Kansas State athletics director Gene Taylor talks about Big 12 changes
Kansas State Gene Taylor says losing Texas and Oklahoma, but adding four new schools adds to Big 12 intrigue going forward.
MANHATTAN — These are hectic days in the life of a college athletics director, what with the football season winding down and basketball starting.
But for Kansas State AD Gene Taylor, they’re also exciting days, given the Wildcats’ success in the past year, not only in the top two revenue sports, but across the board.
First the football team, led by coach Chris Klieman, claimed an overtime victory over TCU in the 2022 Big 12 championship game and advanced for the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans for the first time. Then in March, first-year head coach Jerome Tang guided the Wildcats on an NCAA Tournament run to the Elite Eight.
In an effort to keep the ball rolling, Taylor signed Klieman and Tang to long-term contract extensions in the past few months.
K-State also has recently completed several multi-million-dollar facilities projects, including a new indoor/outdoor football practice facility, a volleyball arena, and an Olympic training center.
Related: Kansas State’s Gene Taylor named national athletics director of the year
Taylor, who was named K-State athletics director in April of 2017, was rewarded for the department’s success in March when he was named the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics as FBS Athletics Director of the Year.
Last week, Taylor took time out from his schedule for a question-and-answer session with the Topeka Capital-Journal to discuss the current state of the athletics program as well as some of the issues and challenges that come with the job.
Among the subjects covered were the facility upgrades, the effect of Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) on college athleticts, and the Big 12 expansion to 16 teams, among others.
Related: Five things Kansas State athletics director Gene Taylor said at Big 12 media days
Q: To start with, how would you assess the current state of the athletics department?
Taylor: I think we’re really healthy. Obviously there’s a lot of energy right now with our programs. We’ve sold out pretty much every game in football, and the basketball sales on the men’s side and the women’s side at the highest they’ve ever been.
The new volleyball venue has brought in a lot of energy for that program, and then we’ve obviously had some really early success by beating some pretty big teams.
Even our golf programs have had great falls.
So, there’s just a lot of excitement behind the program. We’re healthy in terms of financially where we are. I would say the state of the athletic department is in good shape right now.
Q: The COVID-19 pandemic created financial hardships, especially during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. Do you feel like those issues are behind you now?
Taylor: For the most part, yeah. Obviously, we had the shortfalls there after that shortened season in football, and limited crowds really hurt us from a financial perspective, but we balanced our budget the last fiscal year and we have some really good revenue projections for this year, and we’re meeting those revenue projections.
And I think we’re on the positive side of getting through that pretty healthy.
Related: Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark says the conference remains open to adding new members
Q: Did the extra year of eligibility granted to athletes during the pandemic put additional strain on scholarship budgets?
Taylor: You still only can do 85 scholarships, so the challenge is from the coaches’ perspective because they’ve got to figure out who’s going to be on scholarship, who’s not, and how many walk-ons they can offer.
Every time we make a decision, like we have the Alston money, which was the money that the athletes can make beyond their cost of education, that was a big hit to our budget. Each athlete gets a third of the $5,980 that the (U.S. Supreme) Court deemed we could pay above the cost of their scholarship.
We do that in a third, a third, a third, and that has added a couple of million bucks to our budget. But because of where we are sales-wise and success, we’ve been able to manage that.
Q: You brought football coach Chris Klieman and men’s basketball coach Jerome Tang to K-State. Why do you think they have been so successful and also captured the hearts of Wildcat fans?
Taylor: Obviously, we felt pretty good about them before we hired them and they coached for us. Coach Klieman has been here a bit longer now than coach Tang, but we thought both individuals were great people, first of all.
I had seen coach Klieman being able to coach as a head coach. Obviously, I had never been able to see that with coach Tang, but knew he had the ability to do that based on his impact on the Baylor program.
But to come in and immerse themselves in the community in so many different ways, and then having the success with the Big 12 championship and then the run to the (NCAA Tournament) Elite Eight, that just adds to it.
And then they’re very accessible. They want to be involved in the community, they’re very approachable and they’re very down to earth. So that just makes them more enjoyable to be around and cheer for them. So it’s fun to watch it unfold.
Related: Why Kansas State AD Gene Taylor is impressed with new Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark
Q: The department has recently completed several major facilities projects. Are there any other big-ticket items on the horizon?
Taylor: These big, massive $40 or $50 million projects like the football indoor and the volleyball arena and Olympic training center, and we’ll finish up the indoor track here in the next few weeks. So from there, I think we’re pretty good for a while.
