When Kenneth “Ziggy” Siegfried officially took over the director of athletics position at Cal State Bakersfield in August 2015 following one year as the interim AD, he fielded dozens of congratulatory calls and messages.
One came from Big West Conference commissioner Dennis Farrell.
“Hey, if there’s anything I can do to help you,” Siegfried recalled Farrell saying before cutting himself short.
“Well, Dennis, I do have something you can help me with,” Siegfried responded.
Siegfried wanted to move CSUB into the Big West.
Since his first day on the job, that has been Siegfried’s “top priority.” The groundwork and mission started before Siegfried ever set foot in Bakersfield, but he achieved his paramount goal with the Nov. 27 announcement that CSUB will leave the Western Athletic Conference and compete in the Big West starting July 2020.
“It is the perfect conference for us,” Siegfried said.
Siegfried approached the process of trying to get into the Big West like fundraising, which he has a significant background in. That experience includes time on the fundraising leadership team at the University of Memphis.
He knows when you ask a potential supporter for money to fund a project and the person declines, you find out why instead of immediately looking elsewhere.
The Big West passed on CSUB in 2010, inviting the University of Hawaii instead. CSUB’s proposal was rejected as recently as the spring when the Big West declined to invite the Roadrunners.
“You gotta get to the bottom of why they said no, why they have been saying no,” Siegfried said. “... We started asking a lot of those questions. I asked Dennis (Farrell) a lot of those questions.”
Among those was value. What would CSUB add to the conference?
The men’s basketball team’s Western Athletic Conference titles the last two years and National Invitation Tournament run last season answered that question.
Siegfried also made his argument that CSUB is the primary sports entity in a large city with a strong media market, too.
CSUB’s student body size of under 10,000 — which is less than half the size of all the Big West schools — was a concern because of the athletics money that comes from student fees. Siegfried countered that because Bakersfield’s student fee is higher it makes the difference in number of students irrelevant.
He put together an 81-page proposal book for the conference and spent a full day presenting at the Big West offices in the spring. When the ensuing vote did not go the Roadrunners’ way, Siegfried didn’t have to submit another proposal.
The Big West had thought 10 would be its ideal number of teams but couldn’t reach a super-majority decision in the spring on whether UC San Diego or CSUB was the best addition, Farrell said. Both schools were passed on until talks started again after the summer. The agreement to add both together was reached one week before the official announcements.
The Roadrunners will start competing in the Big West after July 2020 to give UC San Diego time to build up its scholarship fund with student fees during its transition to Division I, give the Big West time to adapt its schedules and championship formats, and to give the WAC time to adjust with the loss of CSUB.
“We wouldn’t want to bring one school one year and one school another year because that would play chaos with our scheduling models,” Farrell said.
CSUB will have to pay a “minimal” entrance fee and the yearly membership of about $40,000 to $50,000 is roughly half of what the school currently pays in the WAC, Siegfried said. Farrell said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss the “rather nominal” initiation fee and buy in to the conference as equity.
As of Wednesday, the WAC has not imposed a fee on CSUB for leaving. If a school gives at least 12 months notice, there generally is no penalty, Siegfried said. CSUB could end up paying the membership fee for an extra year, Siegfried added.
Siegfried hasn’t finalized the details in terms of revenue sharing with the conference but said it will be a “substantial increase” over the money the school gets from the WAC. Part of that comes from the Big West’s ESPN and Fox deals. CSUB will go from having just 10 of its men’s basketball games broadcast on ESPN3 this season to having seven sports with all their home games broadcast on television or online, Siegfried said.
So now that his top priority has been achieved, Siegfried has shifted his energy to fundraising for facility improvements including renovations and a new weight lifting and conditioning building that would cost $6 million to $7 million — naming rights available, he added.
And he wants to get the money to fully fund all of CSUB’s scholarships allowed by the NCAA. Currently, only three of the 16 sports are funded for the full allotment, Siegfried said.
“We’re pumped about it, but we don’t do a lot of celebrations,” Siegfried said. “My main focus and our main focus is now what do we need to be at the top of that conference?”
Siegfried did allow himself a few fist pumps, alone, behind his closed office door the day CSUB received the invite from the Big West. It was almost like hitting a game-winning shot.
Jon Mettus can be reached at 661-395-7389. Follow him on Twitter at @jmettus.