SBJ/June 12 - 18, 2000/Special Report

Public relations talents, passion for the job keep FSU’s Hart ticking

DAVE HART, JR.
FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY
SOUTHEAST REGION


Conference: ACC
No. of years as an AD: 13
No. of NCAA-sanctioned sports: 19
Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of Alabama, 1971; master’s degree, University of Alabama, 1972
Career highlights: Is president of both NACDA and the Division I-A Athletics Directors Association; has served on several ACC, NCAA and NACDA committees, including the NCAA Council and NCAA Honors and Awards Committee; oversees a $33 million budget for the FSU athletic department, which perennially contends for the national championship in football and baseball.

As an undergraduate at the University of Alabama in the late 1960s, Dave Hart Jr. was terrified at the thought of public speaking.

So Hart, a member of the Crimson Tide basketball team, took the advice of a coach and majored in English with a minor in communications. Now, three decades later, the gregarious athletic director for Florida State University is widely respected for his communications and public relations skills.

Hart, 51, was selected by his NACDA peers as one of four NCAA Division I-A Regional Athletic Directors of the Year.

"You either enjoy people or you don't," said Hart, who in 1995 became FSU's 10th athletic director. "That's not something you can fake. As an athletic director you have to bring a passion to what you do, and people will see that."

Florida State was an athletic powerhouse long before Hart arrived in Tallahassee after eight years as AD at East Carolina, but he has helped raise the school's profile even higher.

Hart, who oversees the school's $33 million athletic budget, has negotiated contracts totaling more than $20 million. The school has a lengthy list of marketing partners and sponsors, including Nike, Dodge, Coca-Cola Co., Anheuser-Busch Cos. and First Union. Hart has increased television exposure for the Seminoles through the negotiation of deals with Florida's Sunshine Network.

And he has guided the department through an ambitious expansion project. Doak Campbell Stadium was being enlarged to 80,000 seats before Hart's arrival, but Hart saw the project through to completion. In recent years, the school has built a $7 million soccer and softball complex and partnered with Leon County for a $23 million upgrade of the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center, home of the school's basketball teams. A $4 million golf complex will be completed in October 2001.

This fall, the athletic department will kick off a capital campaign that will help pay for improvements to the baseball stadium, academic center and weight room. With the exception of the cross-country team, which does not need a training complex, every FSU team soon will be playing in new or renovated facilities.

Active in several organizations, Hart is the president of both NACDA and the Division I-A Athletics Directors Association, and he chairs the ACC's television committee. With the FSU football team raising the conference profile by being an annual contender for the national championship since joining the ACC in 1992, Hart has been able to negotiate more lucrative contracts with regional sports carriers and with ABC/ESPN.

A recent ESPN poll ranked clothing bearing the FSU logo the fourth-most-popular apparel among youngsters ages 12 to 17. Obviously, the school's distinctive logo and color scheme boost marketing efforts, and having prominent Florida State athletes such as Deion Sanders, Warrick Dunn and Charlie Ward who have excelled in the pros doesn't hurt, either.

But Hart says his most effective marketing tool might be team mascot Chief Osceola, who charges into Doak Campbell Stadium on an Appaloosa horse before football games and hurls a flaming spear at midfield.

"Young kids see that and it makes a lasting impression," Hart said. "I can't tell you how many recruitable student athletes mention that horse and rider."

Hart, who had a more modest budget at East Carolina, says the challenges are no different on a larger scale.

"I look at the job of the athletic director as like that of a CEO of a major corporation," Hart said. "When you consider the wide range of constituents that you have to be responsive to, it's a big challenge at any level."

Pete Williams is a writer in Florida.

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