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SBJ/March 3 - 9, 2008/Forty Under 40
Published March 3, 2008
Damon Evans earned more than his share of curious looks when he instituted a departmentwide policy last year that punishes student athletes for skipping class and missing appointments.
Coaches were concerned about losing their players for a game or two. Athletes were worried their alarm might not go off. Both might have been feeling a tinge of persecution.
"Some people were caught a little off-guard," Evans said. "But one thing that is always on my mind is improving our academics and improving our graduation rate."
Those words come from a lot of athletic directors, but Evans is one of the few who has conceived a policy to hold Georgia's student athletes so accountable. When players miss their third class, they're suspended from 10 percent of their team's games. When they miss their second appointment with a tutor, they're fined $10. At the fifth missed appointment, they're subject to suspension.
It's that kind of direction that has earned Evans such a level of respect among his peers, even though he remains among the youngest ADs in the country at 38. Not only is he leading one of the largest and best money-making athletic departments in the nation—Georgia generated $78 million in revenue last year—he also has a seat on the NCAA Management Council, a group of 17 athletic directors and other administrators who shape policies and opinions at the national level.
Taking on a leadership role isn't an uncomfortable position for Evans, even when the former Bulldogs football player was a rookie AD at age 34 and the youngest in the nation at his job.
"Damon has a great grasp of the business," said Eric Hyman, South Carolina's athletic director. "He exudes confidence and he sets a terrific example by the way he conducts business. He's a rising star in the profession."
When Hyman joined the SEC as the Gamecocks' AD in 2005, a year after Evans' appointment, Evans was already showing leadership qualities at AD meetings. As a senior associate AD and the No. 2 in charge at Georgia under Vince Dooley, Evans often attended AD meetings and knew his way around the conference.
"He knows the intricacies of a very complex job," Hyman said. "He represents Georgia extremely well and he's part of a good chemistry we have among the ADs."
Leadership at the AD level will be critical as Georgia and the SEC move forward, especially on the media front, where the conference is considering its own network.
Also, Georgia is one of the few top-tier schools that has not bundled all of its media and sponsorship rights into a single deal with a rights holder. ISP sells sponsorships for Georgia, while Cox Communications holds media rights. Bundling all of that inventory could make the Bulldogs' rights as valuable as just about any in the country—the most lucrative deals guarantee schools about $7 million to $8 million annually.
Evans said he has talked to Georgia President Michael Adams about such a deal and that those talks will continue.
"There are a lot of unanswered questions in terms of intellectual property in college athletics," Evans said. "There's a lot of revenue potential, but we've got to be mindful not to overcommercialize. There has to be a proper balance. We want to maintain that amateur look and all of the pageantry that goes with college athletics. We're not going to sell our soul."