CollegeAD Conversation: Youngstown State’s Ron Strollo

April 25th, 2019 | by CollegeAD
CollegeAD Conversation: Youngstown State’s Ron Strollo
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ron strollo

In a day and age where budget issues are forcing many schools to shut down sport programs or limit scholarships, Youngstown State announced earlier this year it had plans to head in a different direction. CollegeAD had the opportunity to sit down with YSU AD Ron Strollo as part of our CollegeAD Conversation series to discuss why the Penguins opted to add two new sport programs, increase scholarships, as well as facility improvements and several other topics.

CollegeAD: In February, Youngstown State, announced the addition of women’s lacrosse and men’s swimming and diving. Take us through the process of what led to the decision to add two sports, how’d you settle on those sports in particular, and the process from that moving forward.

Ron Strollo: We’ve always been fairly active in trying to add women’s programs. We added women’s soccer, women’s swimming, and women’s golf in the late 90s and just added women’s bowling in 2015. So we’ve always kind of had our eye on various sports that made sense for us on the women’s side. The next one there that is starting to creep our way from the east is women’s lacrosse, so it had been on our radar.

We feel like we can recruit some local talent, but there’s a lot of value for an institution like ours to have our brand reach kids that maybe aren’t from your immediate footprint. So lacrosse was always kind of on our radar.

With men’s swimming and diving, we just completed about $2 million worth of renovations to our pool.  So after those renovations last summer, at least leading into it, we wanted to take advantage of that investment by the institution, and we were the only institution that was sponsoring swimming in the Horizon League that did not sponsor men’s swimming. So when you’ve got a facility and you’ve pretty much a coaching staff in place, it makes some sense to look at men’s swimming, and that’s what we did. ron strello

In addition to the two new sport offerings, we plan to expand our cross country roster, both the men and the women. We’re expecting to another 24 roster spots in cross country.

So with the two new programs and cross country expansion, we’re going to be an additional 80 or 85 student-athletes. It’s something that the institution is really excited about. We’re hoping to have some additional campus housing opening here in the next couple of years, and obviously, these student-athletes would help fill those beds.

There are a lot of reasons, institutionally, that this makes a lot of sense, and that those two sports made a lot of sense, specifically men’s swimming. We’re probably going to be able to have a team in the pool, even as close to this next school year, so we’re looking forward to that.

CollegeAD: Were you looking at balancing Title IX numbers when you made those additions or strictly because you had the opportunity and the resources in place giving YSU the ability to add two sports?

Ron Strollo: We’re going to need to continue to grow our women’s offerings as these programs develop in our region, and interest continues to grow amongst the females in our region and even on our campus we’ll continue to look to grow there.

I think anytime you add a sport, you look to say: do you have enough trainers, do you have enough equipment managers, do you have enough strength and conditioning, and I think we’re to the point to where we’re going to need to add in those areas also, and so it just made sense, when we added those that I think they were going to be able to service just more than the 30 additional student-athletes that lacrosse was going to bring in.

CollegeAD: From a funding standpoint, to pay for the additional student-athletes, is that going to be funded by the institution? Or will you have to go out and raise funds?

Ron Strollo: There’s going to be some things facility-wise that we’re going to have to do that’s going to have to come externally. Clearly, we’re going to have to renovate or create locker room space for those two programs, and office space for the additional coaches, and we’re in the process of building another turf field on our campus that will help us with women’s lacrosse.

ron strelloSo all that stuff’s going to come externally. I think the internal model financially, to fund their programs, is probably by taking the Division III model. A lot of DIII institutions – much of their student body is made up of student-athletes because that’s a way to attract students here, and with those students we’re going to give scholarships obviously, but the majority of the kids we’re going to be bringing into campus are going to be paying for at least some if not all of their education, so we’re going to need to be able to utilize some of those resources and invest back into those programs, but still should generate a positive revenue effect for the institution.

CollegeAD: We talk about all the time about revenue, especially from the FBS level in terms of television deals. You play as a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. More than 50 games were on either ESPN+ or ESPN 3 in 2018. What’s the feedback you’ve received from your fans and other peer members of other institutions in the Missouri Valley on the setup of that and the compensation aspect of that as well?

Ron Strollo: We play football in the Missouri Valley and the rest of our sports compete in the Horizon League. Both the Horizon League and the Missouri Valley have contracts with ESPN, and we’ve cherished that relationship with ESPN.

Previous to this year, all of our games run on ESPN3.  I think our fans got used to going there to watch our games, and I think they really appreciated the fact that they could pull up a YSU softball game on ESPN3 or a YSU volleyball match. And so I think our fans really got used to that. Obviously, ESPN has taken a different revenue model approach to it, in the sense of ESPN+ and having a subscription, so like anything when you have change, I think there becomes some disgruntled people. So our broadcasts have gone from ESPN3 to kind of Pay Per View, and I think this first year was a little rough for our fans. Some of them I don’t believe have converted over to ESPN+. So, therefore, they’ve kind of lost the opportunity to watch some of our programming. I think in time they’ll see the advantages that ESPN+ and kind of come back to that.

CollegeAD: When it comes to TV production for ESPN+, what are some of the investments Youngstown State has had to make?

Ron Strollo: Even before we had this type of relationship with ESPN, the Horizon League with the Horizon League Network, we kind of felt like we were out front on this. We started several years ago down this path.

Through distributions from the league, we were able to purchase cameras and all the other technical equipment. So we started down that path and we continued down that path, so we’re constantly having to look at our cameras and all of our production equipment here. We’ve hired someone part-time to kind of take care of the technical side of things and I would think that every other institution has hired someone part-time or full-time to run their operation.

We’ve got several construction projects going on on campus, and one of them is a press box on the east side of our football stadium, and in that press box is going to be a control room that will manage all the broadcasts, from our softball field, soccer field, tennis facility, indoor facility, our basketball arena, and our swimming pool. All of that is going to be run out of that control room, which most people would consider basically a production truck that’s permanent.

CollegeAD: In addition to the press box, are there any other facility upgrades underway or planned? ron strello

Ron Strollo: The Don Constantini multimedia center that I talked about is a press box that we’re going to move all of our coaches and radio and TV over there, and it’s also going to be a communications classroom during the day.

That will be done this fall, that’s about a $3 million project. And then I spoke earlier where we are constructing another outdoor turf field with lights. That’s about a $3-5 million project because it’s also incorporating a parking lot that we’re going to be able to use for tailgating, and then we’re in the process of building indoor tennis courts. The climate here isn’t really good enough to play tennis outside until about May. So we decided to go from 10 outdoor courts to 6 indoor courts, hopefully, we’ll have that project completed in the next calendar year.

CollegeAD: Lastly, you’re in a very unique position in the fact that your boss, YSU President Jim Tressel, has not only worked in athletics but made his name coaching football at the highest levels. How important is it to have the ability to have somebody who sits in the president’s office that knows the importance of college athletics? How does it make your job easier?

Ron Strollo: Well I think it’s a little bit of both. I think it makes your job easier, and I think it makes it a little bit more challenging. He was my football coach when I played here, and then I came back and worked for him before he left for Ohio State. So there’s a great advantage because I think he understands our business. But also too, I think he’s a little tougher on us sometimes and knows what to expect from us.

You’re not pulling any fast ones on him, per se, because he’s very well educated on this side of the business. There’s a great understanding, I think he has great respect for our student-athletes and maybe what some of their needs are. But he’s got a whole campus to look after, so he knows maybe where we can tighten up a little bit more and maybe work a little bit harder, so he’s making sure we do that.

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