Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Education, Experiences, and Advancement of Athletic Directors in NCAA Member Institutions

Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Education, Experiences, and Advancement of Athletic Directors in NCAA Member Institutions

Article excerpt


Intercollegiate athletics is immensely popular. Thousands of fans attend college football and men's basketball games dressed in their teams' colors, while power conferences (i.e., Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten Conference, Big Twelve Conference, Pacific-12 Conference, and Southeastern Conference) sign multimillion-dollar broadcasting rights contracts to televise thousands of their games (Dosh, 2013). College sports is big business (Jessup, 2013), especially at the highest competitive level, with universities and their athletic departments profiting immensely from sales of licensed merchandise (Rovell, 2013). Alumni and other fans make major donations to athletic departments to obtain optimal parking spots near stadiums and arenas and premium seats therein (Dosh, 2011). Undeniably, intercollegiate athletic programs compete with each other commercially as well as athletically (Smith, 2013). In this milieu, stakeholders entrust athletic directors to establish financially and athletically successful programs and exploit every revenue-producing opportunity.

Based on a review of research, Fitzgerald, Sagaria, and Nelson (1994) posit a normative career path for athletic directors including being a college athlete, high school coach, college coach, and assistant or associate athletic director before becoming an athletic director. While they suggest many career trajectory variations within this sequence, they also indicate college coaches are more likely to advance into athletic director positions than assistant or associate athletic directors.

Unfortunately, most research into the education and experience athletic directors is dated (Fitzgerald et al., 1994; Hatfield, Wrenn, & Bretting, 1987; Williams & Miller, 1983) with little done in recent years to evaluate how the career paths of those leading athletic departments are changing. The hiring of former Domino's chairman and chief executive officer as the athletic director at the University of Michigan in 2010 suggests, at least anecdotally, that an athletic director's career path may be changing. Baruch (2004) and Sullivan and Baruch (2009) suggest traditional "up the ladder" career paths may be giving way to hybrid career models, characterized by fluidity and multi-directionality, where individuals move between firms and industries, supporting a potential change in an athletic director's career path.

Prior work by Fitzgerald et al. (1994) encourages researchers to investigate career path differences between males and females, although recent research indicates males remain entrenched in governing intercollegiate athletic programs.

Acosta and Carpenter (2012) and Lumpkin, Dodd, and McPherson (2014) affirm the predominance of males as athletic directors and in most other intercollegiate athletic administrative positions. For example, Acosta and Carpenter (2012) report 89.4% of athletic directors in institutions competing in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) are males. In Division II, 84.3% of athletic directors are males, as are 69.3% in Division III. The NCAA also acknowledges the relative dearth of diversity among key decision makers in member institutions across its three divisions. NCAA data for 2010-2011 reveal 91% of athletic directors in Division I are male, 83% in Division II, and 71% in Division III, with males also holding 66% of associate and assistant athletic director positions (Wilson, 2012).

Fitzgerald et al. (1994) suggest variation in the scope and size of universities leads to different career preparation and patterns among the three divisions and encourages researchers to study the differences. For those aspiring to be athletic directors or preparing while students to become athletic directors, access to information on the career paths of athletic directors is important, especially as sport management programs thrive (Fitzgerald et al., 1994).

The purpose of this chapter was to elucidate the educational and experiential backgrounds of athletic directors and how they differ between males and females and across divisions. …

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