POCATELLO – Brian Hutchinson has been faced with many of the issues plaguing Idaho State’s athletic department.
So if he’s hired as ISU’s next athletic director, he said, he won’t have to guess how to fix them.
On Monday, Hutchinson was the first of five finalists to speak before ISU employees, boosters and supporters at the Pond Student Union Building on ISU’s campus. He gave a 10-minute opening statement before conducting a question-and-answer session with attendees. The 15th-year athletic director at Kentucky’s Morehead State University was announced as a finalist to become ISU’s next AD on Friday.
“I’m here because there’s tremendous opportunity here at Idaho State University,” Hutchinson said to the group. “Athletics is a tremendous platform for the university.”
“We will compete for championships at Idaho State University,” Hutchinson added when speaking to the group. “That is unequivocal. It is non-negotiable for me. It’s Division I. We keep score. We spend a lot of money. It’s important that we win, so we’re going to put people in place to do that. We’re going to hire the right people to do that.”
Hutchinson has been at Morehead State in a professional capacity since 1996. He also earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MSU and is a Kentucky native.
He said ISU presents a fresh set of challenges he’s familiar with, and the similarities of the two schools’ enrollments, budgets, and staff size give him the relevant experience needed for the position.
“The challenges that seem to be the urgent challenges here are challenges we’ve already dealt with,” Hutchinson told the Journal after his public address.
“There are opportunities here that very much dovetail with what we were in certain respects,” Hutchinson said to the group. “Whenever you have a new president, it’s a tremendous time to come on board, because you’re building something together.”
Morehead State competes in the Ohio Valley Conference for all sports except football, which plays in the Pioneer Football League within the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).
According to Hutchinson’s curriculum vitae, MSU has won 21 OVC championships since the 2008-09 academic year, along with two Pioneer Football League South Division titles and 13 NCAA Tournament appearances across the school’s 16 Division I sports. The MSU men’s basketball team achieved a notable upset in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, beating fourth-seeded Louisville.
“When I took over in 2004, none of our programs had been to the NCAA Tournament since 1984,” Hutchinson said to the group. “The accomplishment really is changing the belief in who we were. Who do we wish to be?”
Hutchinson has also served as the chair of the Division I Football Championship Committee, which selects the teams that participate in each year’s 24-team FCS playoff – a committee he served on with former ISU athletic director Jeff Tingey. Hutchinson said ISU’s scheduling habits must change if the football program wishes to be a contender for one of those coveted spots.
Usually, ISU’s football team travels to play two upper-division – Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) – opponents each season. Those schools pay the Bengals to participate in what is perceived to be a mutually beneficial agreement: ISU gets a check, the FBS opponent likely picks up an easy nonconference victory.
The “money games” help ISU offset financial restraints and, oftentimes, fund other areas of the athletic department and the university. But they could result in unnecessary injuries and eliminate opportunities for wins. The unofficial standard for admittance into the 24-team FCS playoff is six wins against Division I teams. Seven or more wins is preferred. Using two games of an 11-game schedule on money games leaves ISU with a razor-thin margin of error.
“Ideally, we would not play two FBS games a year,” Hutchinson said to the group. “Have to have a plan to make that money up by not playing buy games.”
But Hutchinson also said that if ISU plans to use its football program mostly as a conductor for revenue, playing two FBS games each season might be necessary.
“The plan would be to try to learn about how we want our football program to define itself and what it is on behalf of the university and on behalf of the department,” Hutchinson told the Journal. “If it’s just to generate revenue, or if that’s one of the primary motivators, it might be tough to get out of that cycle if we don’t have another way to replace that.
“If it’s not the case, then certainly from a competitive perspective, we would not play two of those games, not competitively. It would position ourselves a little bit better for an FCS playoff run. You can get to the FCS playoffs with a good Big Sky record for sure, because the quality of the competition in the league is such that it just begs itself that way.”
Pertaining to ISU’s athletic facilities, Hutchinson said it’s “a little bit premature” to declare the need for new stadiums or arenas. ISU’s men’s basketball team splits its home games between Holt Arena and Reed Gym, and preliminary plans to build a new basketball arena were unveiled by Tingey in 2015.
Hutchinson said the priority should be considering possible upgrades to the facilities already in place.
“We’re averaging 1,600 (fans) at basketball games in an arena that’s supposed to seat 8,000,” Hutchinson told the Journal referring to Holt Arena. “That’s not good. … Given some scheduling things and reasons that we play in Holt, that’s something that we’ve got to consider.
“There are some life safety things that need to be addressed institutionally first. If you’ve got a leaky roof or inadequate facilities for training or strength and conditioning or whatever it is, those are some things that we need to do pretty urgently. Then, we can think about new facilities in other ways.”
Hutchinson is also no stranger to coach-player rifts and internal investigations.
Former MSU men’s basketball coach Sean Woods was charged with misdemeanor battery in 2016 after one player said Woods backhanded him in the chest and another player said Woods shoved him multiple times. Woods was suspended during MSU’s investigation, and resigned once he was charged by authorities.
Hutchinson’s visit to ISU comes on the heels of a concluded case of similar consequence. Former ISU player Jayson Miller accused football coach Rob Phenicie of twice hammer punching his shoulder pads during halftime of the team’s game at Cal Poly in November. Neither ISU’s internal investigation, nor a criminal investigation by California authorities found any wrongdoing by Phenicie.
The next finalist to speak is Steven Schofield, on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in the Pond Student Union Building.