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Monday, Jun 5, 2023

Campus & Commerce

Michael Izzi, the new athletic director at California State University – Northridge, wants to bring a new way of thinking to the school’s sports programs. To do that, he will focus, he said, on bringing together the academic side of the San Fernando Valley university and the sports side. Izzi replaced former director Brandon Martin, who was fired in March along with basketball coach Reggie Theus. Prior to joining the CSUN staff, Izzi served as director of athletics at University of California – Irvine, and before that for 16 years in sports administration at Stanford University, including as primary supervisor for several sports and handling fundraising strategies. Izzi was a student-athlete in track and field while at UCLA. He took time during his first week on campus to talk to the Business Journal about engaging the business community in the athletics program, what motivates him and whether football will ever come back to the university. Question: What attracted you to the position at Cal State Northridge? Answer: The leadership of the institution. That, and the opportunity to rebuild a program and create prominence not only locally and regionally but nationally. What is CSUN’s reputation in the wider world? They have great academic units on campus. Their academic reputation is on the rise. And what President (Dianne) Harrison has done to promote the academic side of campus and things she wants to do to create opportunity and exposure not only within the Valley but within Southern California, is critical. For me, I see a reputation that is on the rise. Your predecessor did some marketing deals with Sports Chalet and the Airtel Plaza Hotel. Do you have similar plans for the program? And what is your approach to working with local businesses? I think creating connectivity in the community is key. I think you have a large community and this institution can play a critical role in what happens here in the Valley. For me, it is going to be about extending those opportunities. When you talk about what my predecessor did, those are paths that create revenue streams and opportunities to have the connectivity with the community. I will take a look at all that stuff and put my own spin on it, revamp it and hopefully do things that are unique and new to this institution. Is that similar to what you did at UC Irvine and Stanford? When you walk into an institution, you look at what the need is. How can you take past things that you learned at other institutions and apply them here? Fortunately for me, I was part of a very sizable Division I athletic program while at Stanford. That allowed me access to a lot of other things you might not see or operate at this level. I think there are a lot of those things that can be implemented at a school like Cal State Northridge. For me, I look at this as a blank slate and a chance to rebuild it. Is getting businesses interested in the sports program a big part of the job? It will be a key component. Like anything, you have to look at where the connectivity can be created in order to create that relationship. How will you build enthusiasm for sports at CSUN? By making sure that when you do make hires, you hire the right people who fit into the model of the institution, recruiting the right young people who fit the model of the institution. We, in the greater Southern California area, like winning. The Lakers, for instance; when they’re not winning, they weren’t drawing (spectators). The previous year was the Rams; not winning, not drawing. Everyone in L.A. loves a winner. I think we have to produce winning, quality programs for people to get excited about them. Is it challenging building enthusiasm with students considering that CSUN is for the most part a commuter school in a city that has both USC and UCLA? It is going to be challenge. But I think that is part of the excitement of taking over and building a program. That is part of what drives you to do what you do. When you do start winning, the demand gets created. Right now we have some programs and coaches that can help us create that demand. Is football ever coming back to CSUN? Unless somebody is going to endow it for $350 million, probably not. The cost to create it is excessive. The reality is our football is basketball now. There are a lot of schools around the country that do incredibly well with running high-level Division I basketball. Is basketball the most popular sport at CSUN? I would say probably yes, but it remains to be seen as I have not been here ever (during the basketball season). At Irvine, we had two very popular sports – basketball and baseball. My assumption would be those are the two programs that most people hover around. We are going to try and build a base where all of them are incredibly popular with the student population. There are a lot of students who live close to campus, and there is a lot of the community here. We have a great opportunity to engage that community. And that includes the business community? Absolutely. If you look at President Harrison and how she wants to engage through athletics is very much a sign of where the leadership wants to open doors to the community because of access to events. Title: Athletic Director Organization: California State University – Northridge Born: 1960, San Gabriel Education: Bachelor’s in sociology, UCLA Personal: Married to Heidi Starnesl; five children – sons Weston, Conrad and Jagger; and daughters McKenna and Payton. Most Influential People: Bill Walsh, Stanford and NFL coach; Ted Leland, former Stanford athletic director; former secretary of state and Stanford Professor Condoleezza Rice. Career Turning Point: Taking job at Stanford University Hobbies: Family, golf, working out What motivates you? I love to build. I have been very fortunate in my career to be around a lot of really great people. (At Stanford) I worked around some of the best coaches and administrators in the business, along with some influential people who were involved with the university. I like the idea of accomplishment and creating opportunities for the students who go to school here and giving the alumni pride in what happens on campus. What are your plans for the sports department? I want to come in and create a culture of winning, a culture of success. We need to raise the bar on the level of play in order to be more competitive within the Big West conference. That is key. That was part of the charge with respect to being hired. It was to create successes at all levels. Through graduation, academic success, post-graduate success, creating a presence nationally with a couple of your athletic teams. What was your career turning point? I think Stanford. It was amazing what you got to witness not only on the academic side but on the donor and alumni side – dealing with people from the CFO at Bank of America, to dealing with Tiger Woods, to dealing with Condoleezza Rice, to dealing with Admiral (James) Stockdale, to George Shultz. The list goes on and on. Some of the top venture capital people in the country; Joe Lacob, the owner of the Golden State Warriors. It was an incredible place at an incredible time. I think having that kind of education within the world of sports was significant. Did you ever consider coaching? For about 10 minutes. I remember looking at a media guide one day and counting how many places that a coach had been and thinking “My God, he’s been to 16 different jobs.” That’s not how I’m built. I wiped that off the map pretty quickly and decided to go into administration. How would you describe your personality and management style? I’m fairly easy going. I think my management style is what I call situational. That is important because every situation you are going to deal with is going to be different. What are your hobbies? My family. I love golf. I haven’t played golf in a long time, but I love it. I want to start working out again.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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