SBJ/March 10-16, 2014/Forty Under 40

Forty Under 40: Damani Leech

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Damani
Leech

Organization: NCAA
Title: Managing director, championships and alliances
Age: 37
Where born: Portland
Education: Princeton University (B.S., public policy, international affairs), Indiana University (M.A, higher education administration)
Career background: PGA Tour intern (summer 1998); NCAA intern (1998-99); NCAA associate director, membership services (1999-2003); NCAA associate director, baseball and football (2003-06); NCAA director, baseball and football (2006-13); current position since 2013
Family: Wife, Tamara; children Brianna (10) and Simone (7)

Favorite app: Next Issue.
Favorite way to unwind: CrossFit.
Guilty pleasure: Just Pop In popcorn.
Group supported: Play Ball Indiana.
Person in the industry I’d most like to meet: Mark Parker.
I have a fear of … : Not keeping up with my Princeton classmates.
Most adventurous thing I’ve ever done is … : Hiking, climbing and zip lining in Puerto Rico.
2014 will be a good year if … : We continue to run NCAA championships in a new/different/better way for our student athletes and fans.


COURTESY OF NCAA

Damani Leech oversees NCAA championships for baseball, volleyball, ice hockey and FCS football. The competition between the teams is the show, and rarely does it disappoint. But managing four such high-profile championships is just the start of the job description for Leech.

“Based on what people typically get to see, they tend to really underestimate what it takes to pull off a championship and how many people it takes,” Leech said. “We have working groups of 10 to 20 people in our office working on each of these events year-round. And as soon as you

SBJ Podcast:
Executive Editor Abraham Madkour and project editor Mark Mensheha talk about the Forty Under 40 selection process and the class of 2014.

finish one, you begin working on next year’s.”

Leech’s job is to negotiate the contracts with the host cities and then make sure everything runs smoothly at the site. He runs point at each event, coordinating committees of people that oversee team shuttles, hotels, weather delays, security and schedules, as well as cultural experiences away from the competition venue for the athletes.

“In the national office, there’s no fight song or school colors,” he said. “Wins for us are providing events that are once in a lifetime.”

After his football-playing days at Princeton were done, Leech thought his future would be on a campus rather than at the NCAA. But as he pursued his master’s degree at Indiana, he interned at the NCAA in nearby Indianapolis. More than a decade later, he’s still there.

He began by working on the College World Series and has since added oversight of the Frozen Four and the other championships.
 
“I did my senior thesis on Olympic drug testing, and I guess I’ve always thought in terms of being a problem-solver,”  Leech said.  “After a couple of summers of working in investment banking, I knew I wasn’t passionate about that. So I got a part-time job in the Ivy League office licking stamps and clipping newspaper stories, in the pre-Internet days. That’s when the light bulb went on for me.”

— Michael Smith

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