Jarnigan speaks on Saluki athletics’ plans for 2020

By Brooke Buerck, Sports Reporter

Saluki athletics have been busy in the past several months since Liz Jarnigan was named new athletic director in September 2019.

Now in 2020, SIU doesn’t intend to slow its progress as it takes on issues within the department to improve the success of the programs.

Jarnigan said in the upcoming week or two the department will roll-out their newly-clarified mission statement and vision. 

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“These are our core values, and we’re calling them ‘Saluki standards.’ [At] the roll-out, we’ll talk about integrity, toughness, and champions,” Jarnigan said. “[We] have been working on clarifying our mission, developing a vision. The vision and the mission is rooted in who we’ve been as we redirect ourselves in who we want to be.” 

Jarnigan said one of the big hurdles for the department this year is overcoming budgetary issues. 

“With our lower student enrollment and the escalating cost to run an athletic department across the country and trying to keep up with our counterparts even within our conference, we’re at a crisis mode with our budgets,” Jarnigan said.

Three ways that Saluki athletics plans to address these issues include fundraising, maximizing revenue and being smarter with how money is being spent by eliminating waste, Jarnigan said. 

“We’re taking a hard look at [the fact that] we haven’t increased prices for tickets in a long time and now we’ve just got hit with an increase in minimum wage. Concession-wise, we’re identifying areas where we’re losing money and not even breaking even,” Jarnigan said.

In terms of fundraising, the department announced on Dec. 27 the introduction of four new funds: the Sport-Specific Giving fund, the Student-Athlete Well-Being fund, the Women’s Initiatives fund and the AD’s Excellence fund.  

“We’re trying to broaden the avenues that people who might have an interest in thinking philanthropically about Saluki athletics to give,” Jarnigan said. 

Jarnigan said the Student-Athlete Well-Being fund will help support the high cost and need in the department’s strength and conditioning, athletic training, and nutrition areas. 

“The hope there might be that someday we can afford to hire a sports psychologist to address the vast array of mental health needs that general students and our student-athletes as well are in need of,” Jarnigan said. 

Another area where the department looks to improve is in the salaries of its coaching staff members, Jarnigan said.

“If we really are investing in the success of our student-athletes, quality coaching staff are part of that,” Jarnigan said. “I know it’s odd to hear that, and typically coaches get high salaries, but in terms of the market rate, we are lagging far behind in general. Our football staff is the lowest paid staff in the conference.”

Jarnigan said in addition to addressing budgetary issues, the department needs to take care of a few HR-related items. 

“That’s been another one of our big challenges, to be able to work within our state-required processes, but also make hires that are appropriate that allow us institutional control,” Jarnigan said. “We’ve left our financial aid position open all semester long, so that’s a real priority for us – to get our staff in order with people who are committed.”

One position that has been filled so far this new year has been the department’s designation of Saluki softball head coach Kerri Blaylock to Jarnigan’s previous position as senior woman administrator.

“I’m humbled that Liz thought of me and hope that I can help in any way that is needed,” Blaylock said in a Jan. 9 press release. “The administration understands and embraces that SIU softball is my priority, but I am confident that I can also work hard and help with these additional duties.”

Jarnigan said that by designating Blaylock, the department was able to save some of the cost that would be needed to hire someone outside of the university. 

“Designating Kerri allows us that cost savings, but more importantly she’s been here over 30 years, she is a leader in this department, she has expressed an interest in getting her feet wet on the administrative side, so it made a lot of sense to give that designation to her. Now, in no way will we be taking away from her leadership with the softball program,” Jarnigan said. 

Instead, funds were used to elevate senior associate athletic director Jimmy Karayiannis’ and Jeff Jones’ salaries, as well as Blaylock’s, Jarnigan said.

Renovations to athletic facilities such as Davies Gymnasium are another area the department wants to work on, but are also very costly, Jarnigan said.

“Given that, we need to come up with a strategic plan for facilities and we definitely need to fund raise a significant amount of money. We do have some ideas in the works with possibly working with the REC center for some more indoor facility opportunities,” Jarnigan said.

One recently-added facility that will be put to use this semester is Itchy Jones Stadium, where the 2020 MVC Baseball Championship Tournament will be hosted. 

“It brings notoriety to the school, […] and one of the things we want to do is work hard to represent this institution and this community in the most positive light that we can,” Jarnigan said. “In terms of the community, there are multiple teams who will be here, eating at our restaurants, staying at our hotels […] it can only be a positive jolt to the community in that regard.”

The tournament will be held May 19-23. 

Sports reporter Brooke Buerck can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bbuerck25.

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