Husker AD Bill Moos talks goals, challenges and scandals facing college sports

Feb. 15, 2018, 6:40 a.m. ·

Bill Moos (L) talks with Mike Tobias (R) for at UNL's Memorial Stadium.

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University of Nebraska-Lincoln athletics is a multi-million dollar business. And that business has a new CEO. Bill Moos became director of athletics last October. For the NET News "Speaking of Nebraska" program we sat down with him at Memorial Stadium to talk about challenges, expectations and broader issues connected with big-time college athletics.

Here is a transcript of the full interview.

Our interview with Bill Moos is featured in this week's episode of "Speaking of Nebraska,"

  • Watch "Speaking of Nebraska" HERE
  • Watch the full interview with Moos HERE
  • Listen to the full interview with Moos HERE
  • Listen to Feb. 15 NET News Signature Story "New UNL Director of Athletics Bill Moos talks goals, challenges and scandals facing college sports" HERE
  • Listen to Feb. 16 NET News Signature Story "Husker Director of Athletics Bill Moos talks about the growing cost of college sports" HERE

UNL Director of Athletics Bill Moos (UNL photo)

Bill Moos

  • 1973 – graduated from Washington State
  • 1982-1990 – Washington State assistant/associate AD
  • 1990-1995 – Montana AD
  • 1995-2007 – Oregon AD
  • 2010-2017 – Washington State AD
  • 2017-present – Nebraska AD
  • (Full bio from UNL Athletics HERE)

MIKE TOBIAS, NET NEWS: So we're sitting here in a Memorial Stadium room that celebrates Bob Devaney, national championships, hall of fame coaches. You're around this stuff every day, no pressure right?

BILL MOOS, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA-LINCOLN DIRECTOR OF ATHLETICS: (laughing) Well I don't feel any pressure, but it is a storied place and with some true icons through the years, someone in my profession looks at the University of Nebraska with a little bit of awe and a lot of respect, and certainly I'm right in that group.

TOBIAS: You've been here about four months now, general impressions of the athletic program here?

MOOS: Very proud athletic program, again at a great university. Wonderful, hard-working people. Good quality student athletes. I've been quite impressed. We will be making some changes, but as is my way of doing things, wait a little bit after I've observed and assessed things, and then put my touch on it and we take off and go.

TOBIAS: I'll ask you about the changes in a bit. But I want to ask you about, in the time you've been here, things that resemble the places you've been before, things that are maybe a little bit different?

MOOS: Well I think the attention to the mission of providing a wonderful experience for the student athletes and making sure they reach their potential, both on the field of competition and in the classroom, and also have an experience that they can savor forever. This is such an important time in a young person's life, age 18 to 22 or 23, and it's really why I'm in the profession is to hopefully have an impact on them during this time, and that that's a positive impact. And so those are the things that are pretty universal, again in the industry. Nebraska, with the storied tradition and legacy, the national championships in a variety of sports, the icons as both coaches and student athletes. And then the unique aspect that the University of Nebraska is Nebraska's university, there isn't a “Nebraska State.” If you're going to be a big-time football fan, for example, and a fan of college football, you're going to be a Husker if you're a Nebraskan. And I've never had that luxury before, and I'm really enjoying that piece. And there's no pro influence, so for the first time in my career I haven't had to worry about the NFL or the NBA or Major League Baseball, and that really has led to the passionate fan base that we have that is the envy of people in my position all across the country.

TOBIAS: When you first arrived, obviously football and leadership of the football program was your focus and was job one. Now that you've dealt with that, you talked about changes. What's on your plate right now?

MOOS: Well yes, the first order of business was to address the football situation. This is the third Division I athletic program that I've had the good fortune of leading. All the other three I came in in the summer, late spring or summer, and could get myself settled and look at the structure of the department before I had to make any changes. But I really had to make a priority out of our football situation here and so I had to table everything else and go to work on that. So I think we're in good shape in that regard, really feel good about the change that we did make and our future, and now I'm working on and focusing on primarily the staff itself and how to administer it and the very good people that we have, some will be changing their duties and maybe adding some personnel as well.

TOBIAS: Some structural changes?

MOOS: Yes. It's all about communication I believe. Having a blueprint that everyone has bought into and believes in, and then implementing that blueprint to move us towards success in all 24 of our sports and put us in a position to compete for championships year in and year out.

