The very successful 2016-2017 athletics season is coming to a close for Middle Tennessee this week as five student-athletes take part in the NCAA Track and Field Championships.
With another sports year nearly in the books, we sat down with MT Athletic Director Chis Massaro, who travelled to the Conference USA Spring Meetings in Destin, Florida, last week, to gauge his thoughts on what the C-USA brass discussed and what the Blue Raiders are excited about moving forward.
GoBlueRaiders.com: What were your overall takeaways from the conference’s spring meetings?
Massaro: “I think the biggest thing was the update on the television contract. We had reports from all of our TV partners, and they’re all happy to partner with us. I’m very excited about what Stadium is doing. It’s new, it’s combining the American Sports Network (ASN), College Insiders and 120 Sports. They’re going to have a very big linear television presence but also a digital presence, as well.
“I also think there was a good talk about how to improve men’s basketball and how to help the league as a whole. There was a lot of talk about the tournament being held in Frisco, and I have mixed emotions there. Obviously Birmingham with its proximity and our record there was our choice, but I think Frisco and the Dallas Cowboys will do a fantastic job. I think our fans that will be able to go will have a terrific experience.”
How will the new Stadium network help fans watch the Blue Raiders, and how could that help the school’s exposure?
“What they’re doing is a neat concept. Fans will still be able to watch on the American Sports Network channels but if they are hard to find, there will also be a better web presence and better video streams. The STADIUM app will be able to guide our fans to that, and I’m particularly excited about it. One of our issues has always been how to find games, and now you know for sure if you go to their website or app you can be directed straight to the game. They also will put their games on Twitter.”
STADIUM also has the ability to produce games live on Twitter. How essential will it be to get MT on Twitter’s live broadcasts as much as possible moving forward?
“That’s just another way for fans to get our games, and, honestly, that’s the way the world’s going. Everybody is trying to get the games on mobile devices, and I think with the content that C-USA has and the timing of the contracts we have a chance to be a real leader in that sports industry.”
Conference USA has announced at least 15 conference football games will be broadcast on Twitter this year. Will the Blue Raiders be involved in any of them?
“That’s still to be announced, but I won’t be surprised if we do. We had a basketball game on Twitter last year that did quite well, and this arrangement will go through basketball season. I’m confident MTSU will have some games on Twitter.”
Conference realignment wasn’t on the docket this year. Is that something you want the conference to look into in the near future?
“I think when realignment makes sense it will resurface. We’ll see what happens, but there weren’t any real talks about it. That’s a sort of backburner-type issue.”
Middle Tennessee won’t host any C-USA championships next year unless the football team finishes with the best record in the conference. What does that mean for MT, and is it a concern?
“It’s a bigger deal not to be playing in any championships as opposed to hosting them, so our goal is to be playing in them. There weren’t very many that came open this year – we put in a bid for tennis and didn’t get it for this year but got it for the following year. We’re part of a 14-team league and there are sports that rotate between schools, and we weren’t a part of the rotation for this year. But, we’ll try to get those events when they come open.”
It was a very successful sports year at MT, as evidenced by its finishing as C-USA’s best school in the Learfield Director’s Cup (81st overall out of 254 institutions). How can that success continue?
“I think it’s attributed to really good coaches. We have a tremendous stable of coaches, and those are the stars of your department. What they do is go out and recruit student-athletes that fit our university and value it and take great pride in representing MTSU.
“There’ve been moments this year that I’ll never forget. It was a fun year and we’ve had a lot of success, and we have to just keep that continuing. Every year is a new challenge, but I’m excited how we align for next year, as well.”
A lot of the coaches you just mentioned have been here for multiple seasons, and some have been here for over a decade or longer. What do you attribute that to?
“The No. 1 thing coaches want is a chance to win. By nature, coaches and all of us in athletics are very competitive people, and so if they can see pathways to win that’s the No. 1 priority. The second priority is that they are treated fairly both in compensation and other manners. I think with Dr. McPhee, our administration and everyone down through the department, everybody carries those kind of values and it works. We have good people here, and we try to give them the tools to be even more successful. That’s a formula that works.”
The football team kicks off its season with Vanderbilt at home on Sept. 2. How important will it be for the Blue Raider faithful to be there in full force?
“Those are always great games, and this is the last time we have Vanderbilt scheduled at home. It will be a while before this game happens again in Murfreesboro, so it’s kind of the last chance for Blue Raider fans and alumni to come out. It is a chance to show that we’re a very good program and we can fill the stadium to create a tremendous home field environment.
“We want to turn the game into an event. It’s opening weekend of the college football season with two very good teams that were bowl teams last year. The entertainment factor is there and the pride factor should be there, so there are elements in this game that tell me that it could be a real signature moment for us.”
There are two Friday night games included on this year’s football schedule. Do you see that as a challenge with the popularity of high school football, or do you like the idea?
“I’m excited about them. We’re on ESPN twice because of those, and I’m excited to host the game against Marshall. The last two times we’ve played Marshall at home the games have been decided on the final play and were crazy games to watch, so to have that showcased on ESPN from our home stadium for the first time since our Sun Belt days will be special. We need our students and our fans to show the country what Blue Raider football and Middle Tennessee can do. I think it will be fun.”