Robert Walker | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Robert Walker

Photo by Imani Khayyam.

Vicksburg native Robert Walker isn't afraid of doing anything twice. He was mayor of his hometown twice (1989-1993 and 1997-2001) and is starting his second term as interim athletic director at Jackson State University, a position he previously held from February to August 2011.

Walker took over as interim athletic director this year after Vivian Fuller became the associate vice provost for student affairs. Walker will fill the position until JSU selects a new athletic director through a national search.

He recently spoke to university fans and alumni at Koinonia Coffee House (136 Adams St.) about academics, the athletic department and other issues at JSU.

One of the first things Walker stressed was the current academic success at Jackson State. "Last year, we were the overall academic champions of the SWAC," Walker said at the event. "Also, JSU had the highest football academic average in the SWAC. We won the academic championship in a year (when) we didn't win any athletic championships. At JSU, we are in the business of educating students. Parents and kids coming to Jackson State to play sports are expected to graduate, as well as (be) a success on the field."

He stressed that the athletic department needs money to not only be competitive in the SWAC but against other schools. "At JSU, we offer 18 sports with 75 total staff of coaches and others," Walker said. "We have to support all these sports on a total budget of $6.9 million."

Walker explained that the school needs season-ticket sales to operate the athletic department. "Season-ticket sales are a major factor in our athletic budget, and football is the sport that drives those sales," Walker said.

He also explained that the school set a goal of selling 10,000 season tickets and was currently at 7,300. Walker hoped to reach the season-ticket goal by Sept. 25, the day before the Tigers' first home game against Texas Southern University. He also explained that he anticipates more attendance, and JSU was second in the SWAC in attendance last season.

Walker touched on other subjects, such as a possible apparel contract with Russell Athletic, though he said he couldn't go into detail about it.

He also explained that Jackson State wouldn't be changing conferences until the Tigers dominated the SWAC. "We are not going to move to another conference to just be a doormat team," he said. "When we are the most dominant team in the SWAC, then we might start having conversations about other conferences."

He said the university was working to bring back past athletic greats, especially in football, and is working on improvements to athletic facilities but didn't go into detail about which ones or if a new football stadium is still in the works.

Walker said he was excited about the newly created Celebration Bowl that will pit the champion of the MEAC against the SWAC champion. This is an ESPN-sponsored event that will take place on Dec. 19 in Atlanta. ABC will televise it. There is an expected payout of $1 million to the MEAC and SWAC conferences.

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