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July 3, 2011

Arizona State to make major athletics hire

Arizona State is expected to finalize a major athletics department hire as soon as this week.

Former Portland Trail Blazers President Steve Patterson will lead the department's operations and spearhead its plans for significant capital projects improvements according to multiple sources at the school.

Patterson will be named Chief Operating Officer of Sun Devil Athletics and Managing Director of the Arizona State Sports Group, a new entity created by school president Dr. Michael Crow specifically to provide Patterson with a leadership role in the athletic department.

"There is a major need for this type of position at Arizona State at this specific time and that's what Dr. Crow believed after looking at this very carefully," said ASU spokesperson Virgil Renzulli. "You have the new Pac-12 media rights deal, the creation of a stadium district, and a numerous other challenges all coming together at the same time.

"What's going to happen with athletics facilities, you have a stadium redevelopment that is going to cost upwards of several hundred million dollars. So you want somebody who is tasked with these things specifically."

Lisa Love will remain in her position as Vice President of Athletics and work alongside Patterson, with a new board of senior administrators created to, along with Crow, provide redress in the event of strategic differences of opinion, according to one source.

"We do a lot of things in an atypical way at ASU," Renzulli said. "We think out of the box. It's Michael Crow's style to do things in innovating and effective ways. This may be more of a corporate approach, I'm just not that familiar with that to be able to say. It certainly makes sense given the scale of what's going to be happening in athletics."

The new entity created by Crow will be independent of ASU's fundraising arm, Sun Devil Club, which earlier this year was moved out of the direct supervision of the athletic department. Prominent Phoenix-area businessman Gregg Tryhus, President of Grayhawk Development, will remain as the President of the Sun Devil Club's Board of Directors.

This spring, Patterson's Pro Sports Consulting LLC was asked by Crow to closely examine the program, which eventually led to discussions between the two men about a leadership role for Patterson.

Crow subsequently decided to create a new position for Patterson, who will be in charge of ASU's attempts to fund a new Sun Devil Stadium in the current stadium's location, as well as an athletics village on the east side of Rural Road, which could eventually feature a new baseball stadium and basketball arena.

This new approach to leadership and division of responsibilities between Love and Patterson, as created by Crow, is one that appears relatively unique to college athletics. Love is expected to play a managing director or Chief Executive Officer type role with Patterson the operational chief.

The economic windfall of the Pac-12's television media rights deal coupled with the revamped Sun Devil Club, and complicated nature of the University's Stadium District plans led Crow to the decision this new approach would be most productive.

"This crosses areas," Renzulli said. "When you talk about facilities construction, you're talking about things at the university level. There haven't been any significant athletics facilities developments [of this magnitude] in the eight or nine years I've been here.

"There are people in athletics who specialize in running them, but nothing involved in major overhaul. To my understanding Stanford and Minnesota are the only ones who've built new stadiums (in that time). So you're talking about a pretty big task and you want to get as much expertise as possible."

Patterson, a lawyer who earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, has extensive experience with the financing of professional stadiums and arenas, leading those endeavors as Senior Vice President and Chief Developmental Officer of the Houston Texas during its construction of Reliant Stadium.

Prior to his stint with the Trail Blazers, from 2002-2007, Patterson worked for nearly six years with the Houston Texans. From 1993-97 he was president and managing partner of a minor league hockey team in Houston, as well as a management company that ran the city's Compaq Center, according to his professional profile on linkedin.com. From 1989-93 he was General Manager of the Houston Rockets and is considered one of the primary architects of the franchise's 1993-94 NBA Championship team.

Patterson seems to be ideally suited to help Crow fulfill his expressed vision of an athletics facilities overhaul and land development deal sufficient to make ASU a nationally renowned program capable of hosing events such as the United States Olympic Trials and Pan American Games.

"We've been talking for years about the idea of making Tempe an amateur athletics mecca," Renzulli said. "There are a lot of things we'd do with the city of Tempe and local chamber of commerce and visitor's bureau. Michael Crow's vision is to eventually have one of the great amateur sports venues in the country. Having that said, that is long term. We have a sequence that will start with Sun Devil Stadium to fulfill more of an immediate need. Ultimately we hope to be adding more facilities.

"All of this will wait until we start to develop this athletic district. And the district, I should be clear, is not strictly for athletics facilities. It's land we can develop and use in lieu of tax fees to fund athletic facilities. There would have to be commercial development, could be a resort hotel, could be residential, could be retail, could be all of the above."

ASU is prepared to lease much of the land currently occupied by Karsten Golf Course in order to fund its stadium and athletics district plans, according to one source. The ideal goal is to play several more season at Sun Devil Stadium before knocking it down and rebuilding it in its current location, with one season played at either Chase Field in Phoenix or University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale during construction of the new venue.

It's unclear how realistic a goal it is on that sort of timetable given the current economic climate, but Crow is very committed to his athletics vision, as evidenced by this impending hire, and Patterson has the type of experience that would seem to increase the program's chances of accomplishing such lofty goals.


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