NEW BRITAIN - As Brian Barrio sat in the conference room just off his office, on a side table sat a University of Nevada-Reno football helmet and a bobble head of Central Connecticut State’s mascot, Kizer.
In a way, it reflected where the Blue Devils’ new director of athletics has been and where Barrio is now as he begins his tenure leading a department that has both its positive qualities and its challenges.
“I think everyone’s excited to turn the page and get started,” Barrio said.
Hired from Nevada, where he worked as the senior associate director of athletics for intercollegiate services, in July, Barrio is now a week into a job that brought him back to his home state and is still in the process of learning how things were done in the past, what needs to be addressed and getting to know the student-athletes. It’s been a lot of meetings and a lot of information to sift through.
Some of that took place on Monday at welcome reception at Kaiser Hall with CCSU President Zulma Toro, Vice President for Institutional Advancement Chris Galligan as well as with a number of coaches, student-athletes and alumni in attendance.
“It’s been a lot of listening, talking to coaches, talking to administrators and student-athletes and getting a handle of everyone’s perception of what’s going on in the program,” Barrio told The Herald. “[I’ve been] very impressed, especially with the attitudes of our coaches and student-athletes, about how optimistic they are and how successful they’ve been in the absence of vision and leadership and kind of had this year of turmoil.”
Before Barrio’s hire, the school had been without an athletic director for 10 months and recently dropped its men’s and women’s golf teams and began to phase in the elimination of 35.5 scholarships. According to the school, it will save about $2 million annually.
Therein lies some of the challenges for the Old Lyme native, who is taking over a Division I program with a shrinking budget despite winning 30 Northeast Conference titles since 2007-08. And while Barrio knows it won’t be a quick fix, added budgetary issues are affecting a number of universities outside the Power 5 conferences, which have large television contracts to rely on.
“The very big picture thing for me is let’s find a sustainable way for CCSU athletics,” Barrio said. “The landscape in college athletics is shifting. What does the future look like from a program standpoint for CCSU? The first thing is the dollars we’re spending. Is it helping us win games, helping us made the experience better for student-athletes? If it’s not doing one or both of those then we shouldn’t be spending it. Is every nickel we’re spending meeting one of those two goals? In terms of revenue generation, we’re going to have to be extremely creative and leverage every possible idea to generate revenue and that’s going to be a function of how innovative you can be.”
Barrio is already in the process of developing a plan to present to donors and how that money should be spent. Part of the reason he was hired was his familiarity with numbers. In over 15 years in collegiate athletics, Barrio has held a number of roles ranging from compliance to budget expenditure.
At Nevada, a school that ranks 11th out of 12 schools in the Mountain West Conference in budgets, Barrio was a key part of the University’s senior management team that opened a $3 million, state-of-the-art men’s basketball facility. He also worked closely with donors and was involved in fundraising for various capital improvement and operational campaigns.
Yet for all the talk about budgets and money, an element of Barrio’s plan for the department is the development of the human side. He wants his coaches, student-athletes and members of his staff to get out and become involved in the community. Barrio wants people to know the players are more than just athletes.
“We talked about two different sides of that,” Barrio said. “We talked about finding impactful community service they can do in New Britain and I especially like to focus on young people. I think that’s a way we’ll find our way into the community and they already have some good programs in place, but it’s about putting in that time and the passion to really connect with the community.
“The other piece is making an effort integrate into campus and get to know people who aren’t athletes and go to events that aren’t athletic events. Go to a play, go hear somebody speak. There’s a lot of good things going around campus that I want to see athletes and coaches involved in to show campus we support what they do because we ask them to come to our events. It’s important to show we support them as well.”
In the meantime, Barrio is excited to get the school year going. He likes the direction many of the programs are heading in with a number of teams preseason picks to win the NEC in their respective sports. Barrio is just looking to extend that success into other areas as well.
“If you keep it real simple, it’s about winning championships, succeeding in the classroom and succeeding in the community,” Barrio said. “If we do those three things, we’ll be successful.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org