It can’t be easy being Martin Jarmond right now. He is leaving Boston College after three years as athletic director to take the same position on the other side of the country at UCLA. But there is the time needed to transition in a new administration in Chestnut Hill, as well as the time needed to get your arms around everything ahead of you in Westwood. The guy you are replacing at UCLA, Dan Guerrero, has been there 18 years and knows where all the good info is on the kingdom that will soon be yours. So, you have two job transitions going on at once, moving your family cross country, and oh yeah…that pesky COVID-19 pandemic thing that is getting in the way of pretty much everything. Regardless of the circumstances, Martin Jarmond says UCLA is elite.
Martin Jarmond Says UCLA Is Elite
It is a pretty daunting task for anyone, but Jarmond has yet to even meet with any of his new bosses in person. He never even got the tour of the luxurious UCLA campus before taking the job. Everything has had to be done in digital format. Jarmond literally took the job site unseen.
In our exclusive one-on-one interview with Jarmond, he said he has no regrets, specifically because it is UCLA. “It’s elite. And it’s one of the elite academic and athletic institutions in the country. There’s just not many that are on that level. So, for me it was just a tremendous opportunity to be a part of it and serve in a way that I could help move the program forward.”
There are some similarities between Boston College and UCLA. In fact, some similarities with all colleges right now, that are going to shape Jarmond’s early days in his new job. “I can tell you we are all going through a pandemic for the first time. I can tell you that resources are challenged more so than they have been in a long time based on a number of factors including the COVID-19. And that is no different than any institution whether it is Boston College or UCLA.”
Money Is At The Root
Jarmond does not yet have a grasp of all the details that are before him at UCLA. Heck, he doesn’t even know where his office is on campus yet. But one of the bigger challenges he will face is the UCLA athletic department having a sizable budget deficit for the first time in more than a decade. The termination payouts for Jim Mora and Steve Alford were inexplicably formatted to be front loaded and came within a year of each other. Add that to declining gameday revenue for football and other high-profile expenses and you are walking into the financial red as soon as you unlock the door.
He says he is undaunted by the issue. “You can look at it as a significant challenge. But you can also look at it as an opportunity. You know, it’s an opportunity to do some things in a different way; an opportunity to have a fresh lens and a fresh look at things, and use some of your diverse experiences to maybe bring some things to the table and partnerships and different ways to be creative to address it.”
Keeping The Band Together
In recent weeks schools like Cincinnati, Akron, East Carolina, and FIU, among others have cut or announced plans to cut non-revenue sports due to budget problems that begin with their loss of Fall sports revenue. Others, like the entire California Collegiate Athletic Association, cut all Fall sports. That was more a matter of hiding behind the pandemic to deal with budgets woes. Still, non-revenue sports are in jeopardy like never before.
Could the team cuts like what happened at the other schools also happen at UCLA? Unlikely says Jarmond. “With respect to those other schools, those other schools are not UCLA. Again, I haven’t gotten into in-depth conversations yet, as far as the financial picture and what that all entails, but I wouldn’t imagine that it would impact those sports that are thriving and excelling in our whole portfolio. UCLA is about broad-based excellence and I intend to keep that tradition and move that forward.” A sigh of relief is about to be felt over at the LA Tennis Center.
Whether Jarmond has packed or unpacked his boxes yet, something requires his immediate attention, and that is whether or not there will be a college football season and what it could look like due to the pandemic.
What looked like an impossibility a month ago, looks like a probability now, with some college football in some format schedule.
“I am hopefully optimistic. I am an optimistic person by nature. Obviously, you have to have models and contingencies if it does not go as planned. But I am cautiously optimistic and hopeful we will be playing Fall sports and football in the Fall.”
The Devil Is In The Details
The contingencies are the sticking point. Fifty states are at different stages of the virus, the curve, and the re-opening of their businesses and campuses. A few SEC schools are in “damn the torpedo” mode despite recent upticks in cases. They are, after all, the SEC and their fan base will tell you they will not be scared off by a virus. Other states, schools, and conferences are taking a more measured approach. But the time where the rubber meets the road is fast approaching. By any measure, whatever plan that goes in place needs to be recognized and absorbed by the end of June. That leaves us with the possibility that not everyone will be ready at the same time. Jarmond acknowledges the potential that the season starts without every school in place.
“I believe it depends on your numbers. Is it viable (to start the season without every team)? I think it is. It’s just a matter of how many schools are ready to play and compete in a safe and healthy manner. I don’t think you can rule anything out at this point. The bottom line to me is everything should be on the table to consider. This is not the time to be closed minded about how we return to work or how we return to competition.”
The NCAA has offered the gesture that athletes may begin returning to voluntary on-campus workouts on June 1st. The reality is the NCAA’s decree carries little to no weight. The Power 5 conferences have spent years seeking autonomy. Now they have it and during a national crisis. They will be primarily left on their own to decide when to start their Fall sports calendar. There is the conceivable notion there will be no national unity in the plan.
UCLA football has a double whammy…maybe even a triple one. There is no sense yet of whether there will be fans in attendance at the Rose Bowl, or anywhere else, if there is a 2020 season. This would be only a slightly bigger drop-off from the attendance figures of the last three years. This is not Death Valley where the seats are filled no matter what. This is Los Angeles, with tons to do. And the issue with UCLA fans is not disgruntlement, so much as apathy. When the Bruins lose, as they have done with great frequency over the last two years, the loyalists don’t spend days on local talk radio or on the internet grousing. They spend 20 minutes venting. Then they move on to see if there is a concert at Staples Center next week with tickets still available.
Fan attendance at college football games is an issue in many places around the country, as we have reported in the past. Fan passion is not lacking in all the same places. Will winning be enough to fill the cavernous Rose Bowl? Or is more needed? “I think it is all of the above. It is not just enough to have fan engagement opportunities that really excite your fan base. It’s not enough just to win. This is 2020. You have to do it all.”
To that point, once he is actually in LA, he says he intends to meet with the marketing team, as well as the leadership of The Den. He doesn’t care how it gets done across town or the across the country. He wants to build a UCLA model. “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Assistant athletic director at Michigan State; assistant athletic director at Ohio State; athletic director at Boston College; now UCLA athletic director….all by the age of 40. That is a significant resume by any means in a short period of time. Still Jarmond does not forget where he came from. In the midst of media interviews with local beat reporters and national outlets, he made sure to make time for the Fayetteville Observer newspaper in Fayetteville, North Carolina. It’s his original hometown newspaper and he told us it was important that he give them time, the same way he has given any other media outlet….boxes packed or not.