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Volume 21 No. 1

In Depth

The NCAA is moving toward a new governance model that will give the five power conferences more autonomy over the rules that affect them. And with that comes an escalated sense of angst for athletic directors on the front lines, especially those at the lower levels of Division I who fear that their schools will be adversely affected in the new model.

That was largely the sentiment expressed in an exclusive survey of Division I athletic directors, administered by Turnkey Intelligence and jointly endorsed by NACDA and SportsBusiness Journal. NACDA — the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics — is the trade group that represents ADs at all levels.

Athletic directors acknowledge that like it or not, change will continue to be the order of the day in the NCAA.
Photo by: Getty Image
In the survey, conducted May 8 through May 21, more than half of the ADs predicted that the NCAA will move to this autonomy model, which will enable the five power conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) to put more resources toward their athletes. But there remains an undercurrent of uncertainty among ADs that don’t have the resources to provide those same benefits, leaving them skeptical of how changes might affect them.


SBJ Podcast:
College writer Michael Smith and editor Tom Stinson give their thoughts on SBJ's Division I athletic director survey, as well as on Duke's Kevin White winning Athletic Director of the Year.

In fact, 21 percent of ADs surveyed still believe that the power conferences will break away from the NCAA and create their own entity. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive suggested last week that the five power leagues could form their own NCAA division, commonly known as Division IV, if they don’t get the autonomy they require from the NCAA.

“I hope the power conferences do leave the NCAA so that we can return to the values of educational sport,” one AD wrote in the comment section of the survey. “Their missions have become so far removed from the original purpose of intercollegiate athletics and they have such a negative influence that it impacts the rest of us.”

Another AD, however, disagreed, saying, “My fingers are crossed that we all stay in the NCAA. I support the big five doing what they need to do. I hope we all continue to play each other in the regular season and in NCAA tournaments.”

Such mixed viewpoints were evident throughout the survey, which was made available to all 351 Division I ADs

and generated more than 90 responses. Most questions offered ADs the opportunity to write anonymous responses, in addition to selecting from the answers that were provided (Click here for results of the survey).

The high anxiety surrounding the NCAA’s autonomy model was just one of the survey’s revelations. And that didn’t surprise Missouri AD Mike Alden, NACDA’s president.

“None of us know the definition of autonomy yet and that causes a lot of anxiety,” Alden said when commenting on the survey. “If autonomy means more support for the athletes, that wouldn’t come as a surprise. But if it impacts scholarship numbers and access to NCAA championships for the rest of Division I, well, that’s going to cause concern. We’ll start seeing some definitions this summer, but until then, there are going to be a lot of questions.”

Autonomy is generally considered a way for the five leagues with more resources to do more for their athletes, like pay them a full-cost-of-attendance stipend, which could range from $2,000 to $4,000 a year. Other conferences outside of the five could opt in if they decide to.

“We’re not going to try to keep up with the Joneses. We won’t do a stipend,” said Peg Bradley-Doppes, NACDA’s Division I-AAA president and the AD at the University of Denver, a Summit League member that doesn’t play football. “We don’t pay a stipend to our doctoral students, so how could we justify it for athletes? It would create a caste system within the student body.”

Brian Hutchinson, the AD at Morehead State and NACDA’s president of the Division I FCS division, sees merit in all of Division I staying under the NCAA tent.

“We share championships and competition with schools in the five conferences, but I don’t see why we can’t grant them the autonomy to use the resources they have,” Hutchinson said. “I think it’s just the fear of the unknown. This model is going to be new for all of us.”

Among the other findings in the survey:

AD bonuses should not be tied to an athlete’s individual performance, respondents said. Ohio State AD Gene Smith was criticized recently for receiving an $18,000 bonus when a Buckeye wrestler won an NCAA championship.

Just under half of the ADs said it was OK for their peers to receive bonuses for team performance, while 30 percent advocated for bonuses tied to academic achievement. Many could live with both.

No one, however, thought it was appropriate for an AD to receive a bonus for individual performance, like the Ohio State wrestler.

“Bonuses should not be paid for performing basic duties of the position,” one AD wrote. “The salary assumes the AD will create an environment for individual, team and academic success.”

Another AD, clearly affected by the recent media focus, wrote: “I will be removing all bonuses from my contract outside of academic and Directors’ Cup performance.”

While there seems to be a lull in conference realignment, ADs still anticipate the next round of movement. Fifty-five percent said conferences will not look the same in five years.

“Those five [power] conferences will reshape the entire appearance” of Division I, an AD wrote.