We still need to look at the golf program and see what we can do to help them, and ultimately we probably need something to help tennis.
Right now, every athlete is really in good shape because of the Olympic training center that’s attached to the Morgan Family Volleyball Arena. That’s a phenomenal training center for all our athletes besides football and basketball, because they have their own facility.
We’ve had ADs come in and visit and take a tour of the facilities, how complimentary they are of them. I think we’re in pretty good shape.
Q: Name, Image and Likeness has changed the landscape of college athletics by allowing athletes to cash in on their fame. But has it had an effect on donor contributions to the athletics department?
Taylor: So far it has not hurt us too bad. There’s just a conversation that we continue to have with our donors about what is important and what the priorities are. We need NIL, and we also need operating dollars, and so we ask them to consider both and not to take one to pay for another.
If they want to help with NIL, it’s great. We’ve got two collectives that are very active, and we certainly want (donors) to help them. At the same time don’t take away from their annual giving or their capital giving to give to NIL. We need both.
And they understand it, and the NIL collectives understand it. We’ve done a good job working together, so it’s kind of a collective effort.
Q: As an administrator, what are the biggest issues in navigating the ever-evolving NIL landscape?
Taylor: Like I tell people, you can’t lock your knees on this because it’s constantly moving and adjusting, and we know it’s important and it’s important for our coaches, (and) it’s important for our athletes.
There are a lot of good things about it, and then there are some things out there that we have got to be conscious of and making sure that we’re not falling into the trap of inducements and some of those things.
It’s just constantly evolving, and I think from an administrative (standpoint), what keeps me up at night is really what’s coming at us in the future. There are a lot of lawsuits out there that are out of our control. How do you maintain the revenue growth as expenses continue to go up.
Q: Has K-State remained competitive enough in the NIL arena to keep attracting top potential recruits?
Taylor: I think for the most part it has been. I think coaches would let us know if that weren’t the case. It’s starting to trickle down from beyond just football and basketball into some other sports like baseball and some of the Olympic sports.
I think we just constantly have to keep working at it, to keep folks aware of it and see if we can keep competitive. That’s what we need: to keep competitive.
Q: In the past few months, you signed both football coach Chris Klieman (eight years) and basketball coach Jerome Tang (seven years) to long-term contracts. Were you satisfied with those deals, and how important was it to lock them in long term?
Taylor: I was very happy. Obviously when you get coaches that have a lot of success, and people come after them, and we wanted to do everything we could to let them know that they’re important to us, and that their salaries need to be competitive.
We want them to know that we want them here and we want them here for a while, and I think they’re comfortable. They like being here, and they understand the passionate fan base and they understand that they can have a lot of success here, so that was good.
It was good to get it done.
Q: With the Big 12 expanding to 16 teams starting next year, what effect will that have on revenue distribution? Is it a positive or a negative?
Taylor: That’s something that we work with the conference office and figure out how to balance that, and with the TV partners. I’m sure there’s going to be some period of reduction in dollars, but hopefully we pick it back up once all the schools get in and the new contract kicks in.
But we’re still working through those numbers right now, so I don’t have anything final on what that looks like yet.
Q: What has the Big 12 expansion done for the stability of the conference?
Taylor: We’re in great shape, I think. Bob Bowlsby started it by grabbing those first four schools, and Brett (Yormark) has come in and been very aggressive with the Pac-12 schools, and I think as a 16-team league we’re in great shape.
You see an aggressive commissioner and that’s a good thing, and we just have to make sure we’re relevant. And I’d say with our success and this group of schools coming in we’ll continue to be successful.
Q: Do you like the football and basketball scheduling formulas for the first year in the expanded Big 12?
Taylor: I was very involved with the football side of things. I was on the committee that did football, and Jill Shields (Deputy AD/Senior Woman Administrator) took the basketball, and we felt good about it.
You know you’re not going to play everybody every year, but you’re going to be able to play everybody in a three-year period and we’re going to keep the KU/K-State rivalry.
I know some people want to play Iowa State every year and you can’t. When you go to 16 teams, it’s just impossible because of our protected teams you have, the fewer chances you have to play everybody in the conference.
At the end of the day, from a football perspective, our role is to get as many teams in the 12-team playoff as possible, and if you’re not playing a pretty round robin of schools over a couple-year period, it’s just going to limit your ability to qualify more teams.
Arne Green is based in Salina and covers Kansas State University sports for the Gannett network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @arnegreen.