IAF Panel: The Challenges Facing Today's Athletic Directors

ADs on pay-to-play, plus challenges and opportunities of new TV deals

AD Challenges, Opportunities


Bill Battle, Alabama
Greg Byrne, Arizona
John Currie, Kansas State
Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame
Kevin White, Duke

Five high-level Division I athletic directors talked about the scrutiny of the position and how financial pressures, media-rights deals, calls for reform in college sports and the advent of social media have converged to make the job as hectic - and rife with politics -- as ever. During a panel at the 2013 IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, the ADs -- Jack Swarbrick (Notre Dame); Bill Battle (Alabama); Kevin White (Duke); John Currie (Kansas State) and Greg Byrne (Arizona) — said the job has turned into one that is virtually non-stop, with multiple stakeholders pulling in various directions. Swarbrick said, "You can't prepare for it, no matter how many people you talk to before you do this [job].” As an example of new challenges, Byrne talked about how kickoff times can now change on short notice due to TV deals, and how that has exacerbated attendance issues.Byrne said that while the Pac-12 Networks have been “a very positive thing” for the conference, “We're seeing the same things others are seeing across the country from an attendance standpoint, because now we have no control over kickoff times … [and] it is having an impact on our attendance. That is a long-term concern for our industry and our enterprise. We need the television. But we also have to make sure we have some balance in decisions that are made that are impacting student athletes' welfare, that are impacting the fan experience and their desire to continue to go to games."

PAY FOR PLAY? With the potential for a pay-for-play model being such a hot topic, Currie said of student athletes, "They may be sitting next to a student (in class) who worked till 2 a.m. last night delivering pizzas, is working two to three jobs to put themselves through school and is still carrying debt on the way out. We have an optical issue where we have this myth of ‘they don't get anything’ perpetuated, and it's just not true, and frankly it's insulting to the other students on our campus and to the athletes themselves." Battle added, "If you put dollar values to that, you're talking about several hundred thousand dollars in the collegiate experience, and that's where the money goes. It's going back to the student athletes - although not necessarily in the form of spending money." White said of the current state of the industry, "There's a lot of competing interests, a lot of politics to manage, and in my opinion that's the most significant challenge we have ... We can talk governance, and we can talk pay-to-play. A lot of bright people have their heads around this stuff. But at the end of the day, managing the politics is the most significant challenge."

QUICK HITS:
Currie, on using social media: "My president, Kirk Schulz … is on Twitter constantly, and he has built an incredible rapport with our students. We have 25,000 students at Kansas State, and they all feel like they know him because of the way he has used that device. I write letters [for our fans]. I send letters once or twice every couple weeks, and I am consistently amazed at the people who come up to me at ballgames, of all generations, and say, 'We love your letters.' We did one a couple weeks ago about a scheduling process and what we were spending, and I think putting that information out there … has been very beneficial in demystifying some of the processes that we go through."

White, on possibly launching an ACC Network: "With the addition of Syracuse, Pitt and certainly Notre Dame and Louisville, we represent about 55 percent of the national television audience in terms of household, so we're now the largest geographically-based conference. We're a pretty attractive part of the country in terms of footprint and as we work with ESPN we're just exploring what's possible and what would it look like and how would it financially operate. …It’s probably close to 2016, but it could do a lot of great things for us."

Battle, on dealing with demanding donors: “That's what the arms race is all about. At the end of the day, we all have to look at our business and there are segments of our business that are important that are required, like salaries, if you want to be successful. If you go to medical school, you have doctors that made a lot of money. If you go to law schools, you've got some attorneys that make a lot of money. Alabama football, we pay market prices for our football coach." He jokingly added, "But we don't pay our athletic director that much!"

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Media, IMG

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