The O’Bannon case, the unionization movement at Northwestern and other ongoing litigation have the ADs’

attention. More than 44 percent said those court cases pose the greatest risk to the intercollegiate athletics model as we know it.

The other 56 percent provided a variety of answers. Twenty percent fear a potential burst of the huge TV bubble that’s driving up revenue.

Among the written comments, one AD cited “a lack of leadership at the top of the industry” as the chief threat, which wasn’t the only shot fired at NCAA President Mark Emmert. Another lamented the drift “from a collegiate model to a competitive model.”

A handful of ADs also pointed to the rising cost of scholarships and the general cost of doing business that threatens the role of athletics.

If the five power conferences split from the NCAA, one AD wrote, “it would cause a previously unforeseen arms race in operating budgets. The model is not sustainable.” Several others echoed that view, including one who claimed that a lack of trust and an abundance of greed were the NCAA’s greatest threats.

The new governance model will likely include a cost-of-attendance stipend for each scholarship athlete. Most ADs — 76 percent — agree that, 10 years from now, athletes will be paid a scholarship plus a stipend.

Another 14 percent think college athletes will be able to negotiate their own endorsements and autograph signings, like Olympic athletes. Very few, just 7 percent, said athletes will be paid a salary as a university employee, despite the potential formation of a union at Northwestern.

“They will clearly be professional athletes, competing completely outside of the current NCAA structure,” predicted one AD. “In many ways, this will develop into a farm system for the pros,” although it could be argued that college athletics already are a farm system, particularly in football and basketball.

Outside of the governance debate, ADs clearly showed an interest in improving the fan experience at their games. A solid three-quarters characterized the fan experience as being at or near the top of the to-do list.

“The best way to improve the fan experience is through improved facilities,” an AD wrote. “Therefore, raising money for facilities is at the top of the to-do list.”

In addition to revealing the ADs’ sentiment on issues of the day, the survey provided some insight into the day-to-day lives of chief administrators.

Most ADs work 60-69 hours a week, but 37 percent work 70 hours or more.

When they’re not in the office, ADs mostly attend sporting events at their own school. Seventy-one percent go to four to six events a week.

Fundraising and budgetary issues take up most of their time during the week, followed by issues related to their coaches.

And interestingly enough, when asked what they could do better to control expenses, 64 percent of them cited coaches’ salaries.

Reflected throughout the responses, however, was the sense that administrators must adapt to a changing landscape in college athletics. Whether that means a new governance structure, compensation for athletes, or forging new relationships with agents, ADs are being challenged in new ways.

“We understand that there are a lot of questions out there about our future,” Missouri’s Alden said. “There is an evolution taking place and with that comes some angst.”

A line in Kevin White’s favorite book, the J.R. Moehringer memoir “The Tender Bar,” explains that so many of life’s nuances will be lost in time, and all that anyone will remember is “the extent to which I tried or did not try.”

It’s an idyllic reduction of life to the simplest terms, which is why it fits the Duke athletic director so well.

For White, 63, the job is about simple concepts, like being there. Duke won national championships in women’s golf and men’s lacrosse within a few days of each other last month, and White flew to Tulsa and then on to Baltimore so he could be present for both.

Kevin White, this year’s SportsBusiness Journal/Daily Athletic Director of the Year, has led Duke University athletics since 2008.
Photo by: Duke University
It’s about providing. Duke is in the midst of a $250 million fundraising campaign, with $100 million earmarked for facilities that will transform the experience and training for athletes in football, basketball, track, soccer, lacrosse and other sports. The school is more than 70 percent toward its overall goal.

It’s about putting himself in other people’s shoes. More than 20 sitting athletic directors formerly worked for White or mentored under him, including California’s Sandy Barbour, Stanford’s Bernard Muir, Florida State’s Stan Wilcox, Army’s Boo Corrigan, Northwestern’s Jim Phillips, Baylor’s Ian McCaw and North Carolina’s Bubba Cunningham.

Those are the ways White will gauge the extent to which he has tried.


SBJ Podcast:
College writer Michael Smith and editor Tom Stinson give their thoughts on SBJ's Division I athletic director survey, as well as on Duke's Kevin White winning Athletic Director of the Year.

“In this business we get so caught up in egos and trophies and dollar signs,” said Barbour, who has known White since he gave her a job in 1991. “Kevin isn’t about any of that. Sure, he wants to win, but for him it’s more about the people. That’s the underpinning of what he does.”

A small, private school with 6,200 undergraduates, Duke is second in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup for overall athletic excellence, and the Blue Devils now have a football team capable of competing for championships, just like its storied basketball program.

