Episode 14: Richard Duran, University of the Incarnate Word

Cody Junot (00:00):
Welcome to A New Gameday, powered by Nevco, changing the game with scoreboards, video displays and scoring solutions. I’m your host, Cody Junot, and in this podcast series, we’re talking with the college athletic administrators and leaders about a new game day as we get set to thrive whenever that is, whenever we return to play, in a post COVID-19 world. We’ll discuss what that new game day is going to look like, what it’s going to feel like and how administrators are adapting to our ever changing world. Our guest today is one of the newest athletic directors having been appointed to his post in June of 2020, and as the youngest athletic director in Division One. Pleased to be joined today by Incarnate Word Director of Athletics, Richard Duran. Richard, appreciate you taking the time this afternoon. How’s everybody at UIW? How’s everybody in San Antonio?

Richard Duran (00:46):
Well, first thanks for having me, Cody. I will say there is a lot more smiles now that we’ve announced our decision for what the fall is going to look like for our campus and student athletes. So, people are in good spirits, people are excited about the good work ahead of us, and I would think things are going well.

Cody Junot (01:01):
I imagine it’s never easy to step into the chair, but to do it in the midst of a pandemic, I’m sure only multiplied some of those challenges for you and your staff. And let’s start there. Let’s start with the decision that UIW made and the decision that the Southland Conference made last week in deciding to pause fall sports, but giving institutions, like yours, the option to move forward with non-conference competition should you choose. You guys opting to not play this fall.What went into those decisions and how were some of those conversations?

Richard Duran (01:36):
You know, there’s been some great conversations over the past couple months with the Southland Conference, athletic directors and Commissioner Burnett has done a good job leading the group. And I think for the past two months, my perspective was spring was the way to go and I really felt that that was going to give us the best opportunity to put on fall championships and compete for conference championships. I was the lone voice in the room, and then as time went on and we got closer and closer to a decision point, perspectives began to change a little bit, and I would say over the past week or so, that group of ADs, which is a great group, really knew that, ‘Okay, look, we see what everybody else across the country is doing. And now it’s time for we’re at a decision point, we have to go a direction and we have to make a decision.’

Richard Duran (02:18):
And so we made some recommendations to the CEOs of the Southland Conference, and I know they had some great conversations and everybody was looking for some different elements in the decision. And I think we came to a fair and a great compromise for everybody and allowed some opportunities to play those non-conference games. And here at UIW, when Dr. Evans, our president, hung up with the CEO call, we got our leadership team on the call and it was myself, our chief of staff, my direct supervisor, the chief development officer, and Dr. Evans and it was quickly turned into…for the past two months, we’ve been talking about health and safety. And if the NCAA is not putting on post-season, if the Southland Conference is not putting on their season, why are we going to put our student athletes out there for preseason competition?

Richard Duran (03:04):
And, you know, it was a quick decision, and I’m glad I had some great leadership support at UIW. And after that phone call, you know, I quickly called Baylor and let them know the Cardinals wouldn’t be traveling to Waco this year, and we’ve been in great communication with them. Jeremiah Dickies does a great job as the Deputy AD up there. We just want to let them know, ‘Hey, we hope to play in the future and hopefully we can reschedule this, you know, later down the line.’ So that’s kind of what into the decision making from the Southland perspective, and then just keeping our leadership informed and really knowing where we stood. And it was a pretty easy decision from there.

Cody Junot (03:35):
Yeah,t hat decision has built up since, you know, hard to believe you go all the way back to the middle of March and the NCAA canceling, you know, ultimately March madness and here we are fast forward now in late August making decisions about the fall. I would imagine that your fellow ADs and the CEOs, they met in different ways than they would have in the past, right? It was all in a virtual environment over the phone, Zoom, whatever it may have been. And that’s been one of the key things about this pandemic because it’s forced us to change the way we communicate. So you and your team there at UIW, how have you taken the challenge of communicating with your fans, keeping them informed, keeping your staff informed, your student athletes informed, letting them know along the way, but what has the communication looked like? What are the challenges, and then what are the solutions that your team has come up with those challenges?

Richard Duran (04:29):
Yeah, that’s a great question. I think the biggest thing is, you know, I will say, you know, historically in college athletics, our summer period where there’s no competition, we try to engage in different ways than we would because, you know, there’s not box scores coming out and there’s not wins and losses happening. And so we have somewhat of a template of the feature stories and the creative ideas you do typically over a summer period to build the excitement leading into the fall and the school year. But, you know, having to do that starting in March and carrying it on through the entire summer, and now we’re looking at it through fall, you know, it makes it difficult, but luckily we have a great team, a great external team, and, you know, our media relations department, you know, shifted to more of the feature story elements and really trying to find the story within the stories with our student athletes.

