New Utah State president Elizabeth Cantwell, just 10 days into her job leading the university, said it first on Thursday at the introductory press conference of new USU athletic director Diana Sabau.
Sabau then reiterated it, again and again.
The new leadership of Utah State wants to elevate Aggie athletics somewhere it hasn’t been before.
The “next realm,” according to Cantwell.
That was the general theme in Logan as Sabau was introduced to the Utah State community.
The experienced Sabau left the Big Ten Conference and Ohio State University for USU with intentions of lifting Utah State to loftier heights, amid one of the most chaotic moments in college athletics history.
“The country knows about Utah State because of the Mountain West Conference and the success that you’ve had,” Sabau said, “but let’s make them really aware of Utah State athletics.”
Sabau didn’t go into great specifics as to how that will be done, noting she can’t predict what the future holds in regard to conference expansion and realignment, but did project confidence in the future of Aggie athletics.
She credited that to both the leadership of the MW under commissioner Gloria Nevarez, as well as the passion for USU athletics that she has seen already in her short time around Utah State and Cache Valley.
“I don’t have any ties to Utah State, but that is what makes it even that more important and special,” Sabau said. “As I was connected with the individuals in the search committee, I was touched by their affinity for Utah State and how much they wanted to advance Aggie athletics.
“There is ton of research that can be done and a lot you can watch and read online, but when I got here (to campus) I started to feel it. The respect and tradition, but also a newness and boldness. It is about the people. There is a sense of pride that is unmatched. A sense of affinity and loyalty to Aggie athletics. ... Together we will create comprehensive excellence in all that we do in athletics.”
Why did Utah State hire Diana Sabau?
Sabau was selected in part, Cantwell said, due to her experience.
Sabau comes to Utah State after stints as both the deputy commissioner and chief sports officer for the Big Ten Conference, as well as senior deputy athletic director at Ohio State University.
“(The search committee) carefully considered all candidates,” Cantwell said. “They looked at experience, track record, appreciation for who we are at USU and what we are as a community and in particular what it is going to take to elevate USU athletics into the next realm.
“... In my mind, she (Sabau) is the leader for this moment. There are many challenges that await her and await us. All you have to do is look at what is happening in conference realignment to know that we are at a very historic moment. It is not just us, it is everyone. She has the skills, she has the experience.”
Cantwell also noted that the fact Utah State was able to attract someone with the credentials of Sabau only reflected well on USU athletics.
“I’m really proud that who we are and what we represent as as an Aggie community has attracted someone like Diana Sabau,” she said.
What is new USU AD Diana Sabau about?
Sabau wasn’t shy when she listed off what she values in an athletic department, including an emphasis on the education of athletes — “I deeply believe in higher education and the importance that it proves in building relationships and experiences,” she said — teamwork, fostering trust, giving back to the community and a commitment to winning.
“I am a competitor,” she said. “So we are going to invest in winning.”
More than anything, though, Sabau made it clear that her foremost priority is the welfare of people, in this case the athletes at Utah State themselves, something she credited learning from Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, among others.
“Our student-athletes will always be at the forefront of my decision making because we are here for them and they are here to make our community proud,” she said. “Together, we will graduate our student-athletes and provide them the opportunities to be successful in the career paths they chose.”
What about deputy AD Jerry Bovee?
Both Cantwell and Sabau praised deputy athletic director Jeffy Bovee for his leadership as interim AD, following the departure of former USU AD John Hartwell last fall.
Sabau, in particular, couldn’t wait to praise Bovee’s efforts, expressing a desire to work closely with him going forward.
“I cannot wait,” she said. “I’m very thankful for him and all the sacrifice he gave during this transition period. It is a lot of work. Hard work and Jerry was tireless in his efforts.
“As this process came to an end, I could see that the department is behind Jerry and supportive of Jerry. He has a wealth of historical knowledge and relationships that are going to be important going forward.”
Added Cantwell: “I want to step back and really thank Jerry Bovee for an amazing job during a pretty fraught period for the university. I can’t tell you how much I am grateful for (his) service. All of Aggie athletics stood behind him and really worked to ensure the success of our student-athletes.”
Any insight into conference realignment?
Both Cantwell and Sabau spoke about the ongoing and tumultuous nature of conference realignment in college athletics — Cantwell reiterated that she believes Sabau is the right leader for USU athletics at this time — with Sabau stating that Utah State is in good position currently thanks to the stability of the Mountain West Conference.
“I can assure you commissioner Nevarez is well prepared and gifted in her leadership and our university presidents are in alignment,” she said. “We are looking at all options, everything is on the table. Obviously things are changing daily.
“But the MW is a strong brand. It is a competitive conference. We are working to make sure that the future does what is best for the student-athlete, but also does what is best for the league.”
Sabau’s statement echoed that of the MW presidents themselves, released Wednesday following a meeting of the conference’s 12 presidents earlier this week.
“Monday night, the Mountain West board of directors, comprised of our 12 presidents, met to reaffirm our collective commitment to the conference and its future. With the recent changes in membership composition in several conferences, the Mountain West is exploring all opportunities to strengthen the league, including through the addition of new member schools,” the statement reads.
“Board of directors chair president Garnett Stokes of the University of New Mexico and commissioner Gloria Nevarez will be the voice of the conference and will lead the ongoing explorations of possibilities before presenting any to the board. We are strong in who we are and proud of the exceptional experience we provide the student-athletes of the Mountain West Conference.”