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May 5, 2014

Battle looks to the future

There's nothing overly specific in Bill Battle's five- to 10-year vision for the University of Alabama's athletic department. No talk of championships in specific sports, although it's implied. No mentions of win totals, top 10 finishes or sparkling new facilities.

When Battle speaks of the future, he sounds like a man with years of experience in the business world - a man with an understanding of how to balance a multimillion dollar budget - and one who knows the challenges and opportunities of intercollegiate athletics.

Battle, who recently marked his one-year anniversary as UA's director of athletics, speaks in broader terms for the department's future. It's clear in his mind. He has but one goal: To leave the Alabama athletic department better than when he found it.

He'll be the first to tell you that's no easy task. His predecessor, Mal Moore, did a marvelous job, leaving Battle a department humming along quite nicely. Of course, Battle's made his own additions in his one full year on the job, including hiring Kristy Curry to direct the women's basketball program and doubling the value of UA's contract with Learfield Sports.

There's more to come.

Battle spearheaded the $35 million renovation of Sewell-Thomas Stadium that will begin as soon as the baseball season ends.

But beyond the specifics, when Battles talks about the future, he speaks like a CEO. To him it's about the athletic department's mission statement.

"What I want to accomplish is the mission," Battle said. "If every decision we make relates to the mission, which is the recruiting and developing of student-athletes to compete at the highest levels and to make sure they're prepared academically and life-skills wise, then we won't make any bad decisions.

"Now, a lot goes into that. We want to have great facilities, that are championship-quality facilities, to attract athletes. We want to have coaches; facilities help attract coaches, which is part of accomplishing the mission. The better our coaches, the better our facilities, the better our support staff, the better we can accomplish our mission, the better our academic programs are."

When it comes to facilities there's not much left to accomplish, other than the aquatic center, which is need of a complete overhaul. Rowing has a new facility opening in the fall and baseball's renovation should be completely finished in time for the 2016 season.

Battle does see small changes he would like to see implemented in Bryant-Denny Stadium for next season, including digital signage and televisions in the concourse that are required in the new Learfield Sports contract.

He'd also like to improve the fan experience.

"We're attempting to address and improve the Wi-Fi and cellular service in Bryant-Denny Stadium on game days," Battle said. "We're aware of the problems. We're working with Verizon and AT&T to get that accomplished, to provide some assistance in that area."

The coaching roster he inherited is pretty impressive, too.

Football is in great shape with Nick Saban. Men's and women's golf, gymnastics and softball all have national championship coaches at the helm. Women's tennis set several program firsts this season, and men's tennis has a coach bringing excitement to the program. His one hire seems to fit in nicely, as women's basketball is on the rise under Curry.

There's a lot for Battle to build on, and he's knows it. That's why the job is so difficult.

"We want to continue to compete for championships and build champions," he said. "I want to manage the business of our business effectively and efficiently. I'd like to build up reserves. I'd like to reduce debt. Again, manage the business effectively. Whenever it is that I leave, I want it to be better than what I found. That's not easy to do because it was pretty good when I got here."

**Editor's Note: his is the first of two-part series, examining Bill Battle's first year on the job and what his future holds.
Battles says baseball renovation on track

Battles discusses how much longer he sees himself on the job

Reach Aaron Suttles at aaron@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0229.


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