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Nick Deriso
nderiso@thenewsstar.com
July 18, 2004

Louisiana-Monroe president Jim Cofer put the finishing touches on the biggest story for Indians athletics in recent memory on Friday, accepting an invitation for full membership in the Sun Belt Conference - in which ULM has played football since 2001. The move won't come cheaply, and Cofer has talked at length about that challenge. But there are other things that need to be done between now at the university's June 2006 start date in the SBC. He talked with sports editor

Nick Deriso about what still lies ahead for ULM:

1. Outside of the financial expectation, what else needs to happen to get ready?

The community needs to embrace this institution and its athletic programs. If you go to Athens, Ga., or Starkville, Miss., they embrace those institutions. Go to Ruston. Ruston embraces Louisiana Tech. This is the only university in Monroe and Ouachita Parish. I appreciate if you went to LSU; I went to Mississippi State. That doesn't make any difference. If you live in Monroe, you need to embrace this institution. That's the most important thing.

2. But it's not just money, right?

Yes. Strong support is not just giving. Some of it is also showing up. Come to the games. It's great entertainment - from softball and soccer to football and baseball. I think the attendance piece is an important one. Let's show the rest of the state that we can support big-time athletics.

3. Have you identified which programs might struggle with this move?

One of the things that (new athletics director) Bobby (Staub) is charged with doing is to develop a strategic plan for the athletics. Part of that plan will be accountability. That's accountability for staff, trainers, ticket sellers - and coaches. We'll look at wins and losses. Graduation rates. Attendance. The financials. We'll look at all of those things.

4. Did ULM's long association with the Southland contribute to its decision to allow the Indians to play for conference titles in the meantime?

I had conversations with the presidents and with the commissioner, and I told them: This is a financial decision. It doesn't have anything to do with the Southland; I like those guys. But don't penalize my students. They didn't. That was paramount in our discussions. As good college presidents, they recognized that students shouldn't be hurt by this decision. That's why we have the two-year waiting period.

5. It still sounds like we're talking about money.

Our problem has been that we have undercapitalized athletics. It's just like any other business: If you are undercapitalized, you can't compete. We'll have to put money into staffing. We have to upgrade the internal operations - from ticket sales to promotion and marketing. We've got to increase our recruiting expenditures. We've probably got to increase our coaching salaries. So, yes, we'll have to raise more money.

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