Richard Duran (05:11):
And they did a phenomenal job of that. And picking up, we had some tremendous media coverage locally here, during this time because there were such great stories to tell, but then also looking at some of our alums in the medical profession and sharing the great work that they’re doing and the great work they’re serving their communities and service is really what UIW is based off with our founding sisters came here to serve a community in need. And so, to be able to share that story and share how our alums are serving their communities. So we’ve really done that externally, and now, looking into what this falls to look like for the first time we’re going to have our student athletes back. So now to tell a story of how do we reengage them? How is it looking getting back to practices and strength and conditioning, and just resocializing with the traditional campus environment in a much different way, but yet they’re still back, and also communicating to our student athletes directly. There wasn’t a lot of decisions over the summer, a lot of unknown. So trying to update them when you can. Been in great contact with our SAC president and really allowing SAC to take a lead in some of the communication strategies. So it’s been a lot of different areas, but luckily we use the summer kind of framework and extended it over the past few months.

Cody Junot (06:17):
It’s a great point that we hadn’t really thought about until now is that you’re right, we go back to March with, there’s a void of content because traditionally there’s basketball going on baseball, softball, spring sports, and then you get the summer where you do feel some of that content void. But now you’ve got to expand that through the fall and hopefully we can get back to playing games in the spring. Has your team leaned on, you mentioned different stories they’re telling, have you put a bigger emphasis, have you had to invest more in digital media and what are some of the strategies that you’re incorporating there?

Richard Duran (06:52):
Yeah, you know, I’ll tell you this. We’ve been blessed to have a great support team across campus and our PR department. And they’ve really helped us develop some ways to communicate in ways we weren’t doing before. And not only from the feature story, but looking at the different videos and contents we could put out there, whether it’s our social media director or their video support people across campus. And right now, you know, our institution has been in a hiring freeze, and so we have lot of open external positions. And so we’ve really stressed making sure we’re effectively utilizing our personnel. And, you know, right now we have some support coming in from the video perspective. And I think we’re gonna be able to do a lot more of that than we have over the past few months. And so really just trying to get the people in place and utilizing their talents to the best of our ability, because, you know, we did have a reduced staff, but I still think the team pulled it together and put out some great production efforts from different types of contact, whether it be digital, whether it be storytelling. But again, I’m excited cause we’re going to have some more support coming in very soon. It’s going to allow us to do a little bit more than what we’ve been able to.

Cody Junot (07:54):
It’s good to hear that you’re gonna be able to grow that team at UIW. Now transitioning to the new game day and as we look at whether it’s football happening in the spring and it starts in January or February, those plans are certainly still being developed or basketball, right. There’s an opportunity for maybe basketball to be played before we actually play football and an into the spring. Taking the lessons that you’ve learned from a storytelling standpoint and a digital and social media standpoint since March going back to March to where we are now, what are some of the things you can lean on from those lessons and incorporate in that new game day, once we finally returned to play?

Richard Duran (08:34):
Yeah, 1. I think we’ve learned to build excitement even though there isn’t an event we could really point to. And, you know, I think right now the excitement is with our student athletes returning. When we look at the new game day, if we’re able to compete in basketball in the next few months, 1. The capacity is going to look different. We’ve already marked out our basketball and what capacity is going to look like, but also the end game elements and maybe not having our spirits squad so close to the floor or the pep band in there. So, looking at all these different elements, I know when we were planning for football and we were thinking about doing mask giveaway, we talked about all the masks have to be individually wrapped in plastic. What if they weren’t effective masks?Would there be liability on our department? So trying to answer all these different questions that are coming up now that previously weren’t really a thought. And so, trying to fit our model of what we’re trying to do in game in this new world has proven tasks and challenges, but luckily if you work at it and you try to be creative and think outside the box, there solutions to everything. You’ve just got to figure out what those are and what you can actually successfully implement.

Cody Junot (09:41):
Perfect pivot there and segue into being creative and thinking outside the box because that is how a lot of departments are going to have to approach this new game day whenever we do return, especially when it comes to a revenue standpoint. You go back to March and you lose NCAA revenues, and now, I guess the football revenues are up in the air, but in the Southland Conference, what do those look like without football? So revenue has always played an important role, but I think it’s going to take on a much larger role than it has before. So what are some of the creative ways in which you can engage your partners, engage your sponsors and engage your constituents, right? It may be ways that you hadn’t before as you look to continue to generate revenue and provide value to your partners.

