NEW BRITAIN - Tuesday afternoon in Torp Theater, Michael Waddell was the first of the three final candidates to give his pitch on why he’s the right choice to be the next athletic director at Central Connecticut State University.
Throughout his pitch and the questions that followed, there was one theme, how to attack the budget issues at the school.
This past year the University announced its decision to cut 35½ athletic scholarships in order to free up an estimated $2 million for the school while also eliminating the women’s and men’s golf programs, which reduces the number of varsity teams at the school to 16.
“It’s an absolute necessity for this position to be able to do that,” Waddell said of making those tough decisions. “The one thing I can tell you is that I’m not a rookie coming in here for my first AD job looking to do that type of operation because I’ve been through that before.”
Battling budget constraints at Towson University from 2010-13 was what Waddell, who was the Vice President of Marketing & Communication at Richmond Raceway prior to applying for the CCSU job, pointed to regarding his experiences with the issue CCSU’s athletics department is facing.
At Towson, he played a major part in the $73 million multi-purpose SECU Arena and negotiating the 10-year, $4.75 million naming rights deal.
“I know what that’s like and I’ve had the experience of going through something that is a major issue and a truly transformational point in the development of a program for the long term,” he said. “You want somebody that has experience in doing those things. The first thing you do is you come in and give a true assessment. Not just what you can pick up on the outside looking in, but you truly look under the hood and get a sense of where we are.
“We’re the only public school in the NEC, a sea of private [schools]. When you’re cutting 35½ scholarships like what is outlined right now by the Athletics Task Force, that is going to hurt, there is no doubt about that. It’s a long process but I think my proven success in navigating those waters and having done that before should give you a great confidence and we can repeat that again.”
At Towson, improving the facilities and focusing on factors that impact the athletics department such as the strength and conditioning program was a priority for Waddell as well as those currently on staff within the department.
CCSU has been without an athletic former AD Paul Schlickmann left for Fairfield University back in September.
“I want to see where the direction of the program is going to be,” CCSU Associate Athletic Director of Sports Performance Mike Ericksen said. “Are we going to improve facilities, staffing and certain things along those lines? I’d love to see that happen. No longer is strength and conditioning just going in the weight room. It encompasses a lot of stuff such as nutrition, sports psychology, obviously strength training, obviously agility, injury prevention.
“If you look at our programs, football had an outstanding year last year, men’s and women’s basketball keep on making improvements, our men’s and women’s soccer programs too, really all of our programs are making strides and I think the missing link is really getting that leader to come in and continue our move up and that’s what I’m excited about with the three potential candidates.”
Waddell’s experience in the industry was something he emphasized.
He has held positions in the Big Ten, Big East, Mid-American Conference, Southeastern Conference, Patriot League and Colonial Athletic Association at the collegiate level and has worked for two professional sports organizations, the East Coast Hockey League and his most recent position with Richmond Raceway.
With his experience and connections, reaching a widespread audience to help grow the Central Connecticut State athletic brand could pay dividends to ease the budget constraints.
“Obviously we’re in a bind budget wise and to be able to recruit and do things to stay with the top levels of schools you need somebody who can fundraise, get out and help this program continuously,” CCSU men’s basketball coach Donyell Marshall said. “It’s a great school, you just got to get the name out there and have somebody who can speak to the corporate world and command a room and get that attention to get people interested in donating back. We can try to put the teams out on the courts and fields to produce but without the resources of the donations and things like that we can’t go forward. So we definitely need somebody who can come in, command a room and get those things.”
Waddell was the first of the three candidates to hold their forum. Brian Barrio will have his forum Thursday at 2 p.m. and Steve Villanti will be up Friday at 2 p.m. as the other two candidates.
Who will be picked at this point is still up in the air, but the athletic department is ready to finally have the position filled.
“They [Athletic Directors] are the boss,” Ericksen said. “They run this department and they’re going to lead this program and this institution to where we want to go. And I’m hoping the best possible candidate comes out of this. We’re blessed to have three outstanding candidates and I hope through the search process we find that person that’s really truly going to lead this program and continue our growth up.”