At the same time, White is putting the pieces in place to ensure that these successes, especially in football, are not an anomaly. New additions to Cameron Indoor Stadium and Wallace Wade Stadium will make those historic buildings the revenue-producers they need to be to support athletics.

The competitive success, the facility development and the fundraising to drive it are just some of the reasons why White is the SportsBusiness Journal/Daily Athletic Director of the Year. White received the honor at last month’s Sports Business Awards in New York City.

“There isn’t anything that Kevin doesn’t understand,” Duke President Richard Brodhead said. “Whether it’s facilities or media contracts, Kevin is the consummate pro. People look to him.”

Where it all began

White, the grandson of Irish immigrants, spent most of his years growing up in Amityville, N.Y., a Long Island community about 40 miles from Manhattan.

His mother, Rita, was one of the first dancers in the Rockettes. She was a singer and dancer, and often headlined at

The Old Straw Hat, an Irish bar owned by the family, when she wasn’t touring with Bob Hope and Danny Kaye.

White’s father was one of the first salesmen to pitch the Everything credit card in the 1960s, which was the precursor to Master Charge and eventually MasterCard.

Those days on Long Island were where White learned to run track, and surf at Jones Beach and Fire Island. All five of his children concede that he’s still the best wave rider in the family.

After graduating from St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., White and his wife, Jane, went to visit his parents in New Port Richey, Fla., near Tampa and St. Petersburg. They had moved there from Long Island as Kevin’s father was battling cancer. White had no idea that the visit would turn into a four-year stay.

With a degree in business administration, White wound up taking a job as track coach and business teacher at Gulf High School in New Port Richey. That led to brief stints coaching track and field at Southeast Missouri State and Central Michigan before moving into administration.

SportsBusiness Journal named White AD of the Year at last month’s Sports Business Awards.
Photo by: Roxxe Ireland and Marc Bryan-Brown
At Southeast Missouri, White was one of two finalists for the head coaching job along with Tim Rademaker. White got the job and offered the assistant’s position to Rademaker, who went on to become a legendary track coach in the state over the next 30-plus years.

“What could have been a very uncomfortable situation turned into one of the best years of my life,” said Rademaker, who doesn’t speak that often to White now, but still considers him a friend. “That could have been tough, but he’s such a nice guy that he wins you over as a friend very easily. … He’s the kind of guy who always asks about you and how you’re doing, and how you became what you are. I admire him more than anyone I’ve ever worked with.”

White credits Rademaker for giving him the best advice he’s ever received.

“I remember Tim telling me to just be myself, and that will always be good enough,” White said. “Operate within your own skin.”

White never shook the running bug. He keeps a log of how many consecutive days he’s run, as well as the distances. A well-worn treadmill occupies a corner of his office at Duke. That’s where White says he does some of his best thinking.

“He’s a creature of habit and he’s extremely loyal,” FSU’s Wilcox said. “Really, he’s just a down-to-earth guy, something most people don’t realize.”

Corrigan, who worked with White at Notre Dame and Duke, put it another way.

“He’s this proud man from Amityville, N.Y., who loves working hard,” Corrigan said. “He doesn’t need to tell you who he is. He’s got his own rhythm.”

Words to live by

White’s colleagues know the Duke AD for his pet sayings and how they apply to his form of leadership.

“Athletics fit within the academy.”

Even as cynics decry that intercollegiate athletics are moving too close to the professional model, White won’t

relinquish his grasp on the importance of the school’s mission. For 32 years, he has taught a graduate-level class in sports business.

White was the first in his family to graduate from high school in the U.S., and his friends say that has driven an unabashed, passionate belief in education.

“You could say that I’ve been slow to move away from my educational roots,” White said. “Athletics are part of the educational mission, and if it ever unseats it, we will regret it.”

“I over E.”

White’s son, Danny, the AD at Buffalo, uses this one with his own staff. It means “intellect over emotion.”

“It’s pertinent to almost anything,” Danny White said. “Eliminate the drama.”

“Put the periscope up and survey the landscape.”

Whether it’s conference expansion, media contracts or the ACC’s grant of rights, White’s ability to see the big picture is why he’s become one of the most influential figures in the conference.

“As a commissioner, you need a few people internally who share the vision and understand what’s at stake,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. “It’s one thing to hear from the commissioner or consultants, but it’s really important to have that voice from within the group. Kevin has been the strongest voice in all of that.”

“You can’t be half pregnant.”

One of Barbour’s favorites, she said, because White follows through on commitments and expects those around him to be all-in as well. Never has that been more evident than with Duke football, a perennial ACC doormat before the arrival of coach David Cutcliffe and later White.

