Idaho State Athletic Director Jeff Tingey responded to a wide range of questions from callers on our coaches' show Monday night, but he opened the show by updating the status of Bengal wide receiver Andrew Benavides (right), who was injured in the Northern Arizona game Saturday. Tingey said Benavides apparently suffered a bruising of the spinal cord and subsequent swelling, which led to some partial paralysis. The good news is that he was able to report feeling in his feet in response to touch. He also apparently had a ruptured disc in his neck, but doctors are uncertain if that was an aggravation of a previously-undiagnosed condition.
Andrew's parents and ISU wide receiver coach Drew Miller are with him in the hospital in Flagstaff. Miller will return to Pocatello on Wednesday, and Tingey will fly down to be with Andrew and his family as the recuperation process continues. ISU Coach John Zamberlin said it's far too early to predict the long-term impact of the injury on Andrew's football career, and that the most important thing is to for him to get healthy and regain normal functions. Zamberlin also said that team doctors have received a number of calls from Bengal boosters offering assistance to Andrew and his family, and he expressed the appreciation of the family and the football program staff to those in the community who have stepped up to offer help.
Andrew, I know I speak for a lot of Bengal fans when I tell you our thoughts and our prayers are with you and your family. The most important thing is for you to get healthy and back on your feet, and we're all praying for that outcome.
Back to More Mundane Matters
While Benavides' injury makes it hard to take seriously all of the other matters around the football program, we did have a lively discussion with Tingey, based largely on the questions submitted by our listeners. Following is a summary of the highlights. Please note these are my characterizations of Jeff's comments and I don't claim 100 percent veracity. I'd strongly recommend you listen to the show in its entirety once its archived on the ISU web site.
On the Decision to Extend Zamberlin's Contract: Jeff said he and ISU President Arthur Vailas made the decision before the season started to extend Zamberlin's contract two years because they believe he deserves a full five years to try to turn the program around. He said they informed John before the season they intended to extend his contract, but they waited to announce it because they were hoping to get a couple of wins. In hindsight, Tingey said that was a mistake and he would have announced it at the beginning of the season if he had to do it over again.
On Whether the Football Program Will See Any of the Money Generated by the Games at Oklahoma and Arizona State: Tingey said he allocated a portion of the money to the football program to be spent as Zamberlin saw fit, and the coach choose to use that portion to purchase an upgraded video system, new headsets and other hardware. He said ISU also allocated some money to the football program to be used during the May recruiting period last spring, and he expects some money will be made available again next May. (Coaches from large schools typically go out to high schools in May to evaluate junior talent and make contacts for the upcoming recruiting season. ISU hasn't had funding to do extensive recruiting travel during this period in the past.)
Did Tingey Mandate that Zamberlin Make Changes in His Coaching Staff When He Extended His Contract: Tingey said he did not. He said he is not a micro-manager and doesn't feel comfortable telling Zamberlin how to manage his staff.
On How the ISU Football Budget Compares to Other Big Sky Schools: In summary, Jeff acknowledged that ISU's overall football budget is probably near the bottom of the Big Sky Conference, but not at the bottom. He noted that it's difficult to compare budgets straight across because it costs more to operate a program in places like Sacramento and Portland, and therefore those schools have to spend more. He said ISU does offer the full complement of 63 scholarship equivalents and has the full allotment of 10 assistant coaches. He acknowledged that ISU probably pays its assistant coaches at the lower level of the conference, but noted that it is cheaper to live in Pocatello than many other places in the conference. He also acknowledged that not being able to fly recruits directly into Pocatello is a disadvantage in recruiting.
On Replacing the Turf at Holt Arena: Jeff said the life expectancy of the current turf is up in two years and he would very much like to replace it with something that is easier on the players' bodies, like the REAL Grass in place at Northern Arizona or the Field Turf at the University of Idaho. The issue so far, however, has been ease of taking up the turf. He said the staff at NAU told him it takes a full 24 hours to take up their turf, and three days to reinstall it. Because Holt Arena belongs to the university and not the Athletic Department, it has to generate enough revenue to keep the operation going, and that means a lot more use than the dome in Flagstaff, where once they put down the turf in the fall, it remains down until the following summer. New turf is in the plans for Holt, but finding a turf that is better for the players yet easy to take up and put down is going to be a challenge, Tingey said.
On New Facility Plans: Tingey said the decision has been made to initiate construction on a new softball field in March. The athletic department has lined up in-kind donations of labor and materials to cover most of the costs, since the land donated by the Papenberg family in the Driggs area still has not sold. Tingey said he is also hopeful that work can begin in July on a new practice field on the south side of the dome, and be completed in time for fall practice next year. A donor has been identified for the project, which would include a Sprint turf field. He also said the ISU weight room will be updated with new machines next spring.
On the Recent Decision to Pull Athletes from Practice Until They Get Their Grades in Order: Jeff said the idea to pull all ISU athletes, not just football players, who had grade issues from their practices until they made plans to get their grades up to acceptable levels was his idea alone. He said in many cases, athletes simply had to initiate a dialogue with their professors to clear up their grade situations. In other cases, however, they had to agree to a particular plan for how they were going to get their grades up. He said he received a number of calls from professors praising him for taking the initiative to give the athletes a "wake-up call."
On Football Retention and APR Issues: Jeff acknowledged he's concerned about the retention and eligibility of athletes in all programs, including football. He said ISU has avoided APR sanctions in the past because of an exemption the program has enjoyed from the NCAA because the school is in the bottom 10 percent of the NCAA as far as academic support resources. However, that exemption is going away in two years and "we have to pick it up."
And thanks for being a Bengal fan -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun.