MSU athletics director Mark Hollis is one of the best at his job, and he's a steal for MSU. Hollis was named Athletic Director Of The Year by Sports Business Journal on Wednesday. He beat out Michigan's Dave Brandon, Arkansas' Jeff Long and Baylor's Ian McCaw.
The award wasn't a shock to those who have followed MSU sports over the last half-decade. Before he became MSU's top athletic official, Hollis engineered the Cold War ice hockey game at Spartan Stadium in 2001 and the Basketbowl game at Ford Field in 2003. Both events changed how games were played — literally.
He lived out his dream with the Carrier Classic in San Diego last year — an event that will continue in the coming seasons. Hollis continues to find new frontiers, with the goal on a basketball game in Greece possibly down the road.
Since taking over the reins of MSU athletics, Hollis has had unbelievable success in hiring coaches, including baseball's Jake Boss Jr. and hockey's Tom Anastos. Hollis also was a major part in the hiring of football coach Mark Dantonio and women's basketball coach Suzy Merchant. Since Hollis' promotion, MSU athletics is in the midst of one of its most successful eras.
Off the field, Hollis' relationship with Nike has brought huge dividends to the department with the Spartan brand identity renewal in 2010. He helped the athletic department cut expenses and turn a profit after years of losing money. A few months ago, Hollis was named to the NCAA Men's Basketball Committee.
But for all his accolades, Hollis is greatly undervalued. As part of a USA Today database released in Oct. 2011, it was revealed that Hollis receives the second-lowest salary among public Big Ten schools, ahead of only Nebraska's Tom Osborne. At $395,000, schools such as Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana and Illinois each pay their ADs more than MSU pays Hollis. Ohio State's Gene Smith and Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez each make more than $1 million. For more perspective, some other schools that pay their AD more (at the time of the database) include New Mexico, Florida International and SMU.
MSU has been lucky it has an alumnus like Hollis. From the USA Today story:
"We all have choices," Hollis says, "and as an AD, if you are not comfortable with your compensation, you have a choice. … Everybody knows where they rank and where they stand, and nobody likes to be in last place. With that said … my choice is, I want to be at Michigan State. I'm comfortable with what the president and the board have provided me. I know where it (ranks), but I also know the values that my family gets by being part of this community and that has a great value to me, as do the coaches. It's more than just compensation for me."
MSU came under some fire in the winter when football defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi was courted by Texas A&M with some big money. MSU stepped up and gave Narduzzi the money to keep him around, but there's only so much dough. Tom Izzo is one of the highest-paid basketball coaches in the country, and MSU doesn't bring in nearly the same amount of money that Ohio State and U-M do, while having a comparable number of varsity teams to pay for. The university is having its own financial problems with dwindling public funding.
If MSU can't pay Hollis a completive rate right now, what happens when MSU needs its next AD? What if Hollis becomes the next Big Ten commissioner? (A role most everyone agree he would excel in).
Wednesday night was just a confirmation of what those in East Lansing have known for a long time: Hollis is one of the best in the business. But MSU's past drama with athletics management should be a lesson for what can happen when people aren't on the same page.
Hollis always says he wants to consistently compete for Rose Bowls and Final Fours. At some point, MSU will have to compete with the big boys financially in order to compete on the fields. ADs like Hollis don't come around very often.