Michigan State’s Mark Hollis has been quite successful in his time as athletic director. He has built the Spartan brand, organized brilliant events, and overseen success in many sports. His efforts were honored recently, as he was named the top athletic director in the country in 2012 by Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness
Daily. Hollis sat down for an interview with the media on May 24th, one day after the ceremony for his award in New York. He talked about many topics, ranging from his emotions at the event to football ticket sales to future building plans to his status at MSU. The major points of the forty minute interview are summarized chronologically below.
- Hollis’s overall impression of the ceremony: “Last night was a special night for Michigan State and my family. It was emotional.” He isn’t normally in a position to pause and reflect, so the situation was a bit strange for him. “Athletic directors aren’t normally placed in that kind of position… It was a bit surreal. It was an event grander than I had envisioned.”
- Hollis took Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio to the ceremony in New York. “There couldn’t be two people who I would rather have by my side at an event like that
because I think that without a question, they’re the best combo in those two roles in the country,” Hollis said. “They’re two very close friends. I think it’s important to keep a business relationship with them but also keep them as dear friends, because you are in those battles together.”
- The great athletic director also recognized that not all of the credit goes to him: “We strive to keep opportunities for student-athletes here at Michigan State 0in 25 sports. I think we do an amazing job, so that award last night is shared by a lot of people. I’m keeping the Tiffany Crystal Trophy but everybody has a piece.” By “everybody”, Hollis includes the media. He said that he “appreciates the support from the media” and that the media does “an amazing job.”
- When asked about how he balances his family (a wife and three great kids) and work, Hollis teared up a bit. “Being in this business is a challenge with family life. It’s stressful. They get a lot of great opportunities, but they all miss their Dad.” But though the challenge of balancing work and family can be tough, the father of three children and Athletic Director of 25 sports is fond of his position. “I love this place, I love my family… All the good they get outweighs the frustration.”
- Hollis was asked about how he balances love for the university and being compensated fairly. “My heart is to do what we can for student-athletes and put them in the best position they can [be in],” he responded. “We have an athletic department that does a lot with a little. At the same time, you want to be compensated where your counterparts are. We live in a society of comparisons.” But fear not, MSU fans: “I have met with President Simon over the last several months and we are in a good place as far as what my future is at Michigan State.” Hollis concluded his thoughts on the topic by saying: “I think we’ll be here for a long time based on that. I’m not ready to announce anything right now, but I feel good with where we’re at.”
- The focus then shifted to the four team playoff in college football. Though Hollis recognizes that no one has all the answers right now, he does know what direction he wants the playoffs to head in. “The regular season has to be the focus of whatever we do. We need to put more emphasis on what the student-athlete wants… they want a bowl experience, they don’t want an NFL playoff experience.” One bowl in particular Hollis sees as valuable to the kids and to the Big Ten Conference is the Rose Bowl. In terms of only allowing conference champions to compete, Hollis believes the system should “let the regular season play out who the [conference] champion is and let’s throw them up against each other.”
- But before a playoff system is implemented, Hollis wants to see a strength of schedule measure added. He pointed out that MSU plays a tough non-conference schedule and competes in a tough conference. But since flexibility in scheduling non-conference games allows other schools to play easy teams, Hollis thinks that “strength of schedule has to be reviewed before the awards are given out at the end of the year.”
- Hollis was also asked about the Big Ten and if it is in rest mode. The answer was no: “We will protect our brand, we will protect the Big Ten conference on any decision made on a national basis. In this industry, you learn never to get comfortable, you always have to watch and observe and respond to the decisions that others are making.” One aspect about the Big Ten which Hollis likes is similar core values, which allow the schools to solve almost any problem.
- The leader of MSU athletics was then asked about projects, current and in the future, which are under consideration. At the top of the list of current projects is renovating Spartan Stadium. Hollis promised that a new audio system, as well as new video boards, will provide an “unbelievable” experience for fans. In the future, he also would like to remove some of the clutter from the stadium to ease the pressure on the concourses. Hockey is also grabbing his attention, as he is leaning toward a renovation of Munn Ice Arena.
- One issue plaguing Hollis is a struggling softball program. “There’s no one in this athletic department that’s happy with a 0-23 record,” Hollis stated. But that does not mean that he will make any rash decisions to correct the problem. He will retain head coach Jackie Joseph and review the season to see where it went off the rails. “It’s easy to fire a coach; it’s not easy to retain a coach who’s 0-23. That puts it on my shoulders to guide her.” Hollis later went on to say: “We’re going to give it a go and see if we can pull some magic out. Softball is extremely important to me.” Hollis made it clear that he supports Coach Joseph, “For now.” Perhaps the biggest indication of what Spartan Nation has previously reported about her needing to make MAJOR improvements to keep her job after next year. Emphasis on MAJOR.
- Football tickets are also on Hollis’s mind. With the recent opening of tickets online, sales are up by 6,000 from last year, despite an increase in the price. The department is currently taking a pause in sales, and the situation will be evaluated again on June 1st or soon thereafter. Hollis is feeling great about the situation now, as he was previously worried about the price increase: “Any time you impact people’s livelihood and spending money, you’re concerned,” he said. But, as he said earlier in the interview, “We’ve been pretty conservative in what we’ve done here…There was a lot of thought, a lot of consideration that went into it [the price increase].”
- When one reporter asked how Hollis would like to make the Michigan State experience better, the successful athletic director revealed his vision. “Disney is the happiest place on earth; we want to make this the second happiest place on earth.” He realizes that some of that involves fan behavior, but Hollis sees the school taking more of a leadership role in ensuring that every aspect of the MSU experience is great.
- Much of the remainder of the interview was about speculation on the future. Some interesting tidbits that Hollis revealed: Hollis would like to see the athletic department have “global outreach” in the future.
- There are some milestones coming up in the next year that will celebrate the
school’s history and tradition, so “next year is going to be a little bit about home.”
- If there is another Carrier Classic sometime in the future, Hollis would like for
it to be in Florida. He wants to keep the football game on the Friday of Labor Day weekend.
- Hollis would prefer to play Michigan in football near the end of the season rather than in the middle.
- The football team will not be getting a unique jersey from Nike this year, but may sometime in the near future.
- The hockey team will be adding a third jersey with a retro look, which will serve as the team’s alternate uniform.