Schaus, who succeeded John Iamarino as Southern Conference commissioner in June, has a true passion for the game of football. He is coming off an 11-year stint as Ohio University director of athletics where the Bobcats made 10 bowl game appearances.
He has a passion for the Southern Conference as well. His father, Fred, was basketball coach for then league-member West Virginia from 1954-60 where he coached such greats as Jerry West and “Hot Rod” Hunley.
In the years since, Schaus has paid attention to the league and touts the quality of play in the Southern Conference in all sports, particularly football.
WHAT MOST STANDS OUT ABOUT SOUTHERN CONFERENCE FOOTBALL?
Schaus: “It’s the successful history the conference has had. Year in and year out, there are multiple teams ranked and every year, we’re putting multiple teams in the playoffs like last year with Wofford and ETSU. There is quality. Seven times, we’ve had the Walter Payton Player of the Year from our conference.
“Sometimes, the high quality of FCS football isn’t seen until the playoffs by people on a national level. It’s up to us to find ways to circumvent that and sign contracts in broadcasting to get more quality exposure for our football programs. We can go toe-to-toe with anybody and I’m excited about this season and the teams we have with all the depth. There are a lot of good teams in our league this year.”
ON THAT NOTE, RIVALS WOFFORD AND FURMAN ARE PICKED 1-2, AND ETSU IS THIRD. HOW DO YOU SEE THE LEAGUE SHAPING UP THIS YEAR?
Schaus: “Those teams have been really good, but we have good teams throughout the league. It’s good to have the teams come in and talk about the significance of the Southern Conference overall. Furman came on strong last year and didn’t get in the playoffs, although they were certainly good enough to get in. Having ETSU be in the playoffs last year, that was exciting.”
WHY SHOULD A FAN ATTEND A SOUTHERN CONFERENCE GAME INSTEAD OF A SEC, ACC OR OTHER POWER 5 CONFERENCE GAME?
Schaus: “Our games are affordable and you’re not paying $2,500 to get good seats. You can park, enjoy hospitality and still see high-caliber football. You’re going to see students who end up in the NFL and compete at a high level. It’s a great product and our schools do a good job of making it entertaining to come to.
“It’s very approachable, very easy for families to come. Those are things we need to continue to sell, so I hope people will give it a try if they haven’t been to a game.”
WHAT WILL THE NEW BROADCAST PARTNERSHIPS MEAN FOR THE LEAGUE?
Schaus: “We’re in the fourth year of our contract with ESPN and we have some other sidebar agreements with Nexstar broadcasting for several over-the-air broadcasts. We’re in the process of planning for the next window of time, whether it’s something we will do with ESPN or see what else is in the marketplace. We will evaluate everything.
“There are a lot of changes on the broadcast side. You’re seeing new players come into the digital side. Instead of going to lineal commercial television stations for everything, a lot of people are going online. I think people will consume media differently so we have to observe what is going on in the marketplace and try to find the best long-term television package for us. I think we’re in a great position to really get a chance to showcase our league.”
IT’S YOUR FIRST MONTH AS COMMISSIONER, BUT WHAT ARE THE GOALS MOVING FORWARD?
Schaus: “When I was interviewed at the spring meeting, I had the chance to meet with all the school presidents, athletic directors, senior women’s administrators and faculty athletic reps. I was impressed with how well everyone gets along. There are a lot of homogeneous (objectives), even though there are differences in the kind of schools we have in the conference.
“I’ve met with the athletic directors, football coaches and have been on conference calls. It’s a great league and I’m really impressed with it. There are always the challenges of the schools in terms of resources with all they want to do, but the conference has a role. Traditionally, we’re scheduling games, championships, broadcasts and officiating.
“One thing important to me is what are we going to do the next five years and beyond. We’re creating a long-term plan and figuring out what is our vision, what are our priorities, top goals. We have to have specific strategies on how we’re going to improve and to follow through on those details with a timeline to complete those things. We need to figure out where we’re going and how are we going to get there. There is a lot of buy-in from the presidents and athletic directors on that concept. We have to take the next step collectively to get there.”