New Utah State president Cantwell: ‘the Mountain West is strong and together’

The new USU president said she interviewed athletic director candidates within the first week of starting in Logan.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium at Utah State University Wednesday August 17, 2016.

Logan • With the fall semester underway and just a few weeks under her belt, new Utah State University President Elizabeth “Betsy” Cantwell is getting more acquainted with campus, especially with the Aggie sports programs.

In an interview with Utah Public Radio and The Salt Lake Tribune, Cantwell said she has full confidence in the Mountain West Conference, even during the age of conference realignment being a daily concern throughout college sports.

“As far as I am concerned at the moment, the Mountain West is strong and together,” Cantwell said. “I am not worried that USU is at risk there for the moment.”

She added that conference realignment often happens quickly, pointing to the speed that members of the Pac-12 — including the University of Utah — opted to leave the conference. The possibility of the Mountain West merging with the Pac-12, which now only has four teams remaining, has also been floated as a possibility.

“I‘m saying with complete conviction that the Mountain West is strong, acknowledging that it is a real strange world out there,” Cantwell said, referring to how quickly things can change with conference realignment.

Cantwell — who came to USU from the University of Arizona, another school leaving the Pac-12 next season — said interviewing candidates for the athletic director was one of the first things she did after getting on campus.

“So I get here, and two days later the Pac-12 falls apart,” Cantwell said. “And four days after that I interviewed the final (four) candidates.”

She ultimately picked Diana Sabau, a former deputy commissioner and chief sports officer for the Big Ten Conference and, before that, the senior deputy athletics director at Ohio State University.

At her introductory press conference, Sabau said the Mountain West is “a strong brand” and a competitive conference, but also said USU is, “looking at all options. Everything is on the table.”

Cantwell added Monday that Jerry Bovee, who served as the interim athletic director and was viewed by fans as a strong candidate to take over as the full-time athletic director, is still in the Aggies’ athletic department.

“Jerry Bovee is still here and with us, (and) totally supportive of Diana Sabau,” Cantwell said Monday.

Cantwell said she plans to attend every Aggie home football game except one, along with at least three away games. She added that she attended as many home games as she could at Arizona and wants to continue that trend while leading USU. She views it as a way to show student-athletes her support.

“I am absolutely committed to being there for them,” Cantwell said.