He encouraged me to do some research and further explore (SUU’s job opening) and the further I explored it, talked to a couple of people ... I felt like it was potentially a place where I could make a big difference —Jason Butikofer
CEDAR CITY — Jason Butikofer recalls driving past Cedar City on the highway a few times but hadn’t spent much more time there than that leading up to his final interviews for Southern Utah University’s athletic director opening.
Now it’s home.
Butikofer, formerly serving as Army’s senior associate athletic director, was named SUU’s athletic director Aug. 1 after a two-month national search, and he will officially take the helm of the Thunderbirds next week.
However, his journey to Cedar City started with a tip from a close friend. Butikofer learned from David Benedict, Auburn’s chief operating officer and an SUU football alumnus, that SUU’s athletic director job was set to open as Ken Beazer was stepping down from the position in late May.
“(Benedict) is probably my closest friend in this industry, so we had talked a lot over the years. Through our friendship, through working together at Arizona State, I had heard a lot about Cedar City, Southern Utah and his pride for the institution,” Butikofer said, in a phone interview with the Deseret News.
“He encouraged me to do some research and further explore (SUU’s job opening) and the further I explored it, talked to a couple of people ... I felt like it was potentially a place where I could make a big difference," he said.
Benedict pointed Butikofer in SUU’s direction knowing the university’s need for experience in funding as the college landscape continues to change.
“We are so pleased that a man of Jason’s caliber has chosen to bring his experience and skill set to our organization,” said Scott Wyatt, SUU’s president, during the announcement of the hiring.
While at Army, Butikofer oversaw operations, corporate sponsorships and ticket sales before supervising many of the school’s athletic teams. Before that, he served as a director of funding and seating for the University of Minnesota and has experience with Arizona State, Iowa and in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams.
“I’ve significantly raised the bar from a revenue standpoint in each one of my stops,” he said. At Army, the school recently duplicated a record $37 million in revenue over the past two reporting years. Minnesota’s revenue numbers also steadily grew while he was there.
Meanwhile, SUU generated the lowest revenue of all 11 members of the Big Sky Conference while on the smallest budget, according to the NCAA’s finance reports from the 2013-2014 budget year.
“I’ve always went with my gut, and my gut feeling told me that this would be a good fit and, again, some place I could make a big difference in an important time for an institution and for the athletic department,” Butikofer said.
Though SUU’s numbers rank last among Big Sky, the school’s athletic program grew significantly under Beazer. The school’s revenues and budgets each doubled from 2006, when Beazer took over, until 2014. It also entered the Big Sky under Beazer’s tenure, fulfilling a longtime goal for a university that became Division I in 1993.
Since joining the Big Sky, SUU reached the FCS playoffs for the first time in 2013, and also produced its first NFL Draft pick earlier in the year. In 2012, it also produced its first NCAA title winner and Olympian in Cameron Levins.
“Ken created a great foundation there at SUU,” Butikofer said, adding that he was pleased with the coaches currently under contract and a “fiscally efficient” administrative staff. “Ken put the program in place doing more with less. I guess when I look to the future of this program, I would probably outline it strategically that I’m going to push to do more with more.”
As the new sheriff in town, Butikofer said he plans on using his first few weeks as the athletic director to assess his new situation at SUU, meeting with staff members, coaches, community leaders and alumni, among others before piecing together his initial game plan.
“I’m going to come in with eyes wide open,” Butikofer said. “I’m going to look at things in my perspective and through my lens. I’m a very strategic thinker and being able to get out and talk to a lot of people and hear their perspective is an important piece of the process for me.”
Because of SUU’s smaller revenues and budget, much has been rumored about the state of SUU’s athletic future, including the thought of potentially dropping down to Division II, if not more. However, that’s not on Butikofer’s mind.
“A significant priority is going to be revenue generation and probably a specific emphasis on fundraising and really reaching out to alumni and connecting them back to the institution through athletics,” Butikofer said. “I really think there’s a great opportunity there right now to look at the student-athlete experience and take a look at the facilities and the alignment, and some of those things and also make those priorities as we look to win Big Sky championships and compete at the NCAA level. I feel like there’s a lot of growth opportunity.”
He added that in his discussions during the interview process with SUU that he didn’t believe that a drop to Division II was “on the table.”
“I did not accept this position to become a Division II athletic director,” he said. “When I talk about making a big difference or impacting an institution in an important time, I’m going to come in and generate the resources, if necessary, and really put the structure in place so that any thought process, rumblings, conversations — all that basically just dissipates. I have nothing but complete confidence in my ability to do that.”
Whatever the future of SUU athletics is, Butikofer has a week until he officially begins the next chapter in the program’s history. He admits he’s anxious to get his newest gig running. He’s also excited from what he’s seen from a town he no longer passes by on the highway.
“I feel like the passion is there,” Butikofer said. “There’s a recurring message from coaches, the staff and our external constituents that people want to help.”