In the two-years that Marie Tuite has led the San Jose State athletic department, she’s seen a number of triumphs but also experienced a few challenges along the way. Tuite recently sat down the CollegeAD as part of our CollegeAD Conversation series to discuss a number of topics ranging from eSports to fundraising and facilities.
CollegeAD: What are your thoughts on eSports?
Marie Tuite: I think it’s really intriguing, and I also know that a number of athletic directors are sort of in this holding pattern because what happens is you have to step back and look at “okay, how does this enhance the mission of the athletics department? Does it help in recruiting? Does it help the branding and marketing of your athletics program? Does it help in revenue generation?”
If you look at the purpose of eSports, it’s sort of like how does the new opportunity impact what you’re currently doing in athletics? And I think that’s what a lot of us are sort of looking at.
I’ve been intrigued by it from the get-go. I just thought, “wow that’s kind of interesting,” and you know I kind of have this theory that we have to look at doing things differently, we have to look at being creative and look at things outside the box. You know, one of the best predictors of the future is the past. So you keep doing things the way you’ve always done them … So I’ve been kind of intrigued by eSports from the beginning, I think also being in Silicon Valley and … but I don’t think we’ve quite figured that out yet. I mean certainly, you know there’s interest in participation, there’s interest from a spectator’s point of view into eSports, so how does that transcend into athletics? And I think that’s where a number of the athletic directors, I think that’s where our position is right now.
CollegeAD: Do you think that collectively as a whole group, you and your counterparts are any closer to figuring that out? Or is it more of an institution-by-institution basis?
Marie Tuite: I think it’s more institution-to-institution based upon your needs, and some of those factors I was referring to could even be what gender equity implications could it have? And I think each institution … It’s a little bit like when, not so much now, but in previous decades, when you were trying to determine whether or not you were going to add sports or cut sports. What was your fact-finding as athletic directors and presidents went through that process to get to an end result? “We’re either going to add these sports, or, unfortunately, we’re going to have to eliminate these sports.” What did you do to get to that place? And I think that’s the place people are in with eSports.
What value does it add? What are the expenses? What are the consequences of eSports? And how do they, again, enhance the mission of the athletics department? And in response to your question, are people closer, do they maybe have more information now than maybe a year ago, I’m not so sure. I think there’s this wait-and-see pattern. I did read Dr. Emmert’s comments (at the NCAA Convention in January) about it that, from an NCAA perspective, it’s not a priority, but I do think it’s being discussed at institutions, which is why I think it’ll be an institutional decision.
CollegeAD: With that all being said, there is already an eSports program on San Jose State’s campus. While it’s not a varsity program, do you think that there’s a possibility of one day, as you said earlier, you may maybe have to do some things different, of eSports becoming a varsity program?
Marie Tuite: It could, it could. You know we have so many club sports at San Jose State that are not varsity sports, and our philosophy right now is that we would not add a sport that the NCAA does not sponsor a championship in, so we couldn’t add sailing or synchronized swimming or ice skating. But some institutions have done that, equestrian, tumbling.
So again, for us, it’s not a matter of if its a more robust club sport are we more apt to add it as a varsity sport; we have a lot of those. I think the factor become some of those other things I was mentioning. If you did add eSports as a varsity sport, how does that enhance what you’re currently doing? How does it move your program forward and in what way does that happen? That’s the thought process I think athletic directors are going through.
CollegeAD: Moving into more traditional sports, earlier this year, the GOLF Channel and Top Golf announced the new multi-year partnership to broadcast the Western Intercollegiate golf tournament. How did that come about and what does it mean for the golf program, the athletic department, and San Jose State?
Marie Tuite: This is a big deal. I am beyond excited about this opportunity, and not only for San Jose State men’s and women’s golf but for collegiate golf. It’s been one of the most successful collegiate golf events. We’ve been talking with GOLF Channel about getting exposure for men’s golf throughout the country, and they were intrigued and interested and so they started seeking out perhaps some sponsors, and Topgolf came to the table.
