The Important Role of the Collegiate Athletic Administrator
Driven by the explosion in popularity that college sports has experienced over the past several decades, as well as the increasing emphasis that colleges and universities have placed on growing their athletics programs, the role of the athletic administrator has never been so dynamic and crucial within college athletic departments as it is today. Successful collegiate athletic administrators now must handle an expansive range of responsibilities on a day-to-day basis as they coordinate and manage a variety of interrelated departments under their purview. The evolving nature of the role has led to heightened demand for qualified athletic administrators and directors at colleges and universities both large and small. With the proper understanding of the complex nature of the role, a career in college athletics administration is open to those with the interest, drive, necessary skill set and educational background.
The Athletic Administrator’s Place in a College’s Athletics Department
Broadly speaking, a collegiate athletic administrator’s role is to run a school’s athletics department and oversee their sports teams. As the size of college athletic departments grow and the revenue they generate continues to increase dramatically, athletic administrators have begun to function as business operations managers as much as they are responsible for personnel talent development and the promotion of their institution’s integrity and reputation.
To better understand the complexity of the position that a collegiate athletic administrator occupies, let’s look at the three major functions of the role. First, athletic administrators are tasked with managing the personnel and staff of their department, from those on the athletic side, such as coaches, to those involved with operations, financial and marketing tasks. In addition, while athletic administrators do not typically deal with student athletes directly, promoting their safety, well-being and overall development by maintaining clear policies and procedures is a core function of the job.
Second, athletic administrators are one of the most public faces of any college’s athletics department. Because of this, those in this position are highly involved in ensuring that their department follows ethical guidelines and maintains the integrity of the overall academic institution. Athletic administrators also help direct media campaigns and alumni and fan fundraising efforts, placing strong communication at the center of their job functions.
Lastly, as athletic department revenues boom, managing the overall operations of this business-like enterprise has become a more central responsibility of college athletic directors. Overseeing and directing the athletic department’s budget, negotiating revenue-generating deals such as media contracts, creating game schedules and managing the various game and training facilities are some of the elements of business operation that a college’s athletic administrator is tasked with.
A Day in the Life of the Collegiate Athletic Administrator
The sheer complexity of the collegiate athletic administrator’s role ensures that no two days are exactly the same, and, throughout the year, the daily demands will vary depending on team schedules and the academic calendar. For example, as part of their responsibility for assembling a coaching staff, athletic administrators will often focus on searching for new coaching talent during academic breaks when teams are prohibited from practicing. Similarly, because athletic administrators are responsible for overseeing a variety of operations, marketing, accounting and athletic development professionals, the performance review process will become part of their annual routine.
Other elements of the athletic administrator’s job are not daily but are ongoing throughout the year, such as negotiating media contracts, conducting fundraising efforts and forging partnerships with apparel companies for team uniforms. During a team’s season, overseeing the game schedule and promoting student body involvement in order to improve game attendance become important tasks for the college’s athletic administrator.
In short, no set schedule governs a collegiate athletic administrator’s day-to-day schedule, and this variability means that careful planning and the creation of an overall vision for the athletic department are keys to success in this role.
Career Outlook for Athletic Administrators
As the nature of college athletic programs has changed and expanded, the need for athletic administrators who are both versed in sports management principles as well as skilled with handling complex and large-scale business operations has also grown. The intricate and often demanding duties of a collegiate athletic administrator are reflected in the typical salary and compensation offered for this position. According to a 2011 study conducted by the law firm Stinson Morrison Hecker LLC in conjunction with USA Today, base salary rates for collegiate athletic directors vary widely, from $110,000 to $2.5 million depending on the school’s size, the number of teams, and the overall success of the athletic program. In addition, a number of colleges award bonuses to athletic directors for exceptional results.
However, those interested in this role should be aware that although highly-skilled athletic administrators are in demand, the finite number of college programs places a limit on the available athletic administrator positions. Only about 1,100 athletic administrator positions exist across all three NCAA divisions, though hiring has been brisk for these spots; between 2009 and 2014, the 351 NCAA Division I schools hired 167 athletic directors. The limited number of open spots, however, means that anyone interested in such a role needs to focus strongly on developing their skills, vision and knowledge through hard work and educational opportunities.
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