SMU, Houston, UCF Become Full Members; Boise State, San Diego State Become Football Members
Arriving at SMU with over 25 years of experience in athletic administration, Steve Orsini has brought a top-25 mentality to the Hilltop and has ushered in a new era of SMU Athletics.
In January 2008, Orsini brought a new spark to the SMU football program, hiring former National Coach of the Year June Jones to lead the Mustangs, and that spark turned into a fire in 2009, as Jones and the Mustangs snapped a 25-year bowl drought and claimed a Sheraton Hawaii Bowl Championship and a share of the Conference USA Western Division Championship. SMU finished the season 8-5, making the largest turnaround in the nation in 2009 (+7 wins). The 2010 season saw that success continue as SMU earned its second-straight bowl berth, won a C-USA Western Division Championship and played in its first C-USA Championship Game. The 2011 campaign produced eight additional wins and a BBVA Compass Bowl Championship.
Orsini's biggest accomplishment came in January 2012, though, when his efforts and the efforts of others culminated in SMU's acceptance of an invitation to join the BIG EAST Conference in all sports, fulfilling the University's goal to join a Bowl Championship Series Automatic Qualifier (BCS-AQ) conference, a standard of excellence in college athletics today.
"This is a move that will impact all aspects of the collegiate experience at SMU," said Orsini. "Our move to the BIG EAST will help us increase our exposure and visibility and will raise SMU's profile on a national level. BIG EAST membership represents SMU's return to the highest level of collegiate athletics."
Just months after announcing the BIG EAST move, Orsini pulled another coup, landing Hall of Fame Coach Larry Brown to lead the SMU men's basketball program. Brown is the only head coach to win both an NCAA title and an NBA Championship, having won an NBA title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004 and an NCAA title with Kansas in 1988, and was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach on Sept. 27, 2002.
In his time on the Hilltop, Orsini as hired three former National Coaches of the Year to lead SMU programs (Brown, Jones and men's golf coach Josh Gregory).
Success under Orsini has not been limited to the playing field, however, as SMU student-athletes also succeed in the classroom, with 205 SMU student-athletes named to the Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll in 2011.
SMU is also seeing a construction boom under Orsini. SMU has embarked on an $80 million plan to build new facilities and improve existing ones. The $13-million, 43,000 square-foot Crum Basketball Center, a basketball-only practice facility adjacent to Moody Coliseum, opened in February 2008 and the Turpin Tennis Stadium opened in April of the same year. Phase I of the SMU Payne Stewart Golf Learning Center at the Dallas Athletic Club was completed in 2010 and updates to the Loyd Center have been numerous. A new integrated video and audio system was installed at Gerald J. Ford Stadium prior to the 2010 season, and a renovated football locker room and team meeting rooms, along with new stadium turf, will be ready for the 2011 football season. Renovations to Moody Coliseum, which began in 2008 with the installation of a new $900,000 videoboard and redesigned court, will only ramp up in the coming year, as SMU has announced a $40 million-plus plan for more renovations and expansion.
These facility projects and the hiring of June Jones have been made possible through Orsini's fundraising prowess. To land Jones, Orsini convinced over 20 donors to join his creation, "The Circle of Champions," and commit $100,000 a year for five years, giving SMU the ability to compete financially with top-25 institutions. Since Orsini's arrival in 2006, SMU Athletics has seen an astonishing 82 percent spike in annual giving despite a challenging economic environment. The 2011 fiscal year was SMU's best fundraising year to date, as the Mustangs added over $6.6 million to the coffers in annual gifts, while also setting a record in royalties received.
"We can be successful on a national level," said Orsini. "My philosophy on how to have fun in athletics is spelled W-I-N. Our goal in every sport is to be in the top 25 in the nation - and for the ones that already are, I want them to be in the top 10. Collegiate athletics can excite the whole community, build school spirit and really create a sense of community."
Away from the Hilltop, Orsini serves on Division I Men's Basketball Committee, having received a five-year committee appointment on Sept. 1, 2010.
Orsini came to SMU on June 1, 2006 from the University of Central Florida, where he served as A.D. since June 2002. At UCF, he helped transform UCF into a top athletic program. He guided the Knights to Conference USA membership and established the UCF Athletics Association, Inc., a private, non-profit, direct-support organization of the University of Central Florida.
As part of a 70 percent increase in the department's budget during his tenure, Orsini increased funding for all sports while at UCF and the Knights achieved immediate success under his leadership. During the 2004-05 academic year, six UCF teams advanced to NCAA play, including the men's basketball squad, which made its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. Competing in their last season in the Atlantic Sun Conference, the Knights swept the league's all-sports awards, given to the top program in the conference, for the third straight year. UCF followed that up by advancing to the inaugural Conference USA Football Championship Game and its first-ever bowl appearance in the fall of 2005 after winning the C-USA Eastern Division crown. In all, 25 teams competed in postseason play during his time at UCF, and the Knights posted their highest-ever NACDA Cup finishes in 2003-04 and 2004-05.
Orsini's tenure at UCF was marked by growth. He oversaw major facility additions and renovations at UCF, including the completion of the Wayne Densch Sports Center and the Nicholson Fieldhouse, two of the top athletic facilities in the nation. He also initiated plans and secured financing for a new on-campus football stadium, a softball stadium complex, a rowing boathouse, and a convocation center and arena as part of a $270 million mixed-use development - all of which opened in 2007.
Orsini expanded the Knight fan base, with UCF setting all-time records in football season ticket sales and in revenues generated through ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and fundraising. He also saw UCF set attendance records for football and men's and women's basketball contests.
Prior to his appointment at UCF, Orsini spent three years as Senior Associate A.D. for the Georgia Tech Athletic Association. In that capacity, he was responsible for administration and business affairs for the Yellow Jackets. He played a pivotal role in the expansion of the football and baseball stadiums, and also served as the tournament manager for the 2002 NCAA Final Four in the Georgia Dome.
Orsini joined the Georgia Tech staff after five years as the Associate Athletics Director and Treasurer at the U.S. Naval Academy Athletic Association. Previously, he spent 10 years in administration with the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League.
A native of Hummelstown, Pa., Orsini graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1978 with a degree in business administration, majoring in accounting. He was a three-time letter winner at fullback on the Fighting Irish football team and was one of four team captains on the 1977 national championship squad.
After graduation, he spent three years as Senior Assistant Accountant and became a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the New York office of the national accounting firm Deloitte, Haskins and Sells.
He began his career in athletics administration in 1981 as Assistant Business Manager and Ticket Manager at Notre Dame, and remained in that capacity for three years until leaving to join the Dallas Cowboys as Ticket Manager in 1984. He became Director of Administration for the Cowboys in 1989, serving in that capacity until 1993 when he went back into private business as the Sales Controller for Fujitsu-ICL Systems, Inc. in Dallas. He resumed his career in athletics administration at the Naval Academy in 1994.
During his time at Navy, Orsini was responsible for all business and legal affairs and helped increase the Athletic Association's revenue by 70 percent. Responsible for the development of the Department of External Affairs while at Navy, the program set all-time records at the school for season ticket sales, marketing and sponsorship revenues, and fan attendance during his tenure.
Born April 16, 1956, Orsini is married to the former Amy Kertesz of South Bend, Ind., and the couple has a daughter, Angela.