What I’m excited about is they’re going to do nine hours of live coverage that really the GOLF Channel. Except for the NCAA Division I men’s golf championship the Western is really the only other collegiate golf event that they’ll be involved in. So we’re really excited about it, just the exposure for men’s golf. We have a brand new beautiful golf facility here on campus, and Topgolf was really interested in that and Pasatiempo Golf Club, where the Western is held is just one of the most terrific golf facilities in the state of California.
CollegeAD: Believe it or not, you’ve just celebrated your second anniversary of being named AD. During that time, what do you think are maybe some of the greatest accomplishments that you’ve been able to tackle, and on the other hand, what are some of the challenges and opportunities that you see?
Marie Tuite: The first thing when I hear that question, the very first thing I think about that I’m the proudest of is the graduation and retention rates for our student-athletes. It’s just a top priority for us to make sure our student-athletes are reaching their potential academically these last couple years. Really its a credit to my staff more than it is to me; I’m just really really proud of the academic achievements of our 22 sports that we sponsor.
We’ve really invested and enhanced the facilities, we have the south campus footprint, and in the last couple of years we’ve built the golf facility and the soccer facility and tennis and softball, I’m really really proud of that. We’re building our beach volleyball courts, and so we continue to build and renovate athletic facilities, and that’s really really important.
I think the biggest challenge is investing in football and men’s basketball. That’s a priority for me every day. I’m working really hard to raise the necessary resources to build our football operations center, that’s a top priority for me, and I certainly hope to get a funding plan and get that in place this year.
We want to be really strong and competitive members in the Mountain West, and we have won championships in the last couple of years, but we have to prove our value to the conference in football and men’s basketball, and we’re working really hard to do that.
I love this job, and it’s not an easy job, but I love this job, and I love San Jose State and the opportunities that San Jose State provides to the young people I serve. I’m just prideful to be part of a university that is committed to the mission of providing opportunities and graduating the young people that I serve. It’s been a great two years, it’s really been fulfilling and I’m really enjoying the work.
CollegeAD: What’s the latest on some of the facility projects you’ve started over the last couple of years, and then from that standpoint, what specifically are you looking to do to football?
Marie Tuite: Well the number one project for football that I’ve mentioned is the football operations center. It’s a brand new facility that will sit on the east side of CEFCU Stadium. It’s a $40 million project that we’ve got to secure funding for, and that’s a top priority. You’ve got to provide your football and your men’s basketball programs the resources to be successful and to be competitive. I really feel like that’s my job to do that, to give our coaches the very best opportunity to move the needle and become more successful, and you do that through hard work.
You roll your sleeves up and you work really hard to get people engaged, and fundraising is about relationships and passion. The passion that people have to give to our football program and our men’s basketball program is something that we work on every single day.
The good news at San Jose State in both football and men’s basketball is I’m convinced we’ve got the right people navigating the ship. I believe in coach Brennan i believe in coach Prioleau, and we’re working to be more competitive every day.
My challenges aren’t much different than any athletic director’s: you’re looking to graduate your kids, you’re looking to invest in your programs, you’re looking to have a strong footprint in the conference that you’re located in and you’re looking to get better every day. I think that’s a little bit of the walk of almost every athletics director. And we’re going to do it the right way, there’s no question about that, and doing it the right way can sometimes take longer.
CollegeAD: When you look at the big picture, what’s next for San Jose State?
Marie Tuite: Well there’s a number of things that we’re currently doing that obviously we’ll continue in the next three years, but every single day, and it’s not a simple as this, but every single day athletic directors, they manage people, they raise money and they make decisions that are in the best interest of their student-athletes. I think for me at San Jose State, it’s clear that I have to generate additional revenues through external measures in order to move the program forward, so that’s what I’m going to be focused on doing every single day. We want to graduate our kids, provide them with the opportunities to reach their potential as students, as athletes and as good citizens, continue to enhance our facilities and our current footprint on our campus, and look to add value to the Mountain West. Those are things that motivate me every single day, and I’m going to work really hard to reach those goals.