Dave Joyner has been Penn State's acting athletic director for nearly seven months. He's overseen the football team's first head coaching transition in five decades, watched football season ticket sales decline and had his department interviewed by investigators in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Lions247 sat down with the former Penn State football player and wrestler to discuss a number of topics. In Part I, he touches on balancing the athletic budget and how his experience with the U.S. Olympic Committee has helped prepare him for his current role.
Lions247: President Erickson used the term "transparency" last winter. What do you feel the athletic department can do or what have you done to foster that sense of transparency?
Dave Joyner: I think that what we've tried to do is, I've said before that transparency doesn't mean that we'll reveal everything, because you've got HR issues, you've got all kinds of things, you've got even if it's not a legal responsibility, I think you have an ethical responsibility … like in the coach search, people were questioning me a lot about 'Why can't we know?' Well, it's not fair to the candidates. It's a sense of fairness. So, yeah, we'll be honest with you once we make a determination and then we share contract deals, we've been doing that. So I think transparency means being truthful, and then not necessarily that people get to know everything that's going on, because certain things shouldn't or can't be (shared). So I think transparency means being truthful, not hiding things that are appropriate to share. If you can't share something, just say why.
We've had some personnel things go on and I get asked why I can't share something. Because it's policy and we don't talk about personnel issues and so that's transparent in the sense that we've said 'We don't do that,' and we're saying why. Sometimes I think people think they have a right to know everything no matter what it is, and that's not necessarily true. They have a right to things that are appropriate to share and that are in the best interests of everybody.
L247: Has that been a challenge for you, not being an athletic director for very long, to make those distinctions of what's appropriate to share and what's not?
Dave Joyner: No, not really. My background with the Olympic program (Joyner was the head physician to the U.S. teams at the 1992 Olympics), I dealt with those issues. I was the spokesperson. We were in the Olympic Games. The head physician is charged with being the only spokesperson. The other docs aren't allowed to do interviews and things. So for many many years, I would be a spokesperson for USOC. So I've dealt with those kinds of issues -- what can you talk about, what should you talk about? Sometimes it's not apparent in my background, but I've been there. 'Nobody's an expert in anything', someone said to me one time, 'You're only experienced.' So I would say that I have a certain amount of experience in dealing with those issues. Plus being in medicine, there's a lot more crossovers than people realize. Medicine deals with confidentiality issues all the time. And then if you cross that over into sports medicine, which is really where my background was, everybody wants to know about Olympic athletes -- is so-and-so going to be able to compete? Well you have to understand, you're still dealing with HIPAA, but on the other hand, the public interest in this. So does the athlete give you permission, do you do this? So you have these things that you have to deal with all along, so I've had experience dealing with those things for a long, long time. So the transition wasn't … each case is unique, maybe the parameters about what you share are different, but the analysis of it is very similar.
L247: What role did you play in Louis Freeh's investigation in terms of interviews with people in your department? Did you help schedule meetings or interviews with certain coaches on certain days?
Dave Joyner: Almost everybody was interviewed, including myself, and that's OK to say that, because it's true. And I think it's best to say that we would act as coordinating for them, the central office. We would coordinate visits with people. And they were pretty reasonable about understanding work schedules and things like that, as long as everybody was being cooperative, and they were. Everybody was always cooperative. If somebody said, 'I've gotta work for the next six weeks, I can't meet with you,' that probably wasn't going to fly. On the other hand, if they were out of town or they had meetings the next day, they were very flexible with us in working to meet with people.
L247: One of the challenges for any major university with a big athletic program is balancing the budget. What have been the challenges for you since you've taken the athletic director role in terms of trying to raise revenue or finding which ways to cut back or curb the tide of expenses?
Dave Joyner: This athletic department has always done well, particularly on the revenue side. I'm not saying they haven't done well on the expense side. Just in any climate, number one, expense control is very important. So we take a very active role. We've been looking at things very actively and we would be doing this whether this crisis had happened six months ago or not. We're looking at innovative ways to schedule travel appropriately, and you have to balance not impacting your athletic teams negatively. You want to give them the best competitive advantage you can give them within what your means are. So we're always trying to balance how we schedule travel. The folks that coordinate our travel do a very good job and work hard at it. That's one example of an area where you can really have a look at how we control costs -- meal, hotels, airplanes. So we're actively doing that. We've been doing that from day one and we actually have some internal task forces looking at that. And you have budgets. Making sure you operate within the budgets that have been established. We pay very close attention to that. So major maintenance comes up, we have a budget for that. Can we do it now or do we have to wait for next year? So that's on the expense side.
On the revenue side, obviously your biggest revenue sport is football. So the quickest way to increase revenue is to sell football tickets. And then you have men's and women's basketball, hockey's coming, which will be revenue-producing. That doesn't mean those sports are more philosophically important -- they're all important. It's just a fact of life that those are the ones where the tickets end up contributing. Balancing the budget obviously means matching the expenses with your revenues. The biggest issue that we have coming into this, and it's been reported in the papers and shared at our trustee meetings, are some of those special, one-time issues. Now some of the quote one-time issues are spread out over several years, like some of the severance packages for departing coaches. Coach Paterno's and then the package at the end which was announced publicly. So those are the biggest hits, if you will, to the budget. They were to be expected at some point and time, they just happened to occur at this time. So they weren't surprises, but it all occurred in this particular year. So we have a reserve that is built for these kinds of things. I call it our savings account. So the operational budgets are not affected by what's going on, although we still pay very much attention to make sure they run well. The reserve is where we help pay for these things. The other thing was the bowl revenue money. Whatever pile you take it from, that was still $2.6 million that had to be taken into account that did not come into the revenue side. So the reserve has been used. Not all of it. We continually watch five-year projections. We're coming into budget season July 1, so we continue to watch that. We have weekly meetings. We plan on five years out and keep watching it.
L247: Will it ever get to the point if that reserve runs out, would cutting sports, as other universities have done, be an option?
Dave Joyner: Right now, we don't see that happening. With a little bit of providence, we're not going to have to consider that. Right now, as we look forward, that's not on the table at all.