Q&A: Mizzou athletic director Jim Sterk open to contract extension for Cuonzo Martin

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune
Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk is in year No. 5 in his position.

Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk met with local reporters in-person Tuesday night for the first time in nearly a year before the men's basketball game against Mississippi.

The conversation covered about a dozen topics, including Sterk saying "it's that time" to start looking at an extension for Tigers head coach Cuonzo Martin.

More:Mizzou athletic director Jim Sterk says he's not leaving for same spot at UCF

Sterk, in his fifth year as AD, also discussed the overall athletic program's finances and his thoughts about what a fall football season could look like. 

The conversation has been slightly edited for clarity and length:

Q: Martin is in year No. 4 of seven on his contract. Is there a desire on your part to work on an extension or restructure his deal?

Sterk: "Cuonzo's done a heck of a job. And yeah, it's that time in the contract where you start to look at it and say, 'OK, Cuonzo, what's important to you? Let's talk.' And he wants to be here. He's building a program. He wants to be the last team standing sometime. And I think he has a great opportunity to do that here. And we want him to do that. So we're excited about the future under his leadership."

Q: There has been some talk of teams opting out of conference basketball tournaments. What has been the Southeastern Conference's message on that?

Sterk: "If they were opting out of tournaments, it could impact their automatic berth. So they have to determine that automatic berth as a conference. How are they going to determine that? I think any decisions on that would have to be made by (Friday). I think that there's a lot of good basketball to be played, and those conference tournaments get you geared up for the NCAA Tournament. So it should be pretty special."

Q: You've mentioned the possibility of playing in front of full football stadiums in the fall. What's the current thinking on that?

Sterk: "We're planning on it and then we'll have to pivot and adjust if we're not vaccinated enough and we don't have herd immunity by that time. We can't do anything but plan on not limiting our sales. So we're excited. I think the progress that's been made, and especially in the last two, three weeks of the positives going down and hospitalizations going down, we're trending very well, and hopefully that even improves by this summer."

Q: Is there any process for getting Missouri's student-athletes vaccinated?

Sterk: "We're just part of the process with it. We'll be encouraging them to sign up for their vaccinations and there may be a point — it's not there yet — of them coming and MU Health Care saying, 'Hey, we think we can do your group.' It'll be part of the student group as a whole. So when they solve that one, we'll be solving our athletics one."

More:Watch live at 3:15 p.m.: Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to give updates on vaccine plan, COVID response

Q: What are some of the benefits of having a new football indoor practice facility?

Sterk: "Obviously, a lot for football, but also our other sports. It got a little crowded during the polar vortex trying to have teams in (Devine Pavilion). We're the most northern Southeastern Conference school and we're also the only major university within the surrounding states that doesn't have a full indoor. We've been at a competitive disadvantage from that standpoint. So actually the first day I had coach (Eli) Drinkwitz here, we were driving in a golf cart. ... He said, 'I'll bet you know if you asked our coaches, they don't have enough indoor space.' And he was thinking not only for football, but also for them. The last couple weeks, I think when we had to go inside, they weren't able to run a practice like they normally would or throw deep balls because it would impact others on the field. So it'll be a huge benefit from a practice and conditioning standpoint. But it'll be used all year by them as well. When it gets really hot, they can use it as a place to get good workouts in as well."

Other highlights from Sterk

  • Only one of Missouri's 20 varsity sports is currently not in active competition (football). It makes for some crowded and busy times. 
  • During a normal year, there are 11 virtual meetings for the SEC's athletic directors and five in-person meetings. Over the past year, there have been three in-person meetings and more than 100 meetings over Zoom. 
  • The athletic department sent $22 million back to campus over the past year, besting the previous record of around $16 million.

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

Follow Mizzou athletics with the Tribune’s Tiger Extra newsletter. Sign up at columbiatribune.com/tigerextra for stories, galleries and podcasts in your inbox every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.