“That relationship can make or break a coach,” said Cutcliffe, who guided the Blue Devils to a division title and spot in the ACC championship game last season. “Kevin is such a team builder. The only way to make it is to have both feet in the boat, and knowing that we’re aligned means everything. We’ve now got practice facilities as nice as anywhere in the country. We’re working on the stadium. We’re not done.”

Neither is White, who maintains a highly influential voice nationally and has advocated for ADs to play a more visible role within the NCAA.

But nothing gets him more excited than what’s happening on his own campus, especially when it comes to building facilities that are very “Duke-like” in their design and setting.

“We know who we are,” White said.

The same could be said of Duke’s AD.

The following are winners of the 2014 Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year award, presented by the National

Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. Each year, NACDA administers the award program to recognize the top four ADs in each of the seven collegiate divisions. NACDA will honor each of this year’s winners at the organization’s annual convention, which is being held this week in Orlando.

Football Bowl Subdivision


Utah State University
Barnes became Utah State’s AD in 2008 and has helped bring growth and stability to Aggie athletics. Utah State has completed a $6.5 million strength and conditioning center and started construction on the $9.5 million Wayne Estes Center for basketball practice and volleyball competition. Utah State introduced a Nike brand and identity program and accepted an invitation to compete in the Mountain West Conference in all sports. Off campus, Barnes served as vice chairman of the NCAA men’s basketball committee during the 2013-14 academic year and will become chairman in 2014-15.


Fresno State University
Boeh is in his 32nd year of athletics administration, including the past nine at Fresno State. Boeh entirely restructured the athletic department with a new senior administrative team. Under his leadership, the school transitioned into the Mountain West Conference for the 2012-13 academic year after 20 seasons in the Western Athletic Conference. The Bulldogs won a conference championship in football and the conference tournament in women’s basketball in their first season in the Mountain West. And both teams did so with new coaches that Boeh hired.


Since Guerrero became AD 11 years go, the Bruins have won 24 NCAA championships in 18 different sports. More than 80 percent of UCLA teams have qualified for NCAA postseason competition since 2002. UCLA completed a major renovation of Pauley Pavilion in 2012 and has launched a fundraising campaign to build a new football training facility. Guerrero’s roots run deep at UCLA. He received his bachelor’s degree from the school in 1974 and played second base for the Bruin baseball team for four years.


Virginia Tech
Weaver stepped down on Dec. 31 after more than 16 years as head of the university’s athletic program. Many facility projects dot his career at Virginia Tech, including the Merryman Center sports medicine and conditioning complex, two major expansions at Lane Stadium and a new basketball practice complex. Weaver guided the school’s move to the ACC, where the Hokies began play in 2004.

Football Championship Subdivision


Nicholls State University
Bernardi has 13 years under his belt as AD at Nicholls State. He helped renew a self-assessed student fee to support Colonel athletics, marking the first time in more than two decades that athletics at Nicholls received funding directly from student fees. Some of that funding has allowed the school to improve athletic facilities. Bernardi also has focused on improving graduation rates and upgrading the academic services provided to student athletes.


University of Northern Iowa
In Dannen’s six years as AD, the Panthers have enjoyed competitive, academic and business success. Northern Iowa generated gift commitments totalling $27 million in the recently completed “Imagine the Impact” fundraising campaign, exceeding the target of $15 million by 80 percent. The school has made $8 million in facility upgrades. Dannen has negotiated multiyear marketing deals with Learfield Sports, Learfield-IMG Ticket Solutions and Nike.


Drake University
Hatfield Clubb has guided Drake athletics for eight years and has developed a long-range strategic plan for Bulldog athletics. She led a fundraising campaign that generated $7 million in seven months to build a basketball practice facility and transform Drake Fieldhouse into a multipurpose facility. When she began her tenure in 2006, Hatfield Clubb became the first woman to serve as AD at an NCAA Division I school in Iowa.


Coastal Carolina University
Yurachek was Coastal’s AD from January 2010 until March 2014 and oversaw a department featuring 18 men’s and women’s NCAA Division I sports programs. The Chanticleers won a total of 31 Big South championships and made 31 NCAA appearances during that time. Each program has benefited from the construction or renovation of facilities, with the latest projects including a $10.2 million baseball and softball complex.

Division I-AAA


Saint Louis University
May took over the helm at Saint Louis in 2008 and made academics a key part of his focus. The results were demonstrated last year when the NCAA honored six Billiken athletic programs as part of the Academic Performance Program awards. Under May’s leadership, nine Billiken squads have made NCAA tournament appearances, including the 2013-14 men’s basketball team that advanced to the NCAA tournament for a school-record third consecutive year.