TOBIAS: Do you have that blueprint yet?

MOOS: We're putting it together now. A select group that I have working on that, we're meeting a couple, two or three times a week and putting the people in the right places and developing our goals and objectives and that will be presented to the entire staff of 358 full-time employees in about two to three weeks.

TOBIAS: I want to talk more broadly about issues related to college athletics, and as you look at the landscape for college athletics, what concerns you most right now?

MOOS: I think the debate over amateurism versus professionalism. Are these young people in it for the money? Are they in it for the education? Are they into it for the experience? These are questions that are being asked these days, and college athletics is big business. Budgets that are on an annual basis, all the way up to 150, close to $200 million a year. Huge stadiums and arenas, very lucrative television deals, shoe and apparel contracts, all of the sponsorships that are out there today. It really is truly a big business, and I've seen it grow over my 25 years as a major college athletic director, in leaps and bounds, and makes one wonder where it's going to go from here.

TOBIAS: Because Nebraska is one of those handful of schools that spends more than $100 million a year on athletics. And here, that spending has almost doubled since 2005 when it was about 56 million. Why has this become such an expensive business?

(More info: USA Today "NCAA Finances")

MOOS: Well, the cost of the education has gone up, just the tuition, board and room, fees and books. Those have all increased. Travel expense to get teams and individuals to other universities to compete. And the cost of equipment, the cost of the employees that we have and the benefits that we provide. It adds up pretty fast, and before you know it we see budgets doubled, as you mentioned, in just a short period of time. And again, it makes one stop and think where are we going to be in another 10, 15 or 20 years in regards to the expense in operating one of these programs?

TOBIAS: I was looking at an NCAA study that was looking at so-called "Power Five Conference Schools," which Nebraska is one of, that talked about that per year schools are increasing their athletic budgets six to seven percent a year. And the term "arms race" comes up pretty frequently when you look at where some of the money is going. Are we in a college athletics arms race right now?

(More info: NCAA Research "Revenues and Expenses 2004-2016" Report)

MOOS: Well I think we are in many regards, and a lot of that has centered around facilities. The need to attract the good, young talent nowadays necessitates having facilities that will lure them in regards to being able to become the best they can be with better weight rooms and better video units and all the things equipment-wise, et cetera, that they feel can get them to the level that they want to be and maybe go on and play in the professional rank somewhere, depending on the sport. So the arms race really has, over the last 10 to 20 years, been centered around facilities. And as you look around today, millions upon millions of dollars in this area has been put in place. At the University of Nebraska, we have as fine of facilities as there are in the United States. It doesn't mean that we don't have some things we need to address, and we are. But by and large, everything we have is attractive to a potential student athlete when they come to visit our campus.

TOBIAS: Is that arms race problematic?

MOOS: It can be. I think if it's looked at in the context that we're providing what's very best for these young people to train and reach their goals and objectives, I think it's the right way to go. I think where it may get a little bit off-balance is there is more to the experience than just great facilities. Wonderful teachers, great coaches and mentors, and the experience of developing friendships with your teammates and other students. That's, at the end of the day, what people are going to remember with their experience at the University of Nebraska or wherever they may end up.

TOBIAS: With all of this spending there's also an increasing gap between what you might call the "haves" and the "have nots.” I'll go back to your old school (Washington State) and compare it to Texas. In 2016, Texas spent $171 million, Washington State spent $100 million less than that. And the gaps between those schools and others on down the list have been gradually growing. Is that going to create a sort of unlevel playing field between a certain number of schools that have the money and some that don't?

MOOS: Well that was really the criteria for the Power Five and the autonomy movement and the reform legislation from a few years ago that really separated the 65 universities from the rest. Those of us that really felt that the cost of attendance was a big issue and some other things that were going to be costly, that the majority of the NCAA Division I schools could not afford. So I think that was good. Now that we have the 65 there's starting to become some haves and have nots within the 65, and whether all can compete I think is yet to be determined. Such things as scholarship limitations, equal television revenue, things along these lines have brought parity, whether the huge budgets are there or not. And what you primarily see with the larger budgets is more sports offerings, which ironically is what we all strive for. An opportunity for as many young people as possible to compete in their sport of choice. And as the costs go up, more and more programs are being cut and it really kind of goes against what the whole design of what college athletics was really supposed to be all about.

