Today's college ADs have hands, plates full
June 19, 2002
By AL CARTER
The Dallas Morning News
Nearly four decades ago, as a young track coach at Kansas State, DeLoss Dodds had an eye for speed. Nothing he saw in those days impressed as much as haste with which his boss, the athletic director, made it to the golf course each afternoon.
"I told my wife," Dodds recalls, "'That's what I want to be when I grow up.' "
He got his wish - sort of. Dodds was named Kansas State's athletic director in 1976 and five years later landed in his current position, as AD at the University of Texas, where the athletic department budget is currently a whopping $75 million and growing. It was $6 million when Dodds arrived just two decades ago.
"I don't know that I've grown up," Dodds says. "But everything else has changed. It is so different now."
The difference is readily apparent by the dinosaur-like disappearance of ADs from the nation's golf courses. When the athletic chiefs of America's colleges gather in Dallas on Monday for the three-day National Association of College Directors of Athletics convention, it'll be all business. Topics will range from rules compliance to the war-horse issue that trampled the old AD stereotype nearly a quarter-century ago - Title IX.
Back then, any gathering of ADs would have been dominated by good old boys, many of them former football coaches, all eager to bask in old memories while bounding along in a golf cart. Today, what former coaches there are in the AD profession keep their clubs stowed and their ears open - to ideas delivered by experts on marketing, accounting and even the law, many of whom have themselves infiltrated the AD ranks.
"There was a time when football coaches retired, became ADs and played a lot of golf," Rice AD Bobby May says. "But that was a time before deficits and women's sports. The world was a lot simpler then. Today the job is 24-7. There are no breaks. For the most part, football coaches now would run the other way."
"My handicap has gone way, way, way up," confesses University of Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione. "I really don't have time to play anymore."
The plate of the typical AD has become so full, some schools have, in effect, split the job, hiring separate directors for men's and women's programs. Three decades ago, an AD's singular task was to raise money, an undertaking best accomplished by hob-knobbing with wealthy alumni on the golf links and booster lunch circuits. Today, an AD's agenda is as neatly defined as a food fight.
Wearing many hats
Fund raising, because of what administrators call the "arms race" in facilities and coaches' salaries, remains a major priority. In addition, AD's now find themselves deeply involved in TV negotiations, bowl contracts, ensuring rules compliance, providing academic support for athletes and, of course, leveling the playing field for women.
Title IX, which mandated equal opportunity for women in athletics, seemed a novel idea by federal bureaucrats when implemented 30 years ago. When strict interpretations of the statute kicked in a decade later, a tidal wave of change swept college athletics and washed away any notion that an athletic program could survive with a "figurehead" in the AD's chair.
Frank Broyles, who achieved legendary status in Arkansas during two decades as the Razorbacks' football coach, reigns as the dean of Division I-A athletic directors. Arkansas' AD since 1974, Broyles is in the process of inaugurating a women's gymnastics program likely to carry an initial budget of close to $1 million. When Broyles first arrived at Arkansas, the school's entire athletic department budget was $900,000.
Now the Razorbacks' budget is $34 million - a total that still ranks ninth in the Southeastern Conference.
"In the old days, you had two sports - football and basketball - and some other sports that nobody paid much attention to," Broyles says. "These days, it's a constant search for new revenue. And I don't know where it's going to end."
With the enforcement of Title IX coming on the heels of runaway inflation in the 1970s, ADs were forced to accept the dual role of money-raiser and money-manager.
"Athletic directors have been forced to become better business people," says Texas A&M AD Wally Groff, who was promoted out of the school's athletic department business office.
While it's tempting to compare the role of a modern AD with that of a CEO, Groff says, those comparisons only go so far. "Certain aspects of this job would be good training for that," Groff says.
"Then, again, we have 21 sports, and 19 of them don't make money. In the business world, if you have a product that's not making money, you get rid of the product. We can't do that."
The wave of rules violations and recruiting scandals that rocked college athletics in the 1980s brought a wave of compliance reforms that added new responsibilities to an AD's job description.
"There was really nobody here doing anything in the area of compliance except the faculty representative," Tennessee AD Doug Dickey says. "Now you have to maintain a broader scope with information that has to go to coaches, athletes, boosters - everybody who's involved."
With the development of women's programs and the advent of on-campus bureaucracies, the size of athletic departments has, in many cases, tripled over the past 30 years. Dickey oversees a department with 300 employees. His budget is $60 million. In 1985, it was $11 million.
Greater involvement by college presidents in the NCAA legislative process has produced a new emphasis on academic success and graduation rates among athletes. That, too, has changed the landscape for athletic administrators. At UT, athletes used to be advised by a single academic counselor. Now the Longhorns have 10.
The variety of tasks which now confront ADs has led to a variety of backgrounds among those picked to be ADs. Yet, despite the impact of Title IX, that diversity has led to only marginal opportunities for women. Only two women hold AD jobs at schools in major conferences: Barbara Hedges at Washington and Deborah Yow at Maryland.
"You see a lot more diversity in terms of previous professions," says Bill Bradshaw, AD at DePaul and president of NACDA. "We have athletic directors from sports information backgrounds, marketing and fund-raising backgrounds - and still the occasional coach."
There's even a diversity of opinion among college administrators about whether profile trends for successful ADs are changing once again - in favor of coaches.
"Now that Title IX is being adhered to, I think it's all going right back to where it started," says Skip Bertman, who took the AD job at LSU last year after winning five national championships in 10 years as coach of the Tigers' baseball team.
"I think coaching experience is very important to being a good athletic director," Bertman says. "The assumption that just because a guy is a coach he doesn't know anything about business is probably erroneous. So I think that's where we are today - making the switch back."
Yow, a former women's basketball coach, agrees in part.
"What institutions want is everything," she says. "They look for people with great business skills, great marketing ability and great presentations skills. Others say that what they really need is someone who understands coaches."
Others aren't so sure it's possible to go back.
"With all the litigation going on now," Dickey says, "I keep hearing more and more about the need for attorneys to be involved."
"It seems that the most successful ADs today are those who are well-educated and who have come up through the system," Dodds says. "You can't just be a good business person."