Quinnipiac University
Now in his 19th year as AD, McDonald guides a program that consists of 21 varsity sports. In 2012-13, he spearheaded Quinnipiac’s membership to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and guided the school’s successful bid to host the 2014 NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey Frozen Four. He was the driving force behind the TD Bank Sports Center, which features separate arenas for men’s and women’s basketball and ice hockey.


University of North Carolina Greensboro
Since arriving at UNC Greensboro five years ago, Record has revamped an athletic department that now fields men’s and women’s teams in 17 sports. She orchestrated a move that made Greensboro Coliseum the home court for the Spartan men’s basketball team. Spartan Club fundraising has surpassed its annual scholarship fund goal for the last three years and has set all-time records for the fund in consecutive years.


Wichita State University
Sexton, a Wichita State alumnus and former student athlete, is in his sixth full season as AD. In the 2012-13 academic year, 12 of 15 sports were represented in NCAA tournament competition, highlighted by the men’s basketball team reaching the Final Four. On the building front, the school has built new baseball and golf practice facilities, added a new HD scoreboard and sound system in Charles Koch Arena, new LED mezzanine signage to increase revenue, and renovated the men’s basketball locker room.

Division II


Minnesota State University, Mankato
Buisman has guided Minnesota State athletics since 2002. Under his leadership, several teams have seen spikes in home attendance. The launch of a new logo has raised brand awareness, and recent fundraising efforts have combined to generate more than $300,000 in new revenue. Buisman has advanced gender equity in scholarship funding and participation, and implemented a tuition waiver program to recruit a more diverse student population.


Pittsburg State University
Johnson became the 10th AD in the school’s history, taking over in July 2010. The Gorillas’ football team won the 2011 NCAA Division II national championship and the women’s basketball team advanced to the 2011-12 Elite Eight. Facility projects include the renovation of John Lance Arena/Whetzel Court and the groundbreaking for the Robert W. Plaster Center, which will play host to the 2016 and 2018 NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field National Championships.


Metropolitan State University of Denver

The 2013-14 academic year was one of the most successful for McDermott since she was named AD 16 years ago. The highlight was breaking ground on a $16 million athletics complex that will be the new home to Roadrunners soccer, baseball, softball and tennis. Metropolitan’s men’s basketball team earned a No. 1 ranking for much of the season, the volleyball team advanced to its 14th consecutive NCAA tournament, while women’s soccer extended its streak to 12 straight years.


University of West Florida
Scott took over West Florida athletics in May 2008 and since then the school has completed multiple facility projects, and added women’s swimming and diving, and football. The department has rebranded itself with new logos and has increased membership in the Argonaut Athletic Club from 150 to more than 700. The baseball team won a national title in 2011, followed by the women’s soccer team in 2012.

Division III


Johns Hopkins University
Calder’s tenure at Johns Hopkins has reached 26 years. He now oversees a program that sponsors 24 varsity sports and he has worked to make sure that each of those programs has quality facilities. The completion of the Cordish Lacrosse Center is the latest project to come online. The school also has opened the Wall-O’Mahoney Student Athlete Lounge, installed a video board at Homewood Field, built a competition track and field complex, and opened the O’Connor Recreation Center.


Emory University
Downes was appointed AD in July 2007. During his time at the helm of the 18-sport program, Emory has won seven NCAA championships and 51 University Athletic Association titles. Downes came to Emory from Franklin and Marshall College, and also had stints at the California Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University. He attended Dartmouth College, where he was a four-year starter on the varsity lacrosse team.


SUNY College at Oneonta
Ranieri has worked in SUNY athletics for 22 years, first as women’s soccer coach and now as AD, a post she has held for seven years. Among the highlights in her role as an administrator, Ranieri has supported the academic needs of student athletes through the development of a faculty mentorship program. As a coach, Ranieri built a program that ran up an unbeaten streak of 101 games and made 14 postseason appearances, including eight straight NCAA appearances from 1999-2006.


Rhode Island College
This marks the fourth time during his career at Rhode Island that Tencher is being recognized as a NACDA Under Armour Athletic Director of the Year. He is in his 18th year as the school’s AD and during that time has guided improvements to nearly all of Rhode Island’s sports facilities. In addition to his role in athletics, Tencher serves as assistant vice president for administration where he provides oversight to the college’s campus police department, facility operations and capital projects.



