The job of an intercollegiate athletic director (AD), especially at a Division-I school, is often looked at as a glamorous job that consists of little more than fundraising, promoting of future major events, and attending football games in suites or sitting court-side at a basketball game. The people that believe that are greatly misinformed. Of course, the job consists of those things listed, but the work that is done more behind-the-scenes is what keeps the program running at the competitive level that it competes at. As G.M. Wong says in The Comprehensive Guide to Careers in Sports, the athletic director is the highest ranking position in a university's athletic department. He has a brief list of responsibilities of the AD at a Division-I school, such as being able to "manage budgets ranging from $10 million to over $70 million" and be able to "field at least 14 total teams...while dispersing over $4 million in scholarships." I'm going to describe, in depth, the responsibilities and typical day-to-day duties of an intercollegiate athletic director, as well as describe common education and professional paths leading up to becoming a school's athletic director.
Sometimes, when asked about their jobs, people will respond with "Same thing, different day." Very rarely, if ever, will you hear an athletic director use that phrase because everyday at work is different in many ways from the month, week, and even the day prior. A few weeks ago, I spoke with two assistant athletic directors here at the University of Kansas. One of whom, Larry Hare, is the assistant athletic director for equipment and other was Sean Lester, assistant athletic director who is just below Sheahon Zenger, KU's newest athletic director. Lester, during the search for a new AD, was the interim AD and ran the day-to-day operations of the athletic department in between Lew Perkins, former AD, and Dr. Zenger. In both of those interviews, I asked about them to describe their day-to-day jobs, and both of them found it hard to give me a good answer. Larry Hare specifically told me "Everyday, the schedule, is different. I spend a lot of time dealing with people's needs. It's a service oriented job." He then described some of the services that he helps to provide, and they included "responding to requests that come via email, requests at the door, things we have to deliver, and providing items for people in need." He also included making "purchase orders at the appropriate time, paying invoices promptly, and dealing with fitting and issuing issues with our student athletes." When asked the same question, Sean Lester almost reiterated Larry Hare's statements exactly. He said that his focus is "mainly internal, especially budgeting." But he said "You have your list of things to do each day, but that list will only get bigger with developments of the day and having to deal with emergencies from sport-to-sport or emergencies in a facility, you just never know." Just by those two interviews, one can tell that there is far more to an athletic director's job than meet the general public's eye, or just more than they initially realize.
Athletic directors are not only responsible for their staff, budgeting, facilities, but among the forgotten responsibilities is, of course, the student-athletes and their well-being and development. In an interview with University of Florida athletic director, Jeremy Foley, Kevin Newell of the Coach & Athletic Director asked what the greatest challenges currently facing athletic directors. Jeremy Foley stated that "Ensuring that the academic focus is appropriate" . He goes on to say how everyone in college athletics believes they are going to move into the pros and that their academics are not important and academics becomes second priority, instead of their first. This shows that Jeremy realizes that they are "student-athletes," in which being a student is first and foremost. Another challenge he talks about is finances. He says "There will be financial challenges at our level, the high school level. Every university in this country is dealing with financial issues" . Sure, he mentions that the University of Florida, as well as other "big-name" schools have an easier way of dealing with those financial issues, but he realizes they exist and they must be acknowledged and remedied.
However, before these athletic directors and assistants got to their current positions, most of them started at the bottom. In a study by Maureen Fitzgerald and Mary Ann Sagaria of the Journal of Sport Management, it looked at a normative career pattern of 200 ADs from Divisions I, II, and III. It sought to find a pattern of these athletic directors and find similarities in their path to becoming an athletic director at a university. Of the 200 that responded, the most common feature among them was that 80% were collegiate athletes. The study found that "94.5% of the respondents had experienced career patterns that followed the linear time sequence of the positions advanced in the normative career pattern" . The linear time sequence they're referring to begins with being a college athlete, becoming a high school coach, moving to being a collegiate coach, becoming an associate or assistant director, before becoming the athletic director. As stated, the most common was being an athlete in college, but second most common was being a collegiate coach. The study states that "differences from the posited norms were most likely to be associated with directors of NCAA Division II and III institutions and with women" .
