Exploring this Job
Reading industry publications is a good way to learn more about this career. The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) publishes Athletics Administration, a journal that focuses on issues in collegiate athletics administration. The journal also has a Q&A Forum, where leading athletic directors are interviewed about current issues in the field. To learn more, visit the NACDA Web site, https://www.nacda.com.
If your high school has a large sports program, it might employ an athletic director. If so, talk with this person about his or her career. Good questions to ask include: What are your primary and secondary job duties? What type of training did you receive to qualify for this job? How did you get hired for this position? How does working as a high school athletic director compare to working at the college level? If your school doesn't employ an athletic director, ask your counselor or physical education teacher to set up an information interview with one at a nearby college.
Athletic directors plan and implement athletic programs at colleges and universities. Athletic directors at large Division I schools oversee large budgets, supervise staffs that range from dozens to hundreds of employees, and make many important decisions daily. They are helped by assistant and associate athletic directors who specialize in finance, media relations, compliance, and other issues. Athletic directors at large schools spend much of their time raising money and marketing their programs to the public. At small colleges, athletic directors work alone or with very small staffs. In addition to their main duties, they might drive athletes to games, coach sports teams, write press releases or marketing copy, and teach classes. The work of athletic directors can be divided into the following general areas: staff management/administration, financial issues, compliance, and public relations.
Athletic directors hire and supervise coaches and other department staff. They evaluate the performance of coaches and give them feedback. Athletic directors may have to fire coaches who fail to perform up to expectations.
Athletic directors have many administrative duties. They oversee coaches, athletic teams, and employees who assist with ticket sales, fund-raising, public relations, and other tasks. They make sure that stadiums, playing fields, and training, locker, and weight rooms are in good condition. Athletic directors meet with athletic directors from other schools and conference and association officials to coordinate athletic schedules and discuss rules and regulations. They meet with faculty representatives regarding academic issues relating to student-athletes.
Athletic directors create and manage the athletic budgets at their institutions. When creating budgets, they make sure that each sport is allotted enough money to operate effectively. Athletic directors must be aware of their institutions’ spending rules, as well as the regulations established by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). They plan and oversee ticket sales and certify income reports from these sales. Athletic directors negotiate radio and television broadcasting contracts and other commercial contracts and agreements that earn revenue for their institutions. This revenue is used for scholarships, team equipment, travel expenses, coaching and administrative staff salaries, the design and printing of schedules and marketing materials, and other expenses. Revenue also comes from fans (known as boosters), who make donations to the program. Athletic directors must be expert fund-raisers to make up for any budget shortfalls.
Navigating compliance issues relating to academic achievement, scholarships, gender issues, and other regulations established by their institutions; athletic conferences; the NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA; and the federal government is one of the most critical tasks for athletic directors. They monitor the academic and graduation rates of student-athletes, and meet with student-athletes, parents, and faculty to resolve problems. If an athletic director’s institution participates in federal student financial aid programs, they must prepare an annual Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act Report to account for scholarships. The director must also ensure that the institution is compliant with Title IX regulations, which guarantee the equal participation of women in collegiate sports.
Athletic directors must be highly skilled at public relations. They need to develop strong relationships with donors and booster organizations that help raise much-needed revenue for their departments. They also speak at high schools, fan fests, and sports awards dinners. They oversee staff that produces and disseminates public relations material about the athletic program.
Athletic directors meet with newspaper, radio, and television reporters almost daily. They answer a variety of questions from these media professionals. They might be asked about the job security of the women’s basketball coach, a generous gift to the athletic department by a donor, or the construction of the school’s new multipurpose sports arena. Athletic directors speak at news conferences, on sports talk shows, and at other media events.
Athletic directors employed at small schools may only work part time. They spend the rest of their time teaching classes, chairing the physical education department, or coaching sports. All athletic directors, whether employed by a tiny sports program or a major, well-known program, must have a vision for the future of their programs. They must be able to explain this vision to administration officials, the media, and fans.