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May 11, 2004

Athletic Directors: In The Center Of The Storm

FROM THE RIGORS AND CHALLENGES OF COLLEGE ATHLETICS ADMINISTRATION comes the latest take on the ever-evolving rainbow of responsibilities expected of today’s athletic directors.

No longer is it good enough to field winning teams and keep the alumni happy. These days the ADs’ constituencies are many and varied. And vocal. Media, presidents, faculty, students, the federal government, boosters, gender advocacy groups, etc. … everyone these days wants a piece of the athletic director.

What was once a somewhat cushy, somewhat figurehead, somewhat ceremonial position has become the college athletics version of an always scrambling general manager. But instead of keeping dividend-hungry stockholders happy, ADs are obliged to keep diverse constituents happy with a dizzying conglomeration of policies and decisions that sometimes seem to contradict one another.

Front and center among issues these days are academics and recruiting scandals, but variously bubbling to the surface of media scrutiny have been—and will continue to be—Title IX, commercialism, the arms race, haves / have-nots, and so on.

How can any athletic director—or any program—juggle so many balls at once?

As so succinctly stated by Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo, “We're supposed to be Harvard on Monday through Friday and Alabama on Saturdays.”

A recent Kansas City Star piece explored the significant difference in the job description / responsibilities for AD positions, and the background and skill sets of the ADs themselves.

Whereas in the “old days” (as recently as a couple decades ago) often the football or basketball coach would transition into the AD position. Examples: Vince Dooley (Georgia), Henry Iba (Oklahoma State), Don Faurot (Missouri).

Nowadays athletic directors are more likely to come from fund-raising and business administration backgrounds. And less likely to have coaching experience. Examples: Dan Guerrero (UCLA), Tim Curley (Penn State), Jeff Hathaway (UConn).

To illustrate the enormity of the travails that can overwhelm ADs, the Star article listed the several—and varied—challenges that have cropped up in just the past few months at schools in the Midwest:

• Steve Pederson, Nebraska: firing football coach Frank Solich after a “mediocre” 9-3 season
• Mike Alden, Missouri: NCAA extra benefits infractions
• Richard, Tharp, Colorado: recruiting excesses, suspension of football coach Gary Barnett
• Lew Perkins, Kansas: came in after messy departure of previous AD Al Bohl

With challenge comes compensation, however. Athletic directors are among the highest compensated individuals in athletics programs, only football and basketball coaches are paid more. In the top Division I-A schools, the ADs’ average annual salaries are over $250,000.

Thought to be an offshoot of the prevailing trends: There will be far fewer athletics directors logging 20+ years on the job.

(this 442 word excerpt was drawn from a 1250 word article in the Kansas City Star of 4-27-04)