TOBIAS: So if you could make a change, what would it be?

MOOS: Well, I really do feel that institutional control is important, but institutional funding is as well. And some schools have that, some don't. At Nebraska, we are 100 percent self-sufficient, and we actually give money back to the general coffers at the end of each fiscal year. And I think that is good, I really do. But at the same time, when there is a commitment financially from the university itself, then I also feel there's a commitment to the fact that this is something that is important to the university, that brings positive exposure to the institution, and a real good feeling to alumni and friends not only around the state but throughout the country.

TOBIAS: Nebraska's one of just a handful of schools that doesn't have student fee money and also university funds going into the athletic programs. I think Texas, Oklahoma, LSU, Penn State, there may be a couple others. But that's a pretty rare thing.

MOOS: It is, and in all those examples it really gets back to the crowds that we are able to attract. And when you look at Nebraska and the football sellout record that keeps going, dating back to 1962, I was 11-years-old in 1962 and that's amazing and a tribute to our great fans. Husker volleyball, just coming off a fifth national championship, packed to the gills every home match and has been for a couple decades. And all of our venues, you go to both men's and women's basketball, tremendous crowds. And this is what separates the really, the upper-tier budget programs from the so-called have nots, and that's the size of the venues and the fact that they are sold out. And in football alone at Nebraska, we see $33 million just tied to ticket sales and donor seating costs and these kind of things, which is extremely important not just to support the football program, but to provide very good budgets, competitive budgets, in swimming and diving and golf and tennis and softball and on down through the line.

TOBIAS: Pretty significant amount of the money that Nebraska spends, I think about a third at least, goes towards coaches' salaries. We saw with the hiring of Scott Frost, the increase of the head coach's salary from about $3 million a year to about $5 million a year. Why, again, does that need to continue to rise? And we see that all across the country.

MOOS: It's primarily driven by the marketplace. The very good coaches that are out there that a university wants to attract, they're going to have to have a financial package for the head coach and a very good, appealing pool of monies for the assistants, just to get the very best. The very best coaches can recruit the very best players. The very best players produce winning programs, attract fans, attract the television exposure, and for the overall institution a feel-good within the fan base and the alumni and friends that will help in regards to the fundraising efforts of the entire university. And really showcase the institution on a national stage, which we all desire.

TOBIAS: And part of that in this era involves long-term contracts, which means if you get rid of somebody you have to pay off that long-term contract, which is a bit of a problem sometimes.

MOOS: Well it can be a problem. You want to make the right decisions and the right choices and I think it's also important to make sure that it works the other way. If a coach decides that he or she is going to pick up and go to another opportunity, they need to make sure that the university is compensated as well. And you've seen a lot more of that come into these contracts in recent years, and I think that's good and I think it's healthy.

TOBIAS: Let's move on to a different subject. I'm sure you've been watching what's been going on at Michigan State and the connections of sexual assault cases to the athletic department. Your thoughts on that?

MOOS: Well, it's tragic. The biggest tragedy is with the victims and next it's very, very damaging to what is a very highly regarded university, I'm talking about Michigan State, and with some wonderful people, some of whom I know very, very well. Again, I think it's a lot about communicating, people understanding to report situations that may not be in the best interest of all involved, and to be watching for these things and reporting them because you can fall to ruins very, very fast in this business. And we saw it at Penn State a few years back, the amount of money involved in lawsuits and really the tarnished reputation again of a tremendous university. And to their credit, they have bounced back and it's a real tribute to the leadership there and their plan to get that respect back and they have. And I'm sure Michigan State will do the same. But again, abuse of that nature has no business in any workplace, and certainly not in an institution of higher education where young people have come to learn and, in this case, to compete at the highest level, and to develop themselves as young men and women. And I feel for them, the victims, and wanting to make sure that we are educating our people here, not just the coaches and staff but the student athletes as well, that we don't follow suit with a problem that could be similar.

TOBIAS: What are you doing to ensure that that isn't happening, or doesn't happen here at Nebraska?

MOOS: It's messaging, we had an all-coaches, head coaches' meeting earlier this week and had our faculty athletics representative, who has been in that role for over 20 years and is also a lawyer and teaches law here at the University of Nebraska, really lay it all out. What had happened in this situation, and what to guard against so it doesn't happen here. So I really think the education piece is important, and then making sure that everyone knows who to go to to report. And in every situation on every campus, there are those kind of complaints and concerns can be reported to, and certainly we have that protocol here as well.

