How would it be phased? Regarding an indoor practice facility, could those needs be addressed in another way? We have to get the data for both packages completed before any decision can be made. But I do have a framework. The fundamental mission and commitment of UT to this community is to stop what has been referred to as the brain drain. We need more young people to come to UT, to then engage them in the community to keep them here and employ them. We need to graduate students and have them stay, perhaps attending the medical school or the law school to become your doctor or your lawyer. That's what this is all about. Whether that goal is better served by one [sports] venue or another will determine which way we go.

Q: With the reference to brain drain, are you indicating that a new or renovated athletic facility vs. a new or renovated classroom building, for example, would be an easy call for you?

A: No, at any given moment that's a tough call. I am very aware that we recruit and retain students through athletics so the facilities involved are a very important part of the equation. Those things are always a tough call.

Q: Have you attended many or any UT athletic events since you've been in Toledo?

A:Nope.

Q: Many or any?

A: Zero. But I'm looking forward to it. And my wife, Ola, is very interested in sports and is eager to get involved in UT athletics as a fan. She was a cheerleader and even coached a kids' hockey team at one time. She follows football and basketball very closely. It's going to be fun to be involved because I know how athletics brings people together, builds morale and provides a sense of belonging to an institution.

Q: Comparing the athletic budgets of Mid-American Conference schools is dangerous because different bookkeeping methods mean you're often comparing apples to oranges. But the numbers indicate that UT is in the bottom one-third of MAC schools when it comes to institutional [student fee] dollars going to athletics. Yet the athletic department has finished in the black the last two years. Are you impressed by that?

A: I don't know the budgetary details. I do have a strong impression of [athletic director] Mike O'Brien's leadership and his attention to detail. I feel very good about it. We've had minimal interaction so far, but I sense he is an excellent leader running a good department.

Q: UT has been a member of the MAC since 1950, but college athletic conferences have undergone significant membership changes in recent years and there have been suggestions that UT should at least explore its options. Are you comfortable with the current league membership?

A: I am most comfortable taking the advice of Mike O'Brien and I know he feels very comfortable with us being a part of the Mid-American Conference. To the extent that I know about it, I think he's probably right.

Q: The football team played five weeknight regular-season games last year and has the same number scheduled for next fall. In many cases, this is done for television. Do you like that scheduling?

A: I know that television exposure helps with the visibility of UT and in the enrollment of students. TV is very important and forms far more of our current culture than we credit it. If I had my druthers that exposure wouldn't be coming on a Tuesday night. But, given the trade-off, I guess it's reasonable given where we find ourselves.

Q: You will soon become the president of the University of Toledo. But the face of the university, and maybe the best-known and most popular guy in town, is the head football coach. Do you have a problem with that?

A: [Laughter]. I'm aware of that. And I'm comfortable with it. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Heck, it might be the right thing. It's just kind of the way it is and, yes, it suits me just fine.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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