Monday Q&A: Stanislaus State’s athletic director Mike Matoso focuses on raising funds, fans

bvanderbeek@modbee.comNovember 17, 2013 

  • The Mike Matoso File

    Age: 43

    Position: Athletic director, CSU Stanislaus

    Held position since: May 21, 2012

    Past positions: Thirteen years at the University of San Diego, the last eight as senior associate director of athletics; football and baseball academic counselor at University of Southern California; graduate athletics adviser at California Polytechnic State University

    Education: Bachelor’s degree in physical education and master’s degree in education from Cal Poly

    Resides in: Oakdale

    Family: Wife Kelly and children Abby, 13, Cole, 12, and Brody, 6

— Upon moving into his office inside Fitzpatrick Arena 18 months ago, Mike Matoso immediately knew what he needed to accomplish as the new athletic director at California State University, Stanislaus.

With few exceptions, Warriors athletic teams have enjoyed only occasional success since 1998, when they became a scholarship-based program and joined the California Collegiate Athletic Association – arguably the nation’s deepest and toughest Division II conference.

The barriers to success were numerous. Stanislaus consistently has ranked in the lower half of the conference in the amount of scholarship dollars it can offer its athletes. With the exception of Warrior Stadium, one of the top soccer and track venues in the state, the school’s facilities were not among the best in the CCAA. Even successful teams have had trouble building a fan base from the community, the first step in fostering a following that could be developed into a continuous source of revenue for all the programs.

On top of all that, the campus has a wildly imbalanced female-to-male student ratio of 65-to-35. Under the rules of Title IX and the more stringent California National Association for Women guidelines, it means 65 cents of every dollar spent on athletics has to support female sports, even though men’s sports – particularly basketball – have the highest revenue potential.

Matoso came to Stanislaus after spending 13 years in athletic administration at the University of San Diego. As a private school, USD wasn’t subject to the spending rules and regulations that govern public schools, a procedural difference that Matoso claims has been his biggest adjustment since taking the Warriors’ athletic helm.

He sat down for a few minutes during a recent women’s soccer match. It was a fitting scene, as the Warrior women are the school’s most successful current program, achieving a No. 5 national ranking that is the highest in the program’s history.

Q: Describe your job in percentages – administrative vs. fundraising.

A: It varies day to day, and one of the things I like about this job is that you never know what you’re coming into on any given day. Sometimes that’s the reason I don’t like the job. It’s probably close to 50-50, and if I’m not doing fundraising, I’m thinking about it. You’re always thinking about how to increase revenues.

Q: Here’s a question I’m sure you’ve been asked a thousand times since you took the job: What’s the possibility of football here?

A: I haven’t been asked that much. For our size and our resources and the 65-35 gender makeup (65 percent female, 35 percent male) of the school, you’d have to at least double your operating budget. You’d have to add women’s teams, plus training staff, compliance staff. It’s so much more than just adding a sport. I’d love to do it, but it would cost a lot.

Q: This female-male ratio – is it a barrier, an opportunity or a given?

A: It is what it is, so you have to tailor your programs to that. You have more restrictions here with CAL-NOW on top of Title IX, so you have to make the adjustments. I want to figure out how to get better no matter what, so I look and see that we have a good foundation with good facilities. You can’t change the makeup of the university, so you have to figure out the best way to use it.

Q: How is it different getting things done here, at a public school, as opposed to a private school?

A: It’s night and day, and it’s been my biggest adjustment. At San Diego, we had our own contractor and I had a $50,000-limit credit card where I could do things and buy things for the program without getting public bids. I’m learning the process, but when I first got here, I did wonder why we just couldn’t go out and buy what we needed. I’ve learned to build in time cushions when trying to get things done.

Q: When you first got the job, you mentioned that one of your major goals was community outreach – getting the community on campus. What can you point to as steps forward in that area?

A: Last month, we hosted the first non-Stanislaus soccer event in the stadium. We’re working with CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) to potentially hold track and field championships here. We’ve made efforts to get out into the community, with Neighborhood Watch programs and things like that – things that get people involved. That will take time. I sense that people do feel more welcome here.

Q: The previous school administration left you a great soccer environment. The men’s team made the tournament last year, and the women’s team this year is among the best in the country, and they draw about 700 people to a great facility. That’s an amazing following for soccer, but it would be no more than an average basketball crowd. As you move forward, how do you move the money to achieve the community outreach you’re seeking with the programs in place?

A: It’s a fair enough question. You’re going to battle the crowd question anywhere you are in California. We were No.4 in baseball in the country at San Diego, playing UC Irvine, which was No.7 at the time. A reporter from Baseball America said to me, “You have 106 people here right now, and this is the best baseball game in the country.” For us, our conference schedule doesn’t help. If we played Thursday and Saturday in soccer, we’d draw better. Sunday mornings at 11 o’clock is a tough time. I wasn’t used to coming to a game that early. These (soccer) programs are here and established. They have the foundation for winning, Now we have to focus on the other programs and getting those up. Men’s basketball is the sport that will bring people in.

Q: The current president is, among other things, a baseball fan, and all of a sudden, there’s construction over there. Is that a coincidence?

A: You have to put your money, with today’s kids, into recruiting and scholarships, and a big part of recruiting is facilities. Our soccer facility is probably one of the nicest in California. We know what we need to do with the arena – to put in a new floor and new stands that will wrap around to create an arena feel. But the baseball upgrades (a current construction project) started as a safety issue. It wasn’t safe. The first time I walked up those stands, I asked if anyone had fallen through before. We needed to make some serious adjustments out there. In Division II, you can get really good really fast, and there’s a guy out there (Kenny Leonesio) who has worked his tail off for this university for 14 years and hasn’t got much. We’re more than happy to help him and all our coaches to help them to win. I’m not going to coach or recruit, but I’m going to give them the tools to win.

Q: What’s your definition of athletic department success at Stanislaus, and what is it going to take to get there?

A: I want to be the best school in the conference, meaning we win the Commissioner’s Cup on a regular basis. I want to compete for conference championships. If you’re doing that, you’re putting yourself in the postseason, and once you get in the postseason, anything can happen. I want our kids to represent the school well – to be good role models not only in the town, but the county. And we want people to realize that good Division II athletics are just as good as midlevel Division I athletics. I came here because I saw the potential to create a fun environment here – one where people in the community could get behind us and see that these are really good sports.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or (209) 578-2150. His blog is at www.modbee.com/brian-vanderbeek.

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