TOBIAS: At both Penn State and Michigan State, and other places there were accusations and complaints and charges that, to a certain degree, were ignored. Do you feel confident that here at Nebraska that if somebody comes forward with something that's going on that they'll be taken seriously?

MOOS: Yes, I do. And it's because, again, we have educated them properly and we do have a course of action for them to take. And they know what that course is, and the key thing is to make them comfortable if they do have a complaint or concern, to go and report that. And that's really at the core of all this, and I really feel that we're in good shape in that regard.

TOBIAS: With the scope of programs like a Nebraska and other really big-time athletic programs, there's always been issues with outside influence that’s been problematic. Most recently we've seen the FBI bribery probe that involved Louisville and basketball coaches and an Adidas executive and some others. How, as somebody that's the CEO of such a big operation, more than 300 employees, hundreds if not 1,000 or more athletes, how do you watch all of that?

MOOS: Well, make sure, again, you have people in the right place in regards to our compliance team. And that we educate our coaches and student athletes of the temptations and such that can come along with a bit of celebrity and the money that's laying out there. The men's basketball situation is only going to get worse before it gets better. I think that some of the things are going to be uncovered will make what has been uncovered look mighty small in regards to the numbers. And I always try to see some lemonade in every lemon, and hopefully this will be a wake-up call. I think college basketball on the men's side has been running off-course for a good many years. The so-called "one and done" aspect of players coming in and playing or going to school one year and essentially not even finishing that year, and going on into the NBA, is not healthy. And all of the temptations from shoe and apparel companies and others, a lot of it having to do with AAU basketball and a lot of club sports, really needs to be monitored. Hopefully this will be, again, a wake-up call that we will start really addressing these concerns and get it cleaned up.

TOBIAS: So how do you fix that when that sort of world has been driving college basketball for as long as it has?

MOOS: You’ve got to put some restrictions in some places and got to modify some of the rules and procedures in others. For example, in the sport of baseball, if a high school senior has the talent, they have a choice after high school graduation, and that is to go on and try professional baseball or if they choose to attend a university on a baseball scholarship and compete at the college level, they have to stay for three years and play and then can go prior to their senior year in college. Pretty much the same in football. You can redshirt of course, but you still have to play two years for a total of three on-campus. Gets a lot of people close to that degree, sometimes with summer school, et cetera, they will graduate in three years. So I think if we could follow that model in the sport of men's basketball, it would take care of a lot of these concerns.

TOBIAS: But it involves working more closely with professional basketball than maybe we have in the past.

MOOS: It does. Yes. Most definitely.

TOBIAS: I want to go back to when you left Oregon. Some of that was over differences over a new basketball arena, with Nike founder and major Oregon donor Phil Knight. You've said you left with no animosity towards Oregon but joked that you "created the monster that ended up eating me." What did you learn from that experience?

MOOS: Well, our 12 years at the University of Oregon were wonderful and a big, big piece of my professional career was spent there. The successes that we were able to see were incredible. We won 13 conference championships in a variety of sports and built nearly $200 million worth of facilities. We rebranded and became a source of pride within the university, the community and the entire state, and became recognized across the country. So I'll always be very proud of what we accomplished at Oregon. But it was probably time for me to move on, 12 years is a long time. Had a lot of wonderful friendships, and my friendships with those that people perceived to have been a problem were very good as well. I had a set of principles that I lived by, and they weren't in contrast with anybody else's, but I was steadfast in some thoughts and beliefs, and just really at the time it felt it was time to go. And so we had no animosity and people that folks think that I had a spat with are very good friends to this day, and I think we have a mutual respect.

TOBIAS: You were able to step away from athletic directing for about three years and (run a) cattle ranch. Did it cause you to reflect at all about whether you wanted to get back into this world?

MOOS: It did. And having been born and raised on a wheat and cattle ranch, as a young boy there was only two things I ever wanted to do when I grew up, and one was to be an athlete and the other was to be a cowboy. And I'd been in athletics all my life and my bucket list was starting to get checked off and felt that it was time to go build my ranch and be a cowboy. And to tell you the truth, it was a great sabbatical for me. Someone who only read the sports page for years upon years now found myself not reading it at all, and if I did it was the last piece of the paper. I got a chance to be involved in my younger children's activities and such, and I was consumed with that and also in building that cattle ranch. But what I found after a couple of years was that we really missed it, and I in particular missed being around the young people and having a chance to have that positive input in their lives. And I wanted to get back into it and fortunately found an avenue in which to do that, and I'm still at it today.

