TULSA — Upgrading the competition
He also hopes to upgrade Tulsa’s non-conference football schedule by enticing larger programs with two-for-one or even three-for-one scheduling agreements where Tulsa may travel twice or three times in a series in return for a home engagement. He also mentioned possibly mixing basketball and football scheduling.
“We did that at Eastern Michigan,” he said. “We knew for instance Michigan State needed a football opponent and we packaged that with a home game for us and a basketball home game. We did that with Purdue too, the only problem is we beat them in basketball at our place and they probably don’t want to do that again,” he laughs. “That’s one of the risks of doing a deal like that. But here (Tulsa) we have been competitive against Arkansas and had that win over Notre Dame in football (a 28-27 win at South Bend in 2010), so we should be able to build upon that.”
Football the driving force
And while basketball is certainly a component of the athletic landscape, Gragg recognizes football is the driving force.
“Let’s look at conference alignment for what it is, it is football-related,” Gragg said. “I don’t know how much discussion there was about basketball or any other sport to be honest with you when the conferences started switching memberships. Obviously you have to have a focus and attention on that ... men’s and women’s basketball provides a lot of exposure and they’re revenue producing ... but 70-80 percent of any revenue within the athletic department comes from football.”
Gragg, 43, a married father of three children ages 19, 16 and 12, played football at Vanderbilt and spent three years in athletic administration at Vanderbilt, then at Missouri, followed by another three years at Michigan and then six years at Arkansas where he rose to Deputy Athletic Director under Frank Broyles before going to Eastern Michigan. He earned his doctorate in higher education administration at Arkansas in 2004.
While arriving with a solid pedigree, he also may be just the tonic Tulsa needed in the wake of the unseemly demise of its last athletic director, Ross Parmley, who was dismissed when it came to light he was involved with a bookmaker and had made payments to the bookmaker. It was a black mark for the private university that prides itself on being the little guy (Tulsa’s total enrollment of 4,092 is the lowest of any NCAA Division I football-playing school) who gets it done with integrity.
“It was important that my philosophy was in line with the university president (Steadman Upham),” Gragg said. “It feels a lot like my alma mater, Vanderbilt.”
Gragg proudly points out 59 of Tulsa’s approximately 400 student-athletes carried a grade point average of 4.0 last season and the school has won 49 conference championships across all sports since 2005. There has also been surprisingly little turnover in head coaches. At Gragg’s last stop at EMU he hired 10 head coaches in seven years.
Bill Blankenship will be entering his third year as Tulsa’s head football coach. One of the newer head coaches is former Kansas hoops standout Danny Manning who will be entering his second season as Tulsa’s men’s basketball coach.