New OU Athletic Director Konya: ‘Everything is on the table’

By Jake Alsko

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Jeff Konya, Oakland University’s new athletic director, appears to have arrived at the right time. Shortly after Konya’s hiring, Oakland appointed new president George W. Hynd and implemented a new branding campaign as the university undergoes a period of exciting changes.

Despite Konya, previously the athletic director of California State University Bakersfield, just beginning his work as a Golden Grizzly August 11, the renewed excitement around OU and its transitions is already apparent.

“Across campus, my meetings have been very positive,” Konya said. “They want to hear about making Oakland into a top-ten property in our classification and … people believe that it can happen.”

In terms of athletics, Konya said he and his staff will consider any and all ideas for improving the department and the student athlete experience while at the same time making carrying out Hynd’s vision for athletics their top priority.

“I’ll give him my opinion on certain issues about what I think is important and valued in that environment and what I perceive to be the opportunities for our athletic program,” Konya said.

In his introductory press conference, Konya referred to the national perception of Oakland as a “sleeping giant” in terms of potential, academically and athletically.

Parallel to Oakland’s overall rebranding efforts, Konya and others in the athletic department see opportunities to grow the OU athletics branding and marketing on a national scale as a key to putting Oakland on the map in terms of becoming one of the top schools within its Division I-AAA classification.

“We have a lot of room to grow even though we have a strong look and strong word association, but being from the west coast, if somebody said ‘Oakland University’, they wouldn’t necessarily place that school in Michigan,” Konya said. “And so we have a little bit of an identity crisis when you’re talking about a national perspective.”

On a local level, Konya views the acumen and characteristics of OU’s coaches and staff, athletic department’s broadcasting capabilities and University of Detroit rivalry all as major strengths Oakland possesses moving forward.

“I think there is an infrastructure to be successful,” he said. “I think a lot of those pieces are building blocks. And that’s why I think that if you can piece a few of them together, you can do some great things.”

Konya acknowledged the controversy Oakland athletics has endured in recent years related to accusations of former women’s basketball coach Beckie Francis emotionally abusing her players, and men’s basketball players Duke Mondy and Dante Williams receiving national attention for breaking team rules last November, stating his confidence in the way the department will operate.

“I run a transparent organization, and it’s based off of communication and relationships,” Konya said. “I don’t think that things are going to be happening that are going to go unnoticed. And hopefully we have a culture where, good, bad or indifferent, people are sharing opinions and venting those issues so that anything that could help or hurt the organization is coming to the surface.”

Konya noted that things can go wrong in life, but it is the response to that adversity that matters the most.

“When you have issues that happen in life that are out of your control, you can’t control it happening but you can control your response to them,” Konya said. “And I am comfortable with how we are going to approach those kind of issues in a systematic and clear, competent and confident way.”

Under Konya’s direction in 2012, Cal State Bakersfield athletics fundraising ranked first nationally when compared to similar public Division I-AAA institutions. During this past fiscal year that concluded on June 30, 2014, CSUB athletics set all-time institutional record-highs in scholarship fund dollars raised ($603,000) and overall fundraising (over $2,000,000).

A Royal Oak native and avid Detroit sports fan, Konya sees OU as a perfect fit for him not only for its familiar surroundings, but also for its family atmosphere in comparison to some of his previous stops.

“At this point, it’s really about the student-athlete experience,” he said. “I was a student-athlete and I valued that experience and so, under my leadership and with the great staff and coaches and support, I think that we can something really special in that family atmosphere.”

CSBU men’s basketball coach Rod Barnes expressed his appreciation for Konya’s enthusiasm during his time as athletic director in Konya’s exiting press conference.

“He rooted for our student-athletes as if there was no tomorrow,” Barnes said. “Whether it was being at a soccer game or a baseball game, or following the men’s and women’s basketball teams. A lot of times you don’t find people who would be that into every sport.

“He was for our student-athletes, he was for Bakersfield, and he was a sports guy.”

Konya said that talks of expanding the O’rena are being considered, saying that a university with 20,000 students needs a place on campus to accommodate more than a few thousand at a time.

With regards to Oakland’s reputation as a commuter school, Konya said that it is ultimately up to the student to embrace the student life and how much they get involved on campus.

Konya said the athletic department can ultimately only control students’ personal interactions with event staff and student-athletes to ensure students have a great time at games, and putting on Division I competitions in a way where students feel proud to wear the school’s black and gold colors. He said the rest is up to the student body to craft a memorable experience.

“A college that doesn’t have student life or a college that is devoid of traditions, is something that I think would be missed,” Konya said. “We have to get to that level so that there are ‘difference makers’ in our student life with respect to what athletics can bring to the table.

“And that’s where we’re open,” Konya said. “Everything’s on the table. If a student group comes to us and says ‘we’d like to do X, we’d like to do Y,’ we are open and we will have those conversations.”