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Volume 22 No. 15
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SBJ looks inside the AD's office

When Scott Barnes officially takes the athletic director’s chair at the University of Pittsburgh on July 1, he will be the 27th AD hired in Division I this calendar year.

The rapid rate of turnover is far from finished. There are 17 more AD jobs waiting to be filled, from high-profile positions at Syracuse and Michigan to one of the three vacancies in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

The amount of job-hopping among ADs is reaching near-epidemic levels. The average tenure in the Western Athletic Conference is 2.8 years. In The American it’s 3.0 years and 3.3 years in the Sun Belt. In fact, 18 of the 32 conferences in Division I have welcomed a new AD into their league this year. The average tenure of ADs overall is 6.8 years.

Scott Barnes will take over as Pittsburgh's athletic director on July 1.
Photo by: University of Pittsburgh
The ACC must have considered name tags for its ADs at last month’s conference meetings. Nearly half of the 15 ADs in that conference — seven — have been at their schools one to two years or less. And that doesn’t include the newcomers to the league, like Louisville’s Tom Jurich, whose school joined the ACC through expansion, or Syracuse, which currently is searching for an AD to replace Daryl Gross.

“Some people think these are glamorous jobs, but they’re really, really difficult,” said Todd Turner, a former AD at Connecticut, North Carolina State, Vanderbilt and Washington who now conducts searches for ADs and coaches.
“It’s a great job, but it’s hard stuff. You’re managing a very large group of people and the job is very, very public. Everybody’s in your business and most of them think they can do it better.”

Over the past decade, an average of 27 AD changes have taken place annually. There were 46 in 2013, the most ever.

The high rate of turnover was just one of the findings in SportsBusiness Journal’s exhaustive study on what it’s like to be an athletic director in 2015, which is outlined in the following pages.

An AD at one of the 351 Division I schools most likely has a master’s degree, played a college sport or started in athletics by selling tickets. Nearly 50 ADs work at their alma mater. Thirteen ADs spent time with an NFL team before eventually leading a college athletic department.

But the average tenure and turnover in these jobs is what jumped off the page. ADs had a range of reasons why they think this is the new normal. Presidents change jobs a lot too, and many times they want to hire their own AD.

Search firms contribute by stirring up interest in jobs. And there’s a lot of money at stake with a handful of the top ADs now making more than $1 million annually while managing budgets often in excess of $100 million in the power conferences.

“You have to be the long-term planner and the short-term crisis manager,” Utah AD Chris Hill said. “People have to understand that being an AD is more art than science. And the money is going up, so with that comes the pressure. The trigger is definitely a lot quicker now, no question.”

About our research

The data published here, compiled by SportsBusiness Journal researchers David Broughton and Brandon McClung, cover the 351 schools that compete, or have been approved by the NCAA to compete by 2017, in Division I athletics. Overall, the research covers 334 athletic directors and 17 interim ADs.

The data were compiled first through each AD’s bio posted on the school’s official athletic department website. Only two schools did not post a biography of its AD — Winthrop (Tom Hickman has been the AD there for nearly 19 years) and Gardner-Webb (Chuck Burch celebrated in April his 18th anniversary as AD). News releases, local media stories and old media guides were used to verify the data and to fill in blanks.

Fewer than half of the 351 biographies we assembled contained all the information we sought. Each athletic department was provided with a template of the collected data to confirm, edit and/or fill in blanks. Eighteen schools failed to provide the information we requested — Alabama A&M; Arkansas, Pine Bluff; Chicago State; Coppin State; Denver; East Tennessee State; Lamar; Maine; Mississippi Valley State; Morgan State; Mount St. Mary’s; New Mexico; Portland; Prairie View A&M; Princeton; Radford; Savannah State; and Connecticut.

In the more than six months that it took to build this database, approximately three dozen ADs resigned, retired, were fired or became an AD at a different school. As a result, the collection effort was constant. None of the data include information from the 17 interim ADs. The presentation includes data from the three ADs who have announced their retirements but remained on the job as of June 5.