Richard Duran (10:28):
It’s been intersting. When you lose those in-game opportunities, you’re losing that inventory to be able to support your partners. And it’s been really a collaborative effort because they have some great ideas, as well, and, you know, different things, whether it’s a Coke sponsored video, or whether it’s a new kind of ad campaign that we want to support the efforts. They’ve had some different things that they thought of because, you know, we’ve got to make up that inventory somewhere and we can throw a lot of ideas out there and some have been great. Some of them they haven’t liked, but at the end of the day, it’s just about that communication being open to different ideas and knowing at the end of the day, they’re going to continue to support you, but you’ve got to do everything you can to make sure you’re supporting them at the best of your ability, as well.

Richard Duran (11:05):
So, it’s been exciting because it’s made us think and made us really take a pause and take a look at the big picture and think how that partner, how do they fit into the big picture now? And thankfully, the partners have been understanding, they’ve been appreciative of the position that we’re all in, but that has not slowed their excitement about being in such a great relationship with UIW and the Cardinal Athletics. So, it’s just been a collaborative effort and making sure at the end of the day, they are happy with the product we’re producing.

Cody Junot (11:35):
You talk about collaboration, and it doesn’t sound like it, but is that a big shift in the way things were maybe done? It sounds like you’ve always had a collaborative effort with your partners, but just how important is that, especially now, maybe more than ever when there’s so much uncertainty about the future for both athletics and the partners themselves, right.?They are businesses that have been hurt by this pandemic, as well.

Richard Duran (11:58):
Yeah, you know, collaboration and communication. They were always huge and needed to be successful, but now they are a daily necessity because if you’re not willing to give a little, take a little, you’re not going to be able to come to a solution that everybody’s gonna be happy with. I’ve always said you can’t sell when someone doesn’t want to buy, and so if someone’s looking for more video content or social media activation strategies, you can’t be selling them partnering in a billboard potentially in town or things like that. So you have to really just sit there and listen, and then take it all in and think, ‘Okay, what were we trying to do with their original package? And now what can we do in this new world?’ Communication, collaboration have always been needed, like I said, but now more than ever you need to do it on a day-to-day basis to make sure you’re allowing successful relationships to continue and that knowing you’re not going to lose that partner because they become frustrated with you.

Cody Junot (12:50):
Talked a little bit here this afternoon about how you’re getting the message out, right. And how you’re connecting with your fan bases and your student athletes and your coaches and your constituents. Some of the ways in which you can help generate some more revenues and bring back some of those lost revenues from last spring, and then into, into this fall. But one thing we haven’t touched upon here that I want to own a close with is when you are talking with folks, whether it’s friends, family, you’re out in the community, your constituents, staff, your coaches, your student athletes, what’s the one message that you’re driving home as the leader of the UIW athletic department? What’s the one message that you’re driving home, and we got a little bit more clarity right last week with some decisions, but what’s the one message that you’re constantly driving home as we deal with this pandemic?

Richard Duran (13:34):
Yeah, I think it’s really two for me. And the first one’s kind of my base philosophy of do the right things for the right reasons. And through all this there is a great opportunity to try to get a competitive edge, and over the summer, we did not rush back into getting our student athletes here. I think our fan base was excited about a football season. We didn’t give our student athletes the opportunity to compete or train over the summer like we traditionally do because we were fearful to rush back into it and looking at following those NCAA recommendations at the time and putting a plan in place that met all of those. So, I think the biggest thing is do the right things for the right reasons, even if nobody else is doing what you’re doing and you’re becoming a little bit of a challenge because you’re not able to do what they’re doing, but if you’re doing it for the right reasons and then that’s okay, we’ll be able to overcome that. And, you know, the second thing is, we strive to create champions in the classroom and the community, in competition and the classroom we’ve been able to do that, you know, in communicating the successes we’re having the classroom, and then having another record setting community service here when we didn’t have after March to go and do things locally, so shifting to those online opportunities, and now in competition, we have just been gifted an opportunity to train over the next few months to get ready for a potential spring season for our fall sports so we’ve got to take full advantage of that. So, do the right things for the right and continue to try to build those champions in the classroom, in the community and getting ready to become champions in competition.

Cody Junot (14:57):
Doing the right things for a right reason, A great message no matter the time or pandemic or not. It’s just, I think, a quality way to go through life. Richard, really appreciate your time here this afternoon. Appreciate you filling us in on the things that you and your team are working on at UIW, as we get set to return a new game day.

Richard Duran (15:17):
It’s been great. Thank you so much for having me.