Dave Heeke is always thinking about the big picture.
As the Central Michigan University Athletics Director, Heeke is constantly searching for ways to improve CMU athletics and get the Chippewas on the biggest stage.
Just this past week the CMU baseball team took part in the "Clash at Comerica" which was the first college baseball game ever played at Comerica Park in Detroit.
Heeke is also coming off the first winter season in the new CMU Events Center and is still working toward stadium expansion at Kelly/Shorts Stadium for the 2012 season.
I had a chance to sit down with the busy Heeke and talk to him about what is ahead for CMU athletics.
*(This is the first of a two-part interview)
Drew Ellis: You are coming off the Clash at Comerica this past Wednesday. Can you give me your thoughts on how you feel the event went and if this is an event you would like to pursue again in the future?
Dave Heeke: I thought it was a terrific night and a great event. The evening went well and the opportunity for out student-athletes to compete in a big time venue like that was great. We thought the whole night worked out well.
It is unfortunate that the weather was a little tricky, but we still had a good crowd and all of the feedback has been real positive.
We want to continue it. We have already been talking to the Tigers' organization about how we can do it in the future. We are looking at dates and potential opponents and how it would all come together. We want to keep it going.
DE: Since this was a first-time event, were you able to sit back and enjoy it or were you constantly looking at ways to make it better for another game in the future?
DH: I think it is rare that we as a staff go to an event and just sit back and enjoy the moment, unfortunately. I had the chance to be on the field in the beginning and enjoyed that a lot. But, in the back of my mind I was thinking about what we could do different and how we could approach it differently if we get the chance to do it again.
From a marketing standpoint, we want to think of ways of drawing more people in. We know the date has a lot to do with that and ideally you would want the game to be pushed back as much as possible to have a better chance with warm weather. But, a lot of that is dependant on the Tigers' schedule and it would be very complicated to try and do it on a weekend because most of our conference games are on weekends. It is a mid-week deal that we have to try and figure out.
DE: On Wednesday, UMass officially joined the Mid-American Conference for football. Talk about your initial thoughts on UMass joining the conference?
DH: I think it is very positive for our league. Obviously we had an odd number of teams in football and we had to address that. We talked about that for several years in terms of how to attack that and how to address that. The addition of UMass was one of the better options that was on the table.
This will only help us in scheduling. Not just in conference scheduling, but in overall scheduling. It will give us in the MAC more consistency in our scheduling so we can plan out more long term, so that is a positive as well.
UMass brings great tradition and is a very strong program. Football is important at UMass and that is a big component. This move also helps stretch our league to the Northeast a little bit more with Buffalo, Temple, and UMass. From an exposure standpoint, there is value in that. We are excited about having them in the league. I am very positive on the overall addition.
Conference expansion and adding teams is a complicated deal normally, and now with the added uncertainties of leagues and the unknowns that are out there, that even complicates it more. For us to get a team and help solidify Temple in the conference as well, for our league that gives us good balance.
DE: How does this move impact other sports in the MAC and is UMass expected to meet certain expectations in terms of schedule outside of football?
DH: Contractually we have agreed with them to play basketball on a yearly basis, where they will face two different MAC opponents each year. So, there will be an equal rotation of that and that mirrors the Temple agreement. The opportunity to have our basketball programs on the men's and women's side compete against UMass will be good. That will help the basketball programs.
As we continue to build relationships, there may be opportunities for other scheduling alignments with other sports. Again, in many other sports they are locked in with different leagues. This is about football first and a small basketball scheduling component. But, any time you spend more time with folks you have the opportunity to expand relationships and work together in other areas.
I think we can build some scheduling alliances through the relationships that UMass and Temple have with other schools. Those relationships can help other sports. We are looking at those relationships.
DE: What is the next step with this addition process now that UMass and the MAC have agreed to the partnership?
DH: The next step for us as athletic directors is to sit down and look at the divisional alignments and figure things out and put everything out on the table. We need to find a divisional system that works for everyone the best it can.
The key is aligning those rival games in similar divisions. When you have rival games that are crossing over divisions, that complicates things for everyone. There is not an equal rotation and we have had that for many years.
We really have not talked about the divisional stuff much. We wanted to make sure we were solid as a league first and that we got to the 14 number. Now we can look at what best serves the league from a divisional standpoint. And, you know what? We may have different divisions for different sports or different alignments for different sports. Maybe we won't even have divisions in certain sports again. Some of those things may happen.