The education requirements to become an athletic director vary from school to school. However, in a different study performed in the Journal of Sport Management by B. Hatfield, J. Wrenn and M. Bretting, it gives a little insight into what is generally looked for, or preferred. According to the results of the study of 58 NCAA Division I-A athletic directors, 100% of them had a baccalaureate, 71.9% had a graduate degree, 19.3% had a doctoral degree, while only 3.5% had a professional degree . These same ADs also responded to what they studied while in school in terms of majors and minors. The two most popular undergraduate majors for college athletic directors were physical education (36.4) and history (15.9). Atop the most popular undergraduate minors were physical education (22.2) and English (8.9). Finally, the two most common graduate majors were physical education (37.5) and education administration (25.0) . Based on this small sample size, it can be concluded that having some sort of background in physical education in school is encouraged and common among college athletic directors. Also, a baccalaureate degree is required for this position as 100% of those surveyed answered yes, while having a graduate degree is very much encouraged to set yourself apart from some other applicants for the same job, and a doctoral degree will further separate you and give you and advantage in advancement, as only 19.3% have it. According to the results of the same study, not only is higher education extremely important, but so is work experience. The average age of the college athletic director was 51, while the average "years employed with present organization" was 12.3 years . This shows that schools like to promote from within the department for a new athletic director to keep a similar culture around the department instead of changing the whole direction, unless of course a drastic change is needed, such as with the most recent situation here at the University of Kansas with the abrupt resignation of Lew Perkins following scandals within the athletics department.
Briefly, I described the day-to-day responsibilities of a collegiate athletic director. Those responsibilities include, but are far from limited to, managing a budget that can reach over $70 million, fundraising, being the public voice and image of the athletic department, as well as making sure the student-athletes are meeting specified academics requirements to stay eligible, among many, many other duties they must adhere to. Also, the education necessary, or preferred, was discussed for advancement from equipment room employee, like Sean Lester, to becoming an assistant, or head, athletic director at a University. As requirements from school to school are different, it usually is that same that a baccalaureate degree is required, while graduate and doctoral degrees are just preferred or encouraged, especially at higher levels, such as Division I. After researching more about the jobs and responsibilities of a college athletic director, it reinforces my desire to become one, preferably here at the University of Kansas, naturally.
Wong, G. M. (2009). The comprehensive guide to careers in sports. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
Johnson, G. (2010). Emmert: Well-being of student-athletes the ultimate priority. NCAA News, 2. http://search.ebscohost.com.www2.lib.ku.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=s3h&AN=51829442&site=ehost-live
Hatfield, B. D., Wrenn, J. P., Bretting, M. M. (1987). Comparison of job responsibilities of intercollegiate athletic directors and professional sport general managers. College Park, MD: Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc.
Larry Hare. Personal interview. 2/10/2011.
Newell, K. (2008). The best in the business. Brookfield, WI: Lessiter Publishers and Coach and AD.
Hoch, D. Balancing your position and family. Brookfield, WI: Lessiter Publishers and Coach and AD. http://www.coachad.com/pages/Athletic-Directors-Balancing-Your-Position-and-Family.php
Kenneth C. Scull. Stadium manage/Assistant athletic director. https://courseware.ku.edu/bbcswebdav/courses/HSES289-002/Kenneth%20C.%20Scull%20U%20of%20Louisville.pdf
Martina K. Ballen. Senior associate athletic director of athletics for Business and finance. https://courseware.ku.edu/bbcswebdav/courses/HSES289-002/Marina%20K.%20Ballen%20U%20of%20North%20Carolina.pdf
Bob De Carolis. Athletic director- Oregon State University.
Daniel Guerrero. Athletic director for UCLA
Gene Smith. Athletic Director for Ohio State University.