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SBD/May 2, 2013/People and Pop Culture
Georgia Tech AD Mike Bobinski Discusses New Role, Issues Facing College Athletics
Published May 2, 2013
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Q: You recently finished your term as NCAA Tournament Selection Committee Chair. What was it like seeing the fruits of your labor during the Final Four at the Georgia Dome?
Bobinski: As the few days of that event unfolded, myself and the members of the committee and the NCAA staff kept saying, "It just can’t possibly keep going this well." But it did. It was a great event for the city of Atlanta, the NCAA, college basketball in general. It worked well on about every level.
Q: After playing baseball at Notre Dame, you graduated and went into accounting for a few years. What led you to come back to the college space and seek out a career in administration?
Bobinski: After around five years out in the real world, I heard about an opportunity back at Notre Dame. I had never really given college athletics much thought, but I said to myself it might be really unique and interesting to combine my business background and the experiences I’d had with the field that had given me the opportunity to go to Notre Dame in the first place. I never would have had the chance to attend Notre Dame without athletics. It was 1984 when that happened, and really, it’s been a heck of journey since, and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. I’m glad I made the move when I did and I’m thankful I’ve had the chance to share those experiences with student athletes. And that’s what this all about, and whenever we lose sight of that, we sort of step in a wrong direction in this business. You have to remind yourself that it’s all about providing experiences for the young people in your program.
Q: Speaking of the Fighting Irish, how excited are you that your alma mater is joining the ACC at the same time you are?
Bobinski: It’s great. They cut a wide swath in the public consciousness and media world. Having them in the ACC is fantastic. They’ll push us in a lot of ways. Their brand and recognition nationally will be good for our league in every way.
Q: Realignment is everywhere in college athletics these days. How do you perceive the changes?
Bobinski: Like a lot of people in my position, I’m hopeful we’re near the end of that cycle. I’m not sure we’ve distinguished ourselves as an industry and as a profession during all of this, but I also understand that most of it has made sense. There probably was a need for certain things to happen and shake out in a certain way. With the ACC’s newest additions, I like who we are, I like where we are. The ACC is a great home for Tech regionally, competitively, philosophically. I’m not anxious to see that shaken up at all and I hopeful that it all stabilizes in the short term.
Q: Georgia Tech pumped around $68M in renovations to Bobby Dodd Stadium in ’03, expanding capacity to around 55,000. Home games since expansion have been around 10,000 fans under that capacity. How can GT close the gap?
Bobinski: It’s a combination of things. We need to put ourselves out there in new and innovative ways. Creating a bigger presence by virtue of being involved in the community and the region. Making sure people know that they’re welcome at Georgia Tech and that football games are open to the entire Atlanta community. It’s a great option for even the casual sports fan. We’ve had some internal discussions here already and will continue to stay after it. But the very best way to support that sort of campaign is to have on-field success. The thing I like about our situation is that getting to that capacity is not unmanageable by any stretch. It’s a number that’s not insurmountable. And there’s nothing better than being in a full arena or stadium. That creates an energy unto itself.
Q: Many of the facilities at Georgia Tech are relatively new or have been renovated in the past few years. With building not a primary concern, on what area do you see yourself focusing?
Bobinski: Dan did a great job on the facilities during his time as AD and got us into a very competitive situation as far as that is concerned. But facilities are sort of an evergreen issue and we’ll stay on top of that as need be and as we move forward. Fundraising and compliance are clearly important. Fundraising and developing the resources necessary to give our teams, our coaches and our student athletes the chance to be successful and compete at a high level is the challenge for everyone in our business today. I’ll certainly spend a lot of time with the many people who have been supportive of our program and those that we’d like to bring into the program. Compliance is an everyday focus for everyone in the business and certainly at Georgia Tech. We don’t view compliance as an obstacle, but a part of how we do business every day. We’ll do things within the rules and regulations. Most important for me will be diving into the culture of the program and of our fan base and creating an expectation of success. I believe there’s a way you can move things forward on a day-by-day basis. I think that’s ultimately how you achieve success.
Q: Coming from Xavier, which did not have football, what sort of perspective do you bring to an FBS program?
Bobinski: I was involved at the FBS level for 15 years before I went to Xavier. But I think being away from it for a while and just watching the game of college football from a different perspective has been interesting to me and the return will be sort of invigorating. At the end of the day, being successful in football is just like in every other sport. Except for the fact that with football, the scale is different, the magnitude is different and the impact is different. All the multipliers are different with football. And I get that. I also understand how important college football is in our league and our region. It’s important that we do it well and do it successfully.
Q: Does the ACC need its own cable channel to keep up with what other conferences are doing?
Bobinski: You want to be competitive with your colleagues and peers around the country. Obviously the SEC Network announcement is imminent, and we’ve had discussions of our own. An ACC Network will make sense if the market determines it makes sense. And that’s ultimately the bottom line. But I do believe that there is something there. There is an opportunity for our league to do something from a brand and channel perspective.
Q: How important is it for ADs, coaches and other athletic department personnel to be on social media?
Bobinski: That has obviously become a big way that people communicate and stay connected and plugged into things. It’s just one more way that we can develop impressions of our program. I think I saw a comment that (Georgia Tech football coach) PAUL JOHNSON made not long after he began tweeting where he alluded to the fact that the medium gives you a chance to shape your message a little bit and create your own image rather than let others talk about you in the way they choose. And I agree with that. I’ve been talking with our folks to figure out how I should plug into that from an AD perspective. I don’t want to trip over the coaches. They’re really the "front person" for their respective teams. I want to make sure that whatever I do is strategic and helps move the needle from a program perspective.
Q: Russell Athletic did some interesting things with the school’s football uniforms last season. Any plans for more changes to help with brand identity?
Bobinski: There are ongoing conversations about this fall’s version of the uniform. We’re going to continue down that road. You want to be respectful and aware of traditional looks and elements that you don’t want to lose. But you want to be modern, updated and relevant to the folks that you’re trying to appeal to. We need to be in the game to the extent that it makes sense for us.
Q: Has attention to spring football gotten out of hand?
Bobinski: It’s just one more chance for you to reach out to your fans and have them be part of what you’re doing. The spring football game is purely an entertainment and informational event during what ordinarily would be a down time for the football program. It's just the folks thinking about what’s to come in the fall. It’s healthy. It’s fun.
Q: What’s the No. 1 story you’re following in college sports?
Bobinski: What I’m really following stems from a conversation that (NCAA President) MARK EMMERT had with all D-I athletic directors and conference commissioners during the Final Four. It’s the governance system and the way we do business and how it might be modified going forward to really bring in some other perspectives. And by that, perspectives of the athletic directors and other folks who are really the practitioners with their feet on the ground, making things happen. To bring them back into the decision-making process in a more real and tangible way. So I’m personally very interested in what evolves from that conversation. It was very good conversation -- positive and open on all sides. I know Mark well. He’s a very bright, very sharp individual who wants nothing but the best for intercollegiate athletics, and he’s working very hard at it. He has a sincere interest in making some positive changes to how we govern this enterprise and I think that it is necessary. Right now, people feel disengaged and that’s not healthy as an industry.