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Support your staff or lose them

A record number of talented college athletic directors are leaving the business. The typical athletic director was traditionally judged based on their ability to fund raise, improve facilities and hire, train, retain and mentor a quality coaching staff. Today’s college athletic directors are facing some additional major challenges as they prepare for another season of competition this fall. The traditional issues of the past decade like rising cost of room, board and tuition and conference realignment still exist but are being rapidly replaced with even more challenging concerns.

Modern day athletic directors face many new issues impacting their ability to produce a strong athletic program including covid, name image and likeness (NIL), athlete mental health concerns, transfer portal, tighter budgets, inflation, endowments shrinking, declining enrollment numbers, and gender equality. Student-athletes are also becoming more involved in activism using their collective voice and power to become involved in national topics like Roe vs. Wade and weighing in on social justice issues.

Athletic directors report to many constituents. Their own coaching staffs are seeking support with many of the traditional concerns but with the emergence of NIL and covid protocols as well as a tight economy triggering financial shortfalls, the athletic director is now becoming a full-time counselor as well. Coaches only must worry about their own programs, but athletic directors face a reality that all the coaches, university, conference, and NCAA problems are their problems. The athletic director must keep his president happy, work with the board of trustees, the conference leadership and numerous campus entities daily. They are responsible for the social, mental, and physical health of their students and staffs. Seldom are they taking the time to work on their own problems.

Fund raising is huge for the college athletic director today. NIL has cut into available corporate and donor dollars available to support the athletic department as many of those dollars are going straight to the student-athlete. Budgets and staffing are being cut at all levels. At the small college level schools are still asking coaches to bring in large numbers of freshmen to help reach the enrollment goals but supply less and less support to the budget to support them. Coaches want more help and athletic directors are often helpless to provide it.

Coaches and athletic directors are being placed in lose/lose situations. Schools need them to recruit high numbers, often offer less financial and staff support, and this diminishes the experience of the student-athlete. That kind of experience, then hurts recruiting because student athletes on large rosters, with less coaches and financial support are not having a great experience. Successful coaches are often hurt because administrators see their success and figure they don’t need help because they are winning now and recruiting large numbers. This is not sustainable. The coaches develop a poor work life balance and their morale and mental health suffer. The athletic director must find ways to be supportive without being abusive of their staff.

The transfer portal and NIL are impacting college athletics in a major way. Student-athletes often find it very easy to leave a program and seek more NIL dollars elsewhere. Division III has had a self-release initiative for many years with little major impact on the quality of the programs. But with the newer version transfer portal, adding scholarship possibilities and NIL dollars, student athletes are leaving their previous institutions at all levels in historic numbers.

College athletic directors have unique skills sets. The best of them could transfer to other professions and perform admirable. University administrators need to commit to helping their talented and most important staff, survive the challenges of today’s athletic world by providing them the tools and support they desperately need. The job of athletic director is lonely and often isolated. Athletic organizations need to change and adapt to the new reality and hiring the right consultant is important for any role. Providing professional mentoring and coaching through an organization like Executive Management Partners is the right way to support your overall programs by supporting your most valuable assets. Contact us at and see how we can help your support your staff.


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