Alan Haller ready to 'get rolling' as Michigan State's new athletic director
East Lansing — There were times, back when Alan Haller was working for the Michigan State University Police, things would be slow and he’d have time to think.
Driving around campus, he’d starting developing plans, looking to the future, never truly satisfied with the status quo.
For the last handful of years, Haller has been having the same kinds of thoughts, only now it has been as a member of Michigan State Athletics, first as an associate athletic director and then, in 2019, as the deputy AD and second in command to Bill Beekman.
“Sometimes it's quiet, there's nothing going on,” Haller recalled Thursday, thinking back to his days as a cop. “I would think about what if this happened, how would I react? And I've literally been doing that the last four or five years, sitting around and trying to figure out how can we best structure this place, meaning athletics, to utilize the skills of our people, our money, our resources to make sure our student-athletes are successful.”
On Wednesday, the planning for that moment stopped and became a reality as Haller, the former Spartan football player and track-and-field athlete, was hired as Michigan State’s 20th athletic director. The Lansing native, who grew up coming to Spartan games as a kid, was hired by President Samuel Stanly and was unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees, signing a five-year contract that will pay him $900,000 annually with performance bonuses available to push that number over $1 million.
By Thursday, Haller already was preparing to get to work.
“A typical AD might come in and they say, ‘What's your 100-day plan?’” Haller said. “My Day One plan is to meet with President Stanley next Tuesday — we’ve already got it on the schedule — for two hours. We’re going to review his expectations for me and I'm going to present some of the things I want to do and make sure he and I are on the same page.
“Then we’re going to get rolling. I think it'll be something that'll be well received, and I'm excited.”
It’s not like there isn’t plenty on Haller’s plate. He’s taking over as the department gets set to begin a 2021-22 sports season with the country still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a significant budget shortfall of roughly $30 million.
Still, it’s not keeping Haller from implementing a restructuring plan he says will be significant.
“There’s some things that aren't just your everyday changes,” Haller said. “There’s going to be some shakeups.”
While Haller chose not to go into detail — he’s waiting to first meet with Stanley — about what some of those changes might be, there are clear items on this agenda.
One of the biggest is fan engagement. From the experience in the stadium to traffic flow, Haller, a lover of Disney, wants fans coming to campus for games to cherish the experience.
“Nobody knows how much a ticket to Disney cost because the experience is so incredible,” he said. “Now, I'm not into raising ticket prices, but I want our fans to come to our events and be so engaged about the experience and be excited to come.”
Haller already has formed a fan-engagement committee while also looking at the approach to ticket sales. Typically, it’s been all about renewing season tickets, but Haller is open to more small packages, single-game sales and even a hopper –—remember his love for Disney — that would allow a person to buy a certain amount of home dates to multiple sports.
It’s something that could lead some fans to explore more of the other sports, something else that is important to Haller, thanks to his days competing in track and field. He wants to make sure there is equity throughout Michigan State’s teams, including access to nutrition, mental health, academic, professional and career development.
“We have a commitment to the sports that we're supporting,” Haller said. “It’s kind of like — we have 23 sports. If those are all my children and we live in a house, I don't want some of them living upstairs with really nice rooms and some living in the basement. I’m responsible for all of them. So, equitable treatment and fairness is going to be a big piece of how I move forward and make decisions.”
Of course, that led to questions about the future of men’s and women’s swimming and diving, a sport that was canceled last fall and will not compete this season.
“The decision on swimming and diving, it's already been made,” Haller said. “But President Stanley and I will talk and figure out where we're going, moving forward with all of our sports and all of our current student-athletes.”
Haller also called the new era of student-athletes profiting off their name, image and likeness an “opportunity” more so than a challenge and said he had a call scheduled with Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren to discuss his stance on expansion, football playoffs and scheduling.
The recent agreement between the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12, Haller believes, will lead to some unique scheduling with high-level opponents, something that can lift some of the burden of paying lower-tier teams to play at Spartan Stadium.
“The price has gone up — $1.5 million, $1.6 million — for getting teams to come here,” Haller said. “I don't know if that is a model that can last. So I think you're probably going to see more of these elite matchup games because if the College Football Playoff opens up eight or 12 teams, you no longer have to go undefeated, you no longer have to have just one loss. So, revenue is going to be a big piece of having attractive matchups, as opposed to trying to build your schedule to end the season with no losses or one.”
Whatever changes are coming, Haller plans a thoughtful approach. With more than 800 student-athletes at Michigan State and 300 employees, he’s bears the responsibility for all.
So it is in his best interest, and the department’s, to be thoughtful and deliberate. It’s something he used to do as a lieutenant in the police department and still carries with him today.
“We’d get a huge call and I used to always tell our officers, ‘If you're outside your car and it's a call you need to get to, you need to determine whether that is a call you walk to your car or run to your car,’” Haller said. “Because sometimes it's best to walk to an emergency and to develop a plan as opposed to running to it and all of a sudden you have no idea what you're supposed to do when you get there.
“So that's really how I look at challenges here. Some things I run to because I have to. Some things you walk to because you develop more of a thoughtful approach.”