The division alignment needs to get in place relatively soon and we need to tweak the scheduling model because UMass joins the league in 2012. While they won't be eligible for postseason play that year, they will be a counting member on everyone's schedule and an active part in the league.
DE: Looking at the 2012 football season, talk about how things worked out for you where CMU will have seven home games that season and is anything in the works for future seasons and getting more BCS conference opponents to play at Kelly/Shorts Stadium?
DH: 2012 should be great but I am excited about our 2011 season too. We have a challenging schedule this year but it should be a lot of fun and very exciting.
I am very much looking forward to 2012 with seven opponents here in Mt. Pleasant. By my research it is the first time we have ever hosted seven home games in a regular season. While that is exciting, it will also be challenging from our community standpoint and the commitment from our fans to see how they react to that type of schedule. There will also be some increased costs that come with that across the board.
We are excited about it. We want to have as many home games as we can. You have a better chance to win when you are at home as opposed to on the road. It should be great. You have the opportunity to have Michigan State come here and to have Navy come here and we will also be hosting Western that year. It is going to be a year full of great opponents in Mt. Pleasant.
I have always wanted to get our scheduling model tweaked so we can have at least six home games every season. That is challenging. There are a lot of challenges to football scheduling. But, looking out into the future we are getting closer and closer to that. We will have seven in 2012 and as we go out to 2014 we will have six. It looks like in 2015 we will have six and we are close to getting six in 2013.
We have the relationship with North Carolina State that will start in 2013 and they will come back to Mt. Pleasant in 2014 and we will open the season with them here. We are very close with a Big XII opponent to bring them to Mt. Pleasant to kick off the 2015 season. We would return to their place following that.
DE: How tough is it to establish those relationships with BCS programs and get them to come to Mt. Pleasant for a football game?
DH: Football scheduling is real complex and we have a couple of pieces to consider. We have to schedule games with major money guarantees each year. That is part of our financial model. We have to stack that in there. We are also trying to build home games and we are out on the market trying to create matchups and games with teams we think we can be competitive with.
With BCS conference opponents, that is a position of weakness for us because they don't want to come here. It is a gamble for them to come. They can pay teams to come to their stadium and they can build their schedule through just paying guarantees to other schools. The risk is pretty high for them to come into an environment that may not be the easiest place to play. We have a pretty good reputation around the country and have been somewhat of a giant-killer when you consider the Michigan State victory. It is hard to get them to commit to come here.
I am constantly working on building relationships with athletic directors around the country that would do those kinds of things. As more people that I know become athletic directors and we continue to have good relationships, those games become more of a possibility.
DE: What is the furthest out that you have a game scheduled right now?
DH: We are into the 2018 season right now. We have one game set for 2018.
DE: Can you touch on the situation with the Michigan State game in 2012? I know there is some confusion over ticket plans for that game.
DH: There will be a lot of interest in those tickets. Especially for a key game like Michigan State. Right now, in our model, if you are not a season-ticket holder, you are probably not going to qualify for tickets in the 2012 season for the Michigan State game. Our season-ticket holders and our Chippewa Athletic Fund members will be those that receive priority on those tickets.
When you do the rough math and you take care of our students, which is really important to us, and you take care of those loyal season-ticket holders, we are nearing capacity. There are no additional seats. For a person to walk up and buy tickets the day of the game, that probably won't be available.
One thing we are doing is that if you buy season tickets in 2011, we guarantee that you will have tickets available for 2012 along with the potential to buy additional tickets as they are made available.
We do not anticipate having any tickets available for the general public in terms of general sales. When you look at the students and the season-ticket holders we have, when you look at the commitment to Michigan State and what they are going to have, we are at capacity for that 30,000 number.
DE: I know when the MSU game was first announced there was some talk about temporary expansion for the stadium for that game? Is that still the case?
DH: That is a goal. We would like to expand and get as many opportunities for people to come in as we can.
It has become a little more complicated than we anticipated as we have researched options for temporary seating and the costs that go along with that. It is probably not as viable that we are going to bring in a lot of seats. We will bring in some. It won't be 20,000. It will probably be in the number of several thousand. That is just to meet these demands that we currently have and anticipate having.
Seating companies have come in here and looked at what we have and helped figure out what we could add and where we could add them. There are some natural spots in the corners where we can do a few things, but it doesn't have the overall ability to add a lot more seats.
At that same time we are going to have a major construction project going. We are going to expand the stadium in a different way with the concourse on the east side with new suites and entertainment areas in connection to what will be a new hotel. The ability to expand there with some type of temporary seating is limited because of the construction zone.