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AD Scott Leykam's fundraising efforts aim to make Pilot sports programs more competitive

COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Scott Leykam, in his third year as athletic director at the University of Portland, estimates that 40 to 50 percent of his job is spent with fundraising and community relations. Scott Leykam has spent much of his professional career working in fundraising — for 13 years at Stanford, then for four years as senior association commissioner for external relations with the West Coast Conference.

So perhaps Leykam is the right man in the right place at the right time as athletic director for the University of Portland.

Leykam, 41, is just completing his third year on the job at The Bluff, where he oversees 13 varsity programs, 285 student-athletes and an annual budget of $13.9 million.

“To be competitive, program by program, the ante is up nationally in Division I athletics,” says Leykam, a Bay Area native and a 1995 graduate of WCC member Saint Mary’s. “In terms of facilities, academics, housing and the coaching, you have to be able to offer that complete package. Recruiting is getting more competitive by the day. Being competitive among our peers in the conference is the most important thing.”

That means having enough money to do things right. Though Leykam’s most visible duty as athletic director is the hiring and firing of coaches and staff members, he estimates that 40 to 50 percent of his job is spent with fundraising and community relations. The coaches play a large role in those endeavors, too, “but the last thing you want is coaches to get bogged down in fundraising,” Leykam says. “They have enough to do. There’s a balance to that.”

In Leykam’s first year at UP (2012-13), the Pilots were up about 45 percent in sponsorships, he says, and the figures have increased this year to $1.12 million in trade and $460,000 in cash sponsorships.

“Those are big numbers for us,” he says. “Corporate partners are a key revenue.”

Last summer, the Pilots agreed to an eight-year agreement with Nike to provide footwear and apparel. The company also is a “premier sponsor” of UP sporting events. “It runs deep,” Leykam says of the relationship.

Since he took over in July 2012, Leykam has overseen numerous construction and renovation projects, featuring the Beauchamp Recreation and Wellness Center, named after a former UP president, the Rev. Bill Beauchamp.

Construction for the 78,000-square-foot, two-story structure — which will serve as the practice facility for UP basketball and volleyball teams — is scheduled to finish June 17 and open the third week in August. It also will be available for use by the general student body, with cardio and weight training rooms, two recreational basketball courts, yoga studios, cross-fit rooms and a rock wall. Leykam estimates the cost in the mid-to-high $20 millions.

“It’s a huge piece for both our athletic department and the school,” Leykam says.

Three of UP’s four existing athletic structures — Chiles Center for basketball and volleyball, Joe Etzel Field for baseball, and the Louisiana-Pacific Tennis Center — have had major remodels. The Pilots are looking at covering the grandstands at the fourth, Merlo Field/Clive Charles Soccer Complex, which has a natural turf playing surface that is rehabbed annually.

UP recently completed a $2.5 million renovation at the Chiles Center, expanding the ticket office, men’s locker rooms, weight room, training room and a sports Hall of Fame room.

A $1 million Joe Etzel Field project this year reaped a new Astroturf field, scoreboard, bullpen and fencing, and a grass berm was added down the right-field line. Fundraising for lighting that will allow for twilight and night games is expected to be completed in time for next season.

Over the last year, a team room and locker rooms have been renovated and a live video streaming operation added at the Louisiana Pacific Tennis Center.

On the horizon, however, looms something as big or bigger than anything that has happened in years in terms of UP athletic facilities. The university owns 35 acres of land along the Willamette River along the south side of campus. Tentative plans for the site call for construction of a track and field plant, a tennis center, two full-size soccer practice fields, and a boat house and dock for the crew program.

Initially, the Pilots had looked at moving baseball there, too, but opted for the sport to remain at its current site next to the Chiles Center and Merlo Field sites.

“The river property will be a game-changer,” Leykam says. “We’ve remediated the land, and we’ll start raising money for (the project) soon. In the next 18 to 36 months, we’ll begin the project.”

In recent years, men’s cross country and track and field have been Portland’s most successful programs. Coaches Rob Conner and Ian Soloff have done it without a track. Pilot runners and track and field athletes train at Roosevelt High.

“We want to continue on the success of the programs Rob and Ian have built,” Leykam says. “We need our own track facility. We have also joined the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation — with schools such as Stanford, Oregon and UCLA — for indoor track.”

Conner has spearheaded the Pilots’ most successful program during his 25 years as head coach of men’s cross country and track, winning 23 conference cross country titles. Since 1996, his cross country teams have finished among the top 10 at the NCAA Championships seven times, including third last fall. Conner’s cross country teams have reached the NCAA meet 10 straight years; in that duration, Oregon has made it eight times. The Pilots have advanced at least one runner to the NCAA track and field championships 23 straight years.

