The Erwin Center: Basketball and a whole lot more
It is a Saturday afternoon as April winds to a close and John Graham, the associate athletics director for the Frank C. Erwin, Jr., Special Events Center, is at work.
That is not an anomaly for the man who has spent the last 18 years at The University of Texas making certain that the Erwin Center is a hub of activity long after Texas Men's and Women's Basketball have put away their equipment for the season.
"In this fiscal year," Graham begins, talking about the Sept. 1-Aug. 31 calendar cycle that is used at UT, "we will have an 'event' probably 320 of the 365 days of the year."
And the events, which Graham defines as anything you need to set up for, range from basketball practices, to graduations for UT and area high schools, to concerts and other entertainment activities, to Austin Wranglers football, to...
If it is something that may be staged in an arena, Graham has looked at it.
For his efforts in the concert field, Pollstar Magazine, a publication of the concert industry, ranked the Erwin Center in its top 100 arenas worldwide.
"The publication is out of Fresno, Calif., and it certainly is a nice honor," Graham said. "And this has been a very good year for us."
The Jamie Foxx show has Graham in the office on the last Saturday in April, but there is no set schedule necessarily for Graham, who talks about the highly competitive nature of booking concerts.
"Today, with a consolidation of promoters who have all of the shows," Graham began, "an entertainer is going to have so many shows on his tour and we are trying to get one of those shows. So, that puts us into competition with Los Angeles, Miami, etc. That makes it a little more difficult to get big names."
The Erwin Center embodies what Men's Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds says about his school being "The Joneses," since it is one of the few universities that engages in the promotion of events.
"It is fairly unusual," Graham said. "The University of Illinois and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and now, maybe, the University of Florida does what we are doing at Texas."
It was Graham's work at the University of Illinois two decades ago that made him appealing to Texas, which lured him away from Champaign-Urbana to Austin.
The experience he brought to Texas has been invaluable.
"Since I began here, college sports has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger," Graham said. "The TV, the marketing, just everything that goes into college sports has grown.
"The Big Mondays that are a part of the college basketball landscape were not around when I started in this business. The NCAA Tournament and all that goes into it is so much bigger."
Of course, the staples of the Erwin Center are Texas Men's and Women's Basketball, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) boys and girls basketball tournament, graduation of all of the colleges in The University of Texas and high school graduations, which now number 30 per year.
"We don't have a limit," Graham says of the high school graduations, "but there is only so big of a window for it. We may have four or five per day so not everyone can get that 7 p.m. Saturday time slot."
Even high school graduations have grown for the Erwin Center, moving from five to 15 to 30 in a short span of time.
"We offer a climate-controlled graduation," Graham said. "And we've got video screens that may be used to enhance the experience."
Given everything that is set and everything that Graham would like to get for The University of Texas, planning is a key element to his position.
"I put things for 2011 on the calendar today," he said. "And I'm working on concerts for 2008. Those really help promote The University."
Graham said that NCAA Regionals in basketball have become a more involved event in recent years.
"My job is to make sure The University of Texas is presented in the best light and that everyone has a wonderful experience when they are here," Graham said.
In nearly two decades here, it did not take Graham a moment to state the biggest -- and most challenging -- event for him at Texas.
"A visit by President Bill Clinton while he was in office," Graham said. "That's kind of like the Super Bowl. It is very tough, but very gratifying. It is tough because of all of the planning you have to do and all the people you have to coordinate with and knowing that in a moment, it all can change.
"In fact, it can change four or five times before it actually takes place."
Graham said that in his 10 years at Illinois and his 18 years at Texas, there is one thing that stands out above the rest.
"If you have an ego, put it away," he said with a hint of a laugh. "Otherwise, it will take a pretty hard beating."