Cal’s Jim Knowlton Lays Out His Plan of Action

March 12th, 2019 | by CollegeAD
Cal’s Jim Knowlton Lays Out His Plan of Action


Jim Knowlton has been the Director of Athletics’ at Cal for almost a year and his enthusiasm for his new home has not waned a bit.

“Cal is exceptional in everything they do, and that’s what’s really exciting for me. We are the number one public university in the country. We’ve got this exceptional group of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and really it’s the people, I think, that really make this place special.”

His first 90 days on the job he embarked on a unique journey, he believes it has given him tremendous insight into the university. He listened.

“As I continue to learn, continue to listen, we’ve got lots of opportunities to raise the bar here in athletics, this is an environment that is eager to see everyone excel,” says Knowlton.

Knowlton takes learning and listening very seriously. His first a 90-days he referred to as “listening days.” During that time, he spent 90 minutes with the leadership of 30 teams and 15 business units. He also traveled to the East Coast and throughout California to meet with some 600-700 alumni. The insights he gained will be put into action over the next decade.

“We are going to start working on our vision and strategic plan. We developed some short, mid and long-term goals, we are going to take all of that and put it into a very comprehensive plan. We’ve uncovered nine focus areas for the next year and those areas are really going to help us as we build this strategic plan.”

The plan will have a 5-year and 10-year view, but Knowlton plans to annually and yearly keep tabs on how they are progressing.knowlton

“It will give us a 10-year goal, but the document will be changing as the landscape of intercollegiate athletic changes.”

Some of those changes started with the athletic department’s budget. Athletics had a debt of about $22 million a couple of years ago and a debt of about $19.5 million for the school year that just ended. But those numbers have been changed dramatically.

“We’ve had challenges for a long time, but the fact that we have a chancellor who understands the challenges is great for us. She has been a huge help, she sees the structural challenges that have existed,” he explains.

Chancellor Carol Christ made the decision to take a sizable amount of the $438 million debt from the Memorial Stadium renovations off the department’s books. She followed the recommendations made by CSA. Knowlton explains, in 2017 the university brought in Todd Turned and Collegiate Sports Associates, CSA has worked on over 150 consulting and executive search projects for more than 100 institutions and conferences across all levels of Division I. Knowlton says they finished the report two months before he started and that really gave him a jump on what had to be done.

“I was able to spend a lot of time with that before I got on the ground. I was able to dissect those recommendations. And really what they came back with was the department was really lean and the chancellor was able to help with that. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

That budgetary decision gave him the financial stability the department needed to move forward.

“We are not going to cut any sports and we are going to generate revenue. We have to get out and engage with our alums and rally the troops around this incredible university.”

Besides gifts, Knowlton is looking at other ways to generate revenue, starting with the PAC-12. He is looking at other ways the distributions can increase, also keeping students engage with sports, like football. He says they’ve seen a lot more activity before each game, including concerts, and they were able to sell out the student section for four games.knowlton

“Those kinds of things are going to help us as we sell more tickets and get more people engaged.”

Knowlton acknowledged agreements with Under Armour and Learfield IMG College have aided the bottom line and that the university is exploring options such as stadium naming rights and selling alcohol.

“These are all pieces of the puzzle,” he explains. “There are great opportunities here, I have not found one problem that is not solvable.”

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