Our Lady of the Lake University

Hank launched the Saints’ athletic program with men’s soccer and women’s volleyball in 2007. The program now has 11 sports that generated a championship in women’s soccer, cross county and basketball this year, and men’s soccer last year. In 2009, the school joined the Red River Athletic Conference and added five sports. Beginning in spring 2015, it will add track and field and baseball. As sports have been added, Hank has steered several facility projects, including the renovation of Mabee Gymnasium and the softball diamond.


Grand View University
Plummer joined Grand View in 1995 as an admissions counselor and assistant baseball coach, and worked his way to the AD position in January 2007. Under his direction, Grand View athletics has grown from 275 athletes in 16 sports to 689 athletes in 24 sports. Wrestling won national championships in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and football won a national title in 2013. Several of the school’s other programs have earned national attention for their performance as well.


Menlo College
Spataro is in his sixth year as AD. He restructured Menlo’s scholarship model, increased support staff and training staff, and brought every head coaching position to full-time status. He oversaw a redesign of the department’s logos and website, and implemented live audio/video web streaming of all home athletic events. He spearheaded a community service effort that now yields 30 hours of community service per year, per athlete.


Westminster College
Westminster hired Wyatt as AD in September 2006. Wyatt’s leadership has generated increases in the number of sports offered, fundraising and sponsorships. Griffin teams and individual athletes have won 10 national championships and 19 conference championships. During Wyatt’s tenure, the cumulative GPA for Westminster student athletes has been 3.1 or higher. Multiple facility enhancements provide further highlights to Wyatt’s career at Westminster.

Junior College / Community College


Westmoreland County Community College
During Holler’s 17 years as AD, Westmoreland’s athletic program has climbed to the top of the Western Pennsylvania College Conference and received national recognition. The program has grown from four to 13 teams, and indoor and outdoor sports facilities have benefited from renovations. Holler recently implemented an academic monitoring program for student athletes to assure they maintain academic eligibility while completing their degrees.


Dean College
Jackson oversees a department featuring recreation and intramural offerings, as well as the largest varsity sports program of all two-year institutions in New England and one of the few with a football team. Prior to his career in administration, Jackson coached men’s basketball and softball, and was elected to the New England Basketball Hall of Fame.


Paradise Valley Community College
Silcox spent 18 years as the women’s basketball coach and 11 years as assistant athletic director at Glendale Community College before moving to Paradise Valley in August 2002. Silcox oversees 12 programs including soccer, cross country, tennis, golf and softball. He was instrumental in the addition of the college’s baseball program in 2008.


County College of Morris
Sullivan is in his 11th year as AD at County College and oversees a department that consists of 10 sports. He also oversees the college’s fitness center, weight room, gymnasium and outdoor facilities, and supervises the aquatics facility. His pathway to the AD’s chair included stints as an event manager, academic monitor and intramural director.

It was recently reported in SportsBusiness Journal that the University of Alabama athletic department’s revenue for 2012-13 was more than $143 million. This exceeds the revenue of every NHL team, and is larger than that of 17 NBA teams. In 2005, Alabama’s revenue totaled $62.3 million, so in seven years, it has more than doubled.

This leads to many questions, including, who is running these athletic departments where revenue generation is becoming increasingly important? What are the profiles/backgrounds of these athletic directors and what experiences prepared them for these jobs? From the college and university perspective, what are institutions looking for in hiring athletic directors? And from a career perspective, what can one do to prepare himself/herself for the job of Division I athletic director?

Division I of the NCAA comprises 351 institutions. In the past five years, 167 Division I athletic directors have been hired. High-profile, high-revenue and highly coveted athletic director jobs have been filled at Texas, Alabama, Arizona State, Colorado, Michigan, Southern California and Notre Dame, among others.

The revenue increase at Alabama is not the exception, but the general rule for at least the top tier of Division I Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Given this trend, how important is the business background, experience and education of recently hired athletic directors?


SBJ Podcast:
College writer Michael Smith and editor Tom Stinson give their thoughts on SBJ's Division I athletic director survey, as well as on Duke's Kevin White winning Athletic Director of the Year.

These statements about recent athletic director hires indicate the importance of “business” in the selection process:

“Based on Mal [Moore’s] strong endorsement as well as Coach Battle’s affiliation with UA as a player, partner and donor, his experience as a coach and his significant business background, I am confident that he is the right person to serve UA in this position.” — University of Alabama President Judy Bonner on hiring Bill Battle as AD

“Rick’s financial and management acumen, his networking and relationship development skills, and his enthusiasm, work ethic and principled leadership all make him the ideal leader for CU athletics at this important and challenging moment in our history.” — University of Colorado Chancellor Philip DiStefano on hiring Rick George as AD

So clearly when looking at recent hires of athletic directors, there is some support for the theory that college athletics is more businesslike and that the individuals hired as athletic directors have the experience, skills and/or education to manage today’s athletic departments.

