As Jared Benko settles into his new role as director of athletics for Georgia Southern, he has the same objectives as anyone taking a top leadership role at a new school. First and foremost, Benko is looking to interact with the coaches and players of his athletic department, as well as get to know the fans and donors that are vital to the program’s growth.
Of course, current conditions are making all of those normal steps a bit more complicated. Benko has direct methods to connect with coaches and student-athletes, but the popular caravan events around the state that would put him in front of hundreds of fans aren’t an available option at the moment.
In an attempt to reach out to Eagle fans around the state even as everyone continues to shelter in place, Benko and the Georgia Southern Athletic Foundation hosted a question and answer session via Facebook Live on Monday evening.
Here are some highlights of what Eagle fans have on their minds and how Benko intends to grow his new school.
Q: With everything shut down for the rest of the school year, what is the state of the athletic department?
A: We obviously aren’t holding events and coaches can’t be on the road, but most other things haven’t been suspended. We’re operating remotely and are hard at work planning for what we’ll need to do once we start back up.
Q: How has the current situation affected the athletic department’s budget?
A: With the cancelation of spring sports, there is definitely a shortfall. We’re looking at about an $800,000 shortage through the Sun Belt and - mostly - from the NCAA. But that’s an issue that schools everywhere are dealing with. Right now we’re looking at how we can cut costs over the final three months (of Georgia Southern’s fiscal year) and then making contingencies as we wait to hear about the fall.
Q: What is your vision for fundraising?
A: Fundraising is always going to be vital. We get a lot of our revenue from student fees and ticket sales, but both of those are more fixed and limited in how much you can grow. Fundraising offers us the biggest opportunity to expand. And with fundraising, it’s about realizing that we’re in a marathon and not a sprint. I want to make my first 90 days about relationships, reaching out to people in and out of the state.
Q: How does Savannah and the Armstrong campus fit into the plans of Georgia Southern Athletics?
A: I have already had some conversations with the Savannah Sports council. They are looking to have a new arena in about the next two years. That will offer us plenty of unique opportunities to hold events in Savannah. We need to continue to develop the Savannah market as we look to grow our university.
Q: Can football fans expect to see a P5 opponent come to Paulson Stadium?
A: That’s definitely something I know everyone would like to see. I’ve done scheduling before and it’s very complex. Many schedules are made 10 and 15 years in advance. The most common way to get a P5 home game is a 2-for-1, but many times it’s the P5 team demanding to host the first two and the G5 team getting a game at the end of the contract. It’s doable, but it’s hard to do.
The Herald will feature more responses from Benko’s question and answer session with fans in Saturday’s edition.