New Mizzou AD: Revenue is "front line of competition" (2024)

ST. CHARLES, Mo.—Balls and strikes. Yards after catch. Three point plays.

Phrases like these have been staples of stories about college sporting events for decades. But these days, it’s nearly impossible to read news about the events shaping the present and future of college athletics without seeing three more words.

“The changing landscape.”

On Monday, Laird Veatch, the man hired last month as Athletic Director to lead the University of Missouri’s charge into that changing landscape, walks into his new office for the first time despite being on the job since May 1. The changing landscape is now dominated by big money, name, image and likeness rights for athletes and unfettered freedom to transfer.

Veatch has been busy wrapping up his tenure in Memphis, attending Southeastern Conference meetings and meeting with MU donors. Thursday night in St. Charles, he joined Head Football Coach Eli Drinkwitz and Men’s Head Basketball Coach Dennis Gates, along with other coaches and student-athletes at an offseason caravan event at Chicken N Pickle to meet alumni, fans, and yes, more donors.

“The reality of college athletics is revenue is now kind of the front line of competition. That may sound harsh, people may not like that, but you have to have support. Financial support, you have to have people showing up at your games in order to be competitive in order to have the resources to be competitive on the field, on the courts and all that,” he told reporters, assuring the St. Louis region that as much as he wants fans here to make the trip to Columbia, he and his staff will spend a significant amount of time here cultivating more than just potential recruits.

Veatch, who worked under former MU AD Mike Alden, returns to Mizzou with a track record for raising money and involvement in big football stadium projects–two things that will be necessary for success in Columbia. Last month the school unveiled a $250 million north end zone project–at least half of which will be privately funded, at the same time that the largest FBS programs, including MU, are reportedly preparing for more structural changes in the form of revenue sharing with student-athletes.

“It is in a state of evolution. It’s not a final evolution and whatever happens next probably won’t be final because we’re going through such a difficult transition and in part because we didn’t manage it ourselves on the front end,” Veatch said. The powerbrokers in college sports are trying to settle legal action and navigate hurdles related to transfers and NIL that have piqued the interest of state attorneys general, state legislatures, and Congress.

Drinkwitz has leaned into the changing landscape as a matter of survival. His fourth spring practice after being hired prior to the 2020 season was canceled due to the onset of the COVID pandemic. He’s advocated for changes to state laws to grease the skids for NIL, which can now be paid out as soon as student-athletes sign a financial aid commitment to in-state schools. He’s also dipped into the transfer portal to the point where it gave his team half of his 22 starters last season.

“He is very creative, very innovative. He’s not afraid of change," Veatch said of Drinkwtiz. "I think his mindset about organizing, running a program. He is a CEO type mindset. He’s not looking at it just from a traditional standpoint and…you have to have that now. The coaches that have struggled I think have been stuck in the ways of the past and change is moving so fast you don’t have time to stop and worry about it or regret it, you gotta just completely embrace it, jump in and take advantage of it.”

Gates has also embraced the portal. His prowess was a big reason why his first season landed the Tigers in the NCAA tournament and why some misses, along with injuries, doomed his second campaign.

“There’s going to be a lot of changes in college basketball to help benefit student athletes. As long as its centered around student athletes I think that’s the most important part. I don’t have a criticism of it,” Gates said. “When you talk about NIL, it gives student athletes an opportunity to put themselves in a position hopefully in 20-30 years we can hear a story of a student athlete putting his money somewhere or her money somewhere and now that person becomes a famous alumni with a story based off that money that they earned and now they’re this billionaire and they’re giving back to the institution that gave to them.”

Veatch is already taking advantage of Drinkwitz’s willingness to engage with donors. About a week before reports emerged about Veatch’s hiring, there was Drinkwitz at a news conference to discuss the North end zone stadium project, with a challenge for state’s Fortune 500 companies to get on board. On Thursday, he talked about everyone’s return on investment.

“There are some really big brands in St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia and we could use any possible help because when we play well, when we perform on the national stage, when we represent the state of Missouri, we represent everybody in this state, and whether that’s products, whether that’s the university, whether that’s the fans, we hope that we’re a good investment,” he said.

In this ever-changing environment, where you sit can impact your perspective. In 2022, in hopes of establishing more of a beachhead for events in St. Louis, Mizzou struck a deal with Memphis to move a September 2023 football game from Memphis to The Dome at America’s Center. It cost Mizzou up to $1 million. Veatch, then the AD at Memphis, said at the time he was “disappointed” the game wouldn’t be in Memphis but that it was the best remaining option for the program.

Missouri won the game 34-27.

“It didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted it then, but it’s remarkable my perspective has changed on that game, the outcome of that game the last couple weeks,” he joked Thursday.

“Suddenly it seems like an awesome idea, I’m glad I agreed to that.”

New Mizzou AD: Revenue is "front line of competition" (2024)
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