My interest and research in this area has been an outgrowth of my first non-sports law publication, The Comprehensive Guide to Careers in Sports (2nd Edition, 2012). As a professor of sports law and one who has advised students and rising professionals, I wanted to share my observations with former students. It became clear to me that for leadership positions in sports, there was not one, but usually three or four different types of career paths to reach a leadership position. I studied Major League Baseball (2010) general managers, then NBA (2011) and NFL (2013) general managers.

My current research focuses on Division I and Division III athletic directors. I also have found three to four common career paths, and this article highlights some of my research.

Age profile of athletic directors

Thanks in part to World Series championships in 2004 and 2007, the Boston Red Sox’s hiring of 28-year-old Theo

Epstein as general manger helped to revolutionize the way in which MLB clubs evaluated the qualifications of a general manager. Teams began hiring individuals with nontraditional baseball backgrounds, often choosing young executives to fill these coveted roles.

However, a similar “Theo effect” has not occurred in college athletics. NCAA Division I institutions continue to hire experienced individuals, in many cases much older than 28, to run their athletic departments. In fact, only three of the 188 Division I athletic directors hired since 2008 were younger than 30, while 126 (67 percent) were older than 40, and 55 (29 percent) were older than 50. The average age of current Division I athletic directors is more than 52 years old. Furthermore, the average age at which these athletic directors were hired to their position is more than 49 years old. The chart above shows the age distribution of current Division I athletic directors.

Clearly Division I institutions are hiring older individuals to the position of athletic director, but it is also illustrative to examine the experience levels of recent hires. In doing so, I find that 134 (38 percent) current Division I athletic directors had previously held that position at another institution before being hired to their current job.

Current Division I athletic directors have held the position for an average of 6.78 years. Only about 5 percent have been in the position for at least 20 years, while nearly half (48 percent) have fewer than five years on the job. The chart to the left shows the tenure of current Division I athletic directors.

Challenging time for ethnic minorities and women

Despite modest gains over the past several decades, it still remains a challenging time for women and minorities hoping to become Division I athletic directors. Thirty-three of 351 (9.4 percent) Division I athletic directors are female, but at the FBS level, this number drops to 6.4 percent, representing only eight of 125 athletic directors.

Minorities have not fared much better, as just 14 percent of Division I athletic directors are African-American, and

fewer than 1 percent of athletic directors identify as Asian-American. However, these numbers are trending slightly upward, as more than 21 percent (30 of 138) of Division I athletic directors hired since 2010 represent racial minorities.

The value of higher education

Colleges and universities are in the business of higher education, so it is not surprising to learn that many of these institutions have begun to put a greater value on higher education when hiring an athletic director.

Every current Division I athletic director has earned a bachelor’s degree, while 280 (80 percent) have earned a graduate degree. A hiring trend in favor of advanced degrees has picked up over the last five years, as nearly 90 percent of athletic directors hired since 2009 have earned an advanced degree. The most common master’s degrees are in sports administration (92 of 231) and education (75 of 231).

Forty-five Division I athletic directors (13 percent) have earned an MBA, which indicates that the business training received in these programs may constitute an important job qualification for schools hiring athletic directors. In addition, 21 Division I athletic directors (6 percent) hold a J.D., while 39 (11 percent) earned a Ph.D.

When compared to general managers of three major professional leagues, the NFL, MLB and NBA, athletic directors far outdistance their professional counterparts in the frequency of advanced degrees. The NFL leads the way among the three leagues, with 14 of its 32 (44 percent) general managers holding an advanced degree. Eight of 30 (27 percent) NBA general managers and eight of 30 (27 percent) MLB general managers earned an advanced degree.

Business world transition

While the formal business training of an MBA program may be an attractive asset to an aspiring Division I athletic director, recent trends have shown that business experience, both within and outside of a college athletic department, is another important asset.

Looking specifically at athletic department business experience, 287 of 351 (82 percent) current Division I athletic directors have a background in the business or revenue side of the department. The most common backgrounds include: fundraising/development (56 of 287, or 20 percent), operations (42, or 15 percent), marketing (33, or 11 percent), finance (32, or 11 percent) and compliance (24, or 8 percent).

Over the past several years, institutions have begun to hire individuals with business experience outside of college athletics to run their athletic departments. In some cases, these administrators have not worked in college athletics before being selected as athletic director. This trend may also be attributed to the increasing importance of business experience and acumen in successfully managing today’s athletic department.

