- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

Jim Kehoe remembers stocking the concession stands and setting up chairs courtside before basketball games.

Kehoe was the athletic director at Maryland from 1969 to 1981, and the job sometimes required him to do things that might seem a bit unusual today.

“You had to be a coach to be an athletic director,” Kehoe said. “Nobody had one job as just the coach. You had to do three or four things.”

Lining up traffic cones on campus before games, for instance.

Debbie Yow, Maryland’s current athletic director, does not direct the flow of traffic, paint lines on the football field or position the blocking sleds before practice. Today the job requires a completely different set of skills.

Yow has built a basketball arena, negotiated multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals, rebuilt a football program and raised millions of dollars for the athletic program.

She has balanced a $42.6million budget, worried over graduation rates, deciphered complex and tangled NCAA rules, appeased upset alumni and, in a recent case, helped determine whether cursing by fans in the stands is permitted under the First Amendment.

In the past, the job often was given to older coaches as a way station on the road to retirement. Athletic departments and budgets were much smaller, there were few women’s sports and college sports in general were not as popular or lucrative.

The job these days is more like Bill Parcells meets Bill Gates. The demands are enormous, and the skills required to do the job are much more varied.

“Every day is game day for administrators,” Yow said. “We come to the office not knowing what’s going to hit the desk. It could be a social issue by a coach or athlete, a lawsuit, academic dishonesty, game contracts.”

But for all the different demands on an athletic director, the bottom line is money — lots of money.

Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin is one of only two football coaches at Division I programs — Watson Brown at Alabama-Birmingham is the other — who also are athletic directors.

Alvarez took over the administration at Wisconsin in April mostly to raise funds for a $110million stadium expansion.

“When it’s football season, my staff knows my full commitment is on football,” Alvarez said. “I stay in contact with issues, but I can’t always be where I’m supposed to be. You have to rely on people and delegate.”

There is a reason that one person no longer handles both jobs at most schools, a la Bear Bryant at Alabama.

“That day has really passed,” said Gib Romaine, athletic director at Hood College in Frederick, Md. “You can’t do it. It’s impossible. There’s so much going on at that level, the athletic director at big-time schools is raising money.”

Kehoe presided over a $1million budget when he became Maryland’s director in 1969. The Terrapins balanced a $42.6million budget last year and sent another $6million to the college’s general fund, money raised from ticket sales, television revenues, alumni fund raising, merchandise royalties and student athletic fees.

Every scholarship, dorm, meal and book used by Maryland’s 417 athletes in 27 sports is paid by the athletic program, not the university.

Athletic programs often have impact beyond the university. Louisiana State athletics, for example, has a $110million economic impact on the state — seven times the revenue produced by a nearby apparel factory. More than 2,300 jobs rely on the Tigers, whose football team generated a $40million profit last year alone.

With so much at stake, lawyers, accountants and business executives began taking over athletic departments in the 1980s, when the money started to swell.

“The presidents and trustees are really scared of NCAA violations,” said LSU athletic director Skip Bertman. “They figure attorneys or others in business could really [monitor] that. I disagree. Coaching is the best background to be an athletic director.”

The gradual shift has prompted debate whether coaches can handle the business side of running an athletic department and whether the business types can understand their coaches’ needs for improved practice fields, better weight rooms and comfy buses.

“Just because you’re a coach doesn’t mean you can’t be a good businessman,” said Bertman, who has coached baseball for 40 years. “A businessman doesn’t always know about being on the road recruiting or internal problems on the team.”

Yow coached women’s basketball at Kentucky, Oral Roberts and Florida from 1976 to 1985, becoming the only men’s or women’s basketball coach to take three unranked teams to the top 20.

“You can do the job well if you didn’t coach,” she said, “but there’s an advantage to having been a coach. You understand why coaches act the way they do when they act out. You come to the conversations with a different sense of credibility. They can never look at you and say, ‘You just don’t understand.’”

To better that understanding, South Carolina, Notre Dame, Michigan, Southern California and Texas have created sports management institutes that combine business and athletic programs.

That many young administrators seek law or business degrees rather than enter coaching worries South Carolina athletic director Mike McGee.

“We’re raising up a lot of outstanding managers,” he said, “