TOBIAS: One of the things that you've probably seen change dramatically in the years that you've been involved as an athletic director is just sort of the show and the spectacle when we look at recruiting, especially in football and men's basketball primarily, we've got signing day coverage, we're ranking junior high kids, we get highly produced videos announcing what school that they're choosing. Talk about that.

MOOS: Well, it's a show, and you're either going to participate or you're not. It has become a part of the overall big picture. The competition and the recruiting battles are every bit as intense as the actual games themselves, and especially in football and men's basketball. Those are big-money sporting events at the college level. A lot of exposure on a variety of television, cable and networks. And the piece on the recruiting just adds to the drama and the excitement of college athletics, so it's here to stay. I think we do a very good job but it is competitive. Social media is a whole new branch of the recruiting process, the campus visits, the home visits. I'm very pleased to see that the parents are much more involved now and that we can pay for the expenses to bring them to campus. They've got different questions and want to see different things than maybe their sons or daughters want to see, and I really do feel that at a place like the University of Nebraska, having the parents on-campus is really advantageous for us because it's such a beautiful campus, it's clean, it's safe, and the whole community of Lincoln is an extension of the campus itself. So all these things are here to stay. I know we try to do all that we do in that regard with a lot of class and in a way that we can all be proud of, but it is all part of it. And whatever's going to attract the right student athlete to come to our school and represent the Huskers is very important to us.

TOBIAS: Does that ever create a disconnect when you have 18-year-olds arriving that are already somewhat famous. They come into these amazing facilities that are somewhat different than what an average college student here on campus experiences. Is there a concern about the disconnect between the student athlete and the non-athlete student?

MOOS: I believe in the interaction and making sure that there's a mainstreaming of our student athletes with the normal student because that's a part of the college experience itself. And living in dorms in their freshman year, and not just being exclusively with other student-athletes, I think that's real important. And then there's a good many things that we monitor in regards to academic progress and making sure that things are taken care of in the classroom to even be eligible to compete, and I think that's healthy and we monitor that very closely along with behavior and all the other things that lie out there today. So I do applaud the NCAA and, of course, our individual campuses for implementing these things that are benchmarks for our student-athletes to strive for and also that they may not have an opportunity to compete if they're not living up to all the things that we feel are important other than actually playing the game.

TOBIAS: We've talked a lot about the scope of athletic programs here and at other big schools. Why are programs like this a good thing and a good fit for a university as a whole?

MOOS: Well I've always kind of went by the saying that intercollegiate athletics does serve as the front window to the institution. People feel good about their school being successful, and there's so many ways to gauge success but the one that is showcased the most is intercollegiate athletics. And a lot of that, of course, has to do with the fans and the exposure that we're getting on television and throughout the media. And when that's good, people are feeling good about what we're doing at our particular university. Applications for admissions tend to go up, philanthropy throughout the entire university tends to increase, and just really an overall good buzz and conversation. So if done right and a good, clean intercollegiate athletic program can showcase the institution on a national level like nothing else. I've always felt good that a football game with this university or the others that I have served, drawing those fans and viewing a good, exciting, competitive game, are also going to learn about all the other great aspects of that university, whether it's the journalism school or the school of business or the veterinarian medicine piece. Wherever you might be, there are stories to tell and intercollegiate athletics can tell that story.

TOBIAS: So when you're done here at Nebraska, what do you hope to be remembered for?

MOOS: I hope that my time here at Nebraska, and I hope it's a long time, will be one that we were extremely competitive. That we provided wonderful opportunities for many, many young people. That our program was a source of pride to the university and to the community and the entire state, and hopefully walk away with some championships. I think we're so very capable of doing that, and that'll make me very happy and feel that maybe I did a small part for this great university to put it in the place where it is now and see that it continues.

TOBIAS: Maybe there'll be a Bill Moos room here somewhere.

MOOS: (laughing) Hey, those are big shoes. I'm not counting on that but I'm hoping that our stadium stays full and that our fans stay happy and that the university as a whole continues to do the many wonderful things that it's currently doing.