The 5 Most Common Career Tracks

1. Former head coach to athletic director

Barry Alvarez moved from head football coach to AD at Wisconsin, but only 20 percent of his peers held a former coaching position at any point in their career.
Photo by: Getty Images

While at one time a head coaching position was a very common career path for a Division I athletic director, this career track is rapidly changing. Today, only 20 percent of current Division I athletic directors held a head coaching position at any point during their career.

However, while the numbers are decreasing, coaching is still a viable, fairly common path. A number of high-profile institutions have hired former head coaches as athletic director. Barry Alvarez, the 16-year head football coach at Wisconsin; Mike Holder, a 32-year head coach of men’s golf at Oklahoma State; Debbie Yow, a nine-year head women’s basketball coach at Kentucky, Oral Roberts and Florida; and Ray Tanner, 16-year head baseball coach and two-time NCAA champion at South Carolina, are four such examples.

2. College athletics path to athletic director
A large number of Division I athletic directors gained experience by working their way up through the athletic department. Institutions have come to value the skills and experience gained by holding a variety of roles within an athletic department, and individuals with this background have often been hired as athletic director.

Some notable athletic directors that advanced through athletic departments include Brad Bates at Boston College, Kirby Hocutt at Texas Tech and Bubba Cunningham at the University of North Carolina. Bates spent 17 years at Vanderbilt, with stints in marketing, compliance and development, Hocutt held positions in fundraising (Oklahoma) and marketing (Kansas State), and Cunningham spent 14 years at Notre Dame in a variety of roles, including facilities and marketing.

Michigan’s Dave Brandon is among the ADs hired from a business outside athletics.
Photo by: Getty Images
3. Business experience outside of college athletics to athletic director
As the business side of college sports has become more important over the years, institutions have increasingly turned to individuals with external business experience. Currently, 35 Division I athletic directors (10 percent) were hired directly from a business outside athletics.

Dave Brandon, athletic director at the University of Michigan, is an example of this trend, having held the position of CEO of Domino’s Pizza before being hired in 2010. Other recently hired athletic directors with significant external business experience include Pat Haden at the University of Southern California (law, private equity), and Mollie Marcoux at Princeton University (facility management).

4. Education path to athletic director
While some administrators have been able to work their way up through athletic departments to become athletic directors, many others pursued graduate study in the field of sport management right out of school (or shortly after graduation) before embarking on their careers. Graduate programs in sports management provide individuals with specialized knowledge and training to become managers in the sports industry, so it may not be surprising to learn that many Division I athletic directors earned a degree in the field.

Among those athletic directors with a master’s degree in sports management before embarking on their careers are Ian McCaw at Baylor University, Jeremy Foley at the University of Florida, Bob De Carolis at Oregon State and Bernard Muir at Stanford University.

5. Sports industry experience — non-college to athletic director
Another trend, which has emerged over the past several years, has seen institutions hire executives with sports industry experience in areas other than college athletics. These individuals have backgrounds in professional sports, legal services and sponsorship rights, among other areas.

Ray Anderson of Arizona State and Rick George of Colorado both have backgrounds in professional sports.
Anderson spent eight years as executive vice president of football operations for the NFL following a number of years as a player agent, and George was chief operating officer of the Texas Rangers for three years after more than seven years with the PGA Tour. Bill Battle of Alabama founded and ran Collegiate Licensing Co. for more than 20 years, while Jack Swarbrick of Notre Dame spent 28 years at a law firm and served nine years as chairman of the Indiana Sports Corp.

Not a career path, but many played
An important factor for many Division I athletic directors is being a former student athlete. While it may not be considered a career path, a significant percentage of Division I athletic directors were student athletes. A total of 194 (55 percent) current Division I athletic directors were student athletes in college, so it appears to be a positive and important experience for many who are hired as athletic directors.

Although these administrators all have an athletics background in common, they fall within all five career tracks on the path to the athletic director’s position.

Here are some examples of former student athletes and their career paths in college athletics. Some began in college athletics right after graduation, including Thorr Bjorn, who played football at the University of Massachusetts.
Sandy Barbour, who played field hockey and basketball at Wake Forest, earned a master’s degree in sport management before starting her career in college athletics. Derrick Gragg, a former Vanderbilt football player, earned both a master’s and doctorate degree after beginning his career in college athletics as an academic counselor.

Glenn M. Wong ( is a professor of sport management at the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Wong is an attorney and serves as president of the Sports Lawyers Association.