The second and final part of the Q&A with Ian McCaw touches on two main topics — football and facility upgrades. If you missed the first part of the Q&A, you can find it here.
N&A: Almost immediately after news broke that UConn was looking to leave the American Athletic Conference, many fans felt Liberty would be a good fit for the conference. Is there a potential move to the AAC in the future?
IM: “We always monitor conference realignment. That’s a big part of what we do. All indications at this point are the AAC is going to be remain at 11 and not expand. We’re very happy with independent football and the ASUN as our all-sports conference. I think we’re very well-positioned. Certainly if an FBS opportunity came along, we’d need to evaluate it. But similar to BYU, Notre Dame, Army, they’ve all been successful long term as independent, and we feel we can do the same at Liberty.”
N&A: We’ve spoken on this topic quite a bit, but how important has scheduling flexibility been to attracting big-name programs to Williams Stadium throughout a season?
IM: “The main pieces we need to put in place as an independent are scheduling, and that’s gone extremely well; second we have our own TV contract with ESPN, which has worked out well; and we’re in the process of working on a new bowl agreement for the new bowl cycle in 2020 through 2025 and we think we’ll get a robust number of bowl tie-ins through that. It makes independent football very attractive, and coach Freeze has brought tremendous energy and excitement to the program. We’re eager to get underway this year.”
N&A: How many bowl tie-ins are you hoping to get?
IM: “2019 we just have the AutoNation Cure Bowl as our only bowl tie-in. We’re looking at multiple bowl tie-ins as our desire for ‘20 through ‘25, and we’re working on a creative arrangement to do that. We may have some news on that possibly before the start of the season.”
N&A: If UConn football moves to an independent status with its other sports moving to the Big East, does that team become attractive for Liberty on a yearly basis?
IM: “We’ve had just some preliminary discussions with UConn and they’re still working out their arrangement with the AAC and the Big East. That would be a team we would like to play on a regular basis.”
N&A: If UConn becomes an independent in 2020, would you try to be flexible with other teams on the schedule to get UConn on there immediately?
IM: “We’d be open to helping them out during the transition and seeing if there’s a way to move games and play them potentially as early as 2020.”
N&A: With UMass and Army already on the schedule, does adding UConn help expand Liberty’s brand and recognition more into the northeast?
IM: “Really the other independents become a quasi-conference for us because we’ve scheduled UMass, we’d like to schedule Connecticut. New Mexico State we play, Army we play, BYU we play, and we’re still chasing Notre Dame and we’d like to get that one scheduled. They’d become a quasi-conference and particularly for those difficult dates to schedule in late October, November, those are very attractive games. We’re eager to pursue that.”
N&A: How close are talks with Notre Dame to get the Fighting Irish on the schedule?
IM: “They are regularly contacted by us for opportunities. They are very much in demand and everyone wants to play Notre Dame as well, so they have the opportunity to be very selective. We’ve certainly expressed a desire to play them at Liberty, at Notre Dame, neutral site or international. I can’t think of another place to play them; if I could, I’d propose it.”
N&A: Circling back to the AAC; you’ve said in the past that conference has been the most challenging to schedule as an independent. With UConn’s imminent departure, could that open a door for Liberty to schedule some AAC teams in the future?
IM: “We’d certainly like to. Several of those teams are good regional games for us. We have a couple of active discussions going on with AAC members, so we do think we’ll be able to get some games scheduled down the road.”
N&A: How is the Football Operations Center expansion going? Is it on schedule for the locker rooms to be operational for the season opener?
IM: “We have two really important projects underway right now. The Liberty Football Center [the new name of the facility] will be functional in terms of the locker room beginning at the start of the season for the Syracuse game. We’ll be able to use the locker room portion of that building throughout the 2019 season. The project is scheduled to be complete in January of 2020, so just shortly after the season that’ll be done. We’re really encouraged by the designs and I think that will be really an exceptional facility at Power 5 quality. That’s going extremely well. The Liberty Arena project is also underway, and that will be scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2020. Similarly, the designs and layout that we’re seeing are really exciting.”
N&A: Is the Liberty Arena going to be completed in time for volleyball season?
IM: “We’ll think it’ll be ready in time for the basketball season in fall of 2020.”
N&A: Has the seating capacity been set for Liberty Arena?
IM: “It’ll be just under 4,000 seats. We’ll have courtside seating, we’ll have a club section, both a club section and a club hospitality area, and it will have a very intimate feel. Our goal is to create the best home-court advantage we can for our teams and a dynamic environment for our fans. We think we’ll accomplish both with that facility.”
N&A: Is building a smaller arena beneficial for basketball and volleyball, especially with not having to constantly change the Vines Center from a convocation setup to an athletic setup?
IM: “It’s going to be much better operationally for us, but it will be a great home-court advantage for our teams and exciting atmosphere for the fans and the students. With some of the larger crowds we had, particularly for men’s basketball this year, being able to put 4,000 students in a 4,000-seat venue is going to create a dynamic environment. The Vines Center is just a little bit too large for us for the most part, so we’re excited.”
N&A: Will any games be played in the Vines Center once Liberty Arena is completed?
IM: “I expect we’ll play exclusively in Liberty Arena.”
N&A: Unless there’s an opponent that could draw a crowd that would fill up the Vines Center?
IM: “Even with that, it’s hard to give up your home court and your home-court advantage. I think we’d be best serve to play all our games in the arena.”
N&A: Is the expansion of Carter Tower at Williams Stadium still on the docket?
IM: “We’re developing a dining facility in Williams Stadium on the second floor, so that will be something that will obviously be very helpful on game day and it will also be a place where our student-athletes can dine. That’s under construction right now. We do have some plans for the west side for 2020 that we’re in the process of developing right now.”
N&A: How close to completion is the East Campus project to being completed?
IM: “There’s still a few furnishings being put in place, but the East Campus improvements for field hockey and lacrosse are basically complete. That really helps them. They’ve got really nice locker rooms, offices, meeting space and team areas. Those are huge upgrades for those programs.”