Under Soloff, the UP women have won the WCC cross country championship several times, finishing second last fall.

The Pilots’ most important sport, though, is men’s basketball.

“From a conference standpoint, 93 percent of the revenue is driven by men’s basketball,” Leykam says. “Gonzaga has dominated. Saint Mary’s has been consistently strong, and the other schools are trying to carve their path.”

In his nine years as head basketball coach, Eric Reveno is 128-157 overall, including 54-84 in WCC play. The Pilots, who lost to BYU in the semifinals of the conference tournament Monday night, have never reached the tourney finals during Reveno’s reign. They have had winning league records only twice, finishing third at 9-5 in 2008-09 and third at 10-4 in 2009-10. The Pilots tied for sixth place among the 10 teams at 7-11 this season.

Leykam and Reveno worked together at Stanford, where Reveno was an assistant coach for 10 years.

“I’ve known Eric for almost 20 years,” Leykam says. “Eric has been at the University of Portland for nine years. He wouldn’t be here if he didn’t bring value.”

Asked if Reveno’s job is in jeopardy, Leykam says, “You can’t just look at the coaches. We have to look in the mirror. Are we doing enough with facilities, cost of attendance, recruiting budgets, everything, to make sure our coaches are on an even footing with our peers?”

Average attendance for UP men’s basketball games at the 4,852-seat Chiles Center this season was 2,156. That’s less than the 2,971 average for UP women’s soccer — Portland’s other major program — last fall at Merlo Field.

The Pilots were a national power for years, first under the late Clive Charles, then with current coach Garrett Smith. From 1994-2005, they reached at least the national semifinals seven times and the finals three times, winning in 2002 and ’05.

After going 17-3-1 and losing in the first round of the NCAA playoffs in 2013, the Pilots were 7-9-3 last fall, missing the national tournament for the first time since 1999. In 12 seasons as head coach, Smith is 200-47-20, with seven conference titles.

“We lost some key pieces from our 2013 team and had some trouble last season,” Leykam says. “Women’s soccer has become more competitive nationally, with the Pac-12, ACC and SEC placing more emphasis. We play a very difficult schedule. We don’t dodge anybody. We have a good recruiting class coming in. We’ll look to turn the corner next year. I like where we’re positioned in the next two to three years.”

Men’s soccer, which averaged 1,148 fans per home date in 2014, has struggled in recent years under Bill Irwin. The Pilots were 4-11-4 overall and 0-6-1 in conference play last fall and are 24-42-8 over the past three seasons. They haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2009.

Under Charles — from 1986-2002, UP was 213-91-32 —winning five league crowns and twice reaching the NCAA semifinals.

“I don’t think anyone is pleased with last year’s results,” Leykam says. “The biggest thing is to adjust to the recruiting landscape. I like our returnees and the kids we signed for next season. But we can’t finish at the bottom in men’s soccer, and Bill agrees with me. The conference has gotten better, but we should be in the top half of the league.”

Most of the other UP athletic programs have not been successful in terms of record.

Aaron Gross’ men’s tennis teams have had several winning seasons in his 18 years and tied for third in the WCC last season — he was named conference coach of the year — but generally finish in the middle of the pack. During Susie Campbell-Gross’ 20 years at the women’s tennis helm, the Pilots have never finished higher than fourth.

In his 17th year as baseball coach, Chris Sperry has experienced only one winning season and had a career record through last weekend of 283-472 overall and 122-140 in conference action. The Pilots were 4-15 this season heading into a Tuesday matchup with Oregon State.

“The competition has gotten tougher, and we’re competing in a cold-weather environment against WCC schools such as Pepperdine, Loyola-Marymount and San Diego,” Leykam says. “But with the money we’ve invested in the program and facilities comes higher expectations.”

Under new coaches this season, the Pilots finished 7-23 in women’s’ volleyball (Brent Crouch) and 4-26 in women’s basketball (Cheryl Sorenson). Leykam says he is optimistic the new regimes will produce better results in both programs.

Leykam says the Pilots will likely add a women’s sand volleyball program in the near future.

“Every other school in the conference is going to have it,” he says.

Don’t look for a change in conference affiliation, Leykam says.

“I like the WCC a lot,” he says. “For us, the institutions fit, and it’s not just geography. We’re all private, faith-based institutions, so we have similar models.”

All the while, Leykam will continue to focus on fundraising to make UP programs more attractive to recruits, who can help produce winning teams that fans want to watch.

“We need to step up some sports,” he says. “I like where we are in others. We’re working very hard to get every program moving in the right direction.”

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