EDINBURG — UTRGV and university President Dr. Guy Bailey introduced Chasse Conque as the school’s new vice president and athletic director at a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the UTRGV Visitor’s Center on its Edinburg campus.
Conque previously served as the vice chancellor and athletic director at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock since 2015, lifting the Trojans’ athletic department to new heights on and off the playing field.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Chasse is really a special person and the person to lead this university,” Bailey said. “He comes really highly recommended. This is a major step for us in athletics. I can’t tell you how important this is; this is a red-letter day that I think signals a great resurgence in our athletics.”
During his five year tenure at Arkansas-Little Rock, Conque oversaw a transformation of the athletic department that included 19 individual and team Sun Belt Conference championships, three coaches tabbed the Sun Belt’s Coach of the Year and four dozen student-athletes named all-conference selections, as well as program records in fundraising and student-athlete academic achievement.
“I think there’s a true opportunity here to rally the Valley behind UTRGV athletics,” Conque said. “We want to do better. We want to continue to push the envelope. We want to continue to push for Western Athletic Conference championships, we want to play at a national level and we want our teams in the NCAA Tournament. We desire to become a distinct point of pride for the university and the Rio Grande Valley and that will only elevate the perception of UTRGV.”
Conque, who has lived in Arkansas for the past 19 years, said he and his family were sad to leave their long-time home but were excited to get to work building and strengthening relationships between the university and communities across the Valley.
Conque was very effective engaging the community and harnessing the power of fundraising. During the 2017-18 academic year, he raised a department-record $4.3 million in private fundraising for athletics and a cumulative total of more than $11 million during his time as Arkansas-Little Rock’s athletic director.
“We will aggressively market our brand, we will tell our story and we will take every opportunity to make sure the communities in which we serve are very proud,” Conque said. “We will lean on our community for private support, that’s going to be very important as we grow our athletics program. But I can tell you that we’re going to be great stewards of the gifts that we receive from our community.”
Conque also worked very diligently to raise the academic profile of the athletics department at Little Rock, as the university’s student athletes have boasted a department-wide GPA of 3.0 or higher for 13 straight semesters. The program reached a new high-water mark in the 2018-19 academic year when Trojans athletes posted a collective 3.36 GPA with hundreds above 3.0 and dozens more reaching a perfect 4.0.
Bailey said that Conque’s focus on academic success and his track record with buoying Arkansas-Little Rock’s success in the classroom — the university leads all Division I institutions in Arkansas in graduation success rate six out of the last seven years — played a big role in the decision-making process.
“It’s huge,” Bailey said of the academic element of the hiring process. “Remember these are student athletes, they’re not athletic students. It’s absolutely paramount.”
Conque also spoke of the need to build UTRGV’s brand both regionally and nationally, and his and the senior leadership team’s shared belief that athletics can and should be one of the avenues to give the university more visibility.
While at Arkansas-Little Rock, his first coaching hire was now-Texas Tech basketball coach Chris Beard, who recently led the Red Raiders to the NCAA Tournament championship game. Conque oversaw a meteoric rise in both the men’s and women’s basketball programs, which both reached the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the second round.
That visibility from basketball allowed Conque and the administration at Arkansas-Little Rock to boost its enrollment and build more student housing at the university, which he would like to accomplish at UTRGV as well.
“I think it’s paramount,” Conque said of the importance of a strong athletic department. “Athletics plays a key role and I’m excited to partner with the president and his leadership team because they feel the same. It’s important but winning is important. Our baseball team goes to Lubbock, Texas, and knocks off Texas Tech in a mid-week game, the UTRGV brand gets bigger. That’s the power of sports.”
Bailey and Conque — who added a wrestling program to Arkansas-Little Rock with significant private financial support — also hinted at potential facility upgrades and program additions to the athletic department in the near future, including the potential promise of adding a football program.
“There are a lot of things we need to do,” Bailey said. “We need to improve our baseball field. We have a great stadium, but the field itself needs some work. We probably need to add one or two women’s sports for gender equity. Those are things down the line we need to do.”
For Conque — who conducted a football study of his own while at Arkansas-Little Rock and said he intends to read over the UTRGV study’s findings as well — adding a new program to athletics department requires focus on three elements: financial backing, gender equity and sustainability.
““It’s multi-faceted, but funding is always first and foremost,” he said. “Gender equity and making sure that we’re aware of our commitment is to gender equity. And then can you sustain it. The sustainability thing is something that folks lose sight of whether it’s football or any sport. Wrestling was one where we had a study and had a significant donor step up and make the largest gift to the athletics department that we had had in the last 15 years.”
Bailey also indicated a strong desire to one day add a football program to the athletics department, but noted more pressing concerns will be addressed before examining the possibility further.
“When it’s appropriate, yes,” Bailey said of the potential of building a football program in the future. “Ultimately the university needs football. The question is timing and funding. We need to take care of gender equity issues first. You can’t add football first, you have to add women’s sports first so we’ll take care of that and then we’ll have a better sense of how and when to move forward.”