John McCutcheon has a panoramic view of the sun-splashed Santa Ynez Mountain Range from his second-floor office in UCSB’s Intercollegiate Athletics Building.
The Gauchos’ director of athletics will take an occasional photograph through his expansive window and text it to the snowbound colleagues he left behind at the University of Massachusetts.
“It’s the sadist in me,” he said through a sheepish smile.
But those photographs will also show the industrialist in the former A.D. of the UMass Minutemen. Benjamin Franklin, the old revolutionary, said it best: “It’s easy to see, hard to foresee.”
McCutcheon foresaw an enhanced infrastructure when he took command of Gaucho athletics nearly five years ago, announcing it as a priority. He has a front-row seat to the results.
Pauley Track, remodeled less than two years ago at a cost of $2.6 million, hums with activity directly below his window.
“It’s easy to lose sight when you’re in this business why you’re doing all this,” McCutcheon began, “but then you turn around and look at the kids running on the track.
“And it’s not just the track teams. It’ll be basketball players and everyone else doing their conditioning, with our strength and conditioning staff, and working so hard at it.
“It kind of reminds you why we’re trying to do all this and why it’s so important to put all these facilities in place.”
Harder Stadium, remodeled and improved for the 2018 College Cup, is also within McCutcheon’s office view, ready to play host to another NCAA men’s soccer championship next December.
“The women’s soccer locker room was renovated over there, and the Storke Practice Field for soccer has been a big improvement, too,” McCutcheon said.
And then there’s the newly installed, $1.6-million lights at 26-year-old Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, winking their approval at the UCSB A.D. every time they’re clicked on for baseball practice. The Gauchos played their first unofficial game there on Friday, facing their alumni, while the official unveiling will come on Feb. 17 with the home opener against Cal.
“I think the lights are probably the most visible thing we’ve done, no pun intended,” McCutcheon said. “They’ve been talked about for so long, and it’s pretty satisfying to see them finally up and working and functional. They’re state-of-the-art, too.
“The project came out as well as we could’ve hoped. It’s great to be able to give some resources to the coaches and the teams that they really need.”
The lights are a necessity for UCSB to play host to a four-team, NCAA Regional. Temporary seating would also have to be added.
“It’s going to be a challenge making it financially viable with the number of seats we have,” McCutcheon said. “We’ll look at ways to augment on a temporary basis, of course, and we’re always looking at ways to do better with our facilities, whether that’s baseball or softball or the Thunderdome.”
There is a master plan for a new baseball-softball complex, but it would take a mega-donation for that to happen.
The Thunderdome is out of McCutcheon’s view, on the other side of the ICA Building, but it’s also a big part of his vision. A renovated locker room, state-of-the-art video board, and new chairback seating in the reserved section have been the most recent improvements.
“We’re looking at the possibility of converting the entire facility into chair-type seating, which would be pretty transformational over there,” he said. “The bench seats have been there for a while.
“They have backs on them but they’re not that comfortable, and they’re getting older and will experience mechanical problems from time to time. We saw what an impact the current seats have in just upping the quality of the feel of the facility. We still have a ways to go with that project with no real timeline yet, but we’ve definitely gathered some information about what that would cost.”
The next transformation below McCutcheon’s window will be the Arnhold Tennis Center, a $5.25 million stadium made possible by a donation from John and Jody Arnhold. The project will begin as soon as it receives Coastal Commission approval.
“We have the dominoes in place after that,” McCutcheon said. “We hope it’ll be ready sometime in the middle of next year. About this time next year is probably more realistic.
“We’ll do everything we can to move it forward as quick as we can.”
The tennis center will include locker rooms for both the men’s and women’s teams, a multi-purpose room, stadium seating for nearly 300, and a scoreboard.
“It’s going to be pretty nice. It’ll have locker rooms for both men and women,” McCutcheon said. “It’ll have a common room — a multi-purpose room.
“Six of the courts will be completely rebuilt while two of the courts will get resurfaced. All of the fencing gets replaced. It’ll be a pretty nice facility.”
He’s also worked to enhance the Gaucho operations in sports medicine, compliance, academic support, and strength and conditioning.
“Those things touch all the programs, as opposed to some things that you invest in that maybe touch only one or two programs,” McCutcheon said. “We take a lot of pride in the impact that’s had for the whole department.
“It’s not just me, but people like Kelly Barsky (deputy athletics director), who works so hard and really takes the lead in a lot of those internal things. Those are just as impactful, if not more so, than some of the facility improvements.”
The building came only after McCutcheon had built up his development staff.
“It’s definitely worth the investment, not only in the fund-raising for facilities but for operational support and scholarship support,” he said. “We’re able to expand the number of donors we have and the amount of money we bring in. Nothing ever gets less expensive, so the need keeps growing in that area.
“We’ve had record years here over the past couple of years with our fund-raising efforts, so that’s an area where you can definitely quantify if it’s having a significant return on investment.
Much still needs to be done. Campus Pool, built during World War II as a crash-training tank for Marine Corps pilots, remains an issue despite recent efforts.
“Those patchwork fixes are pretty short-term and not too cost-effective,” McCutcheon said. “Where we go as a campus with that is still an issue. Fund-raising-wise, it’s a big-ticket item.
“There isn’t anything you can do to just take that first step that isn’t close to over $13 million.”
But it’s just another mountain to scale outside McCutcheon’s window.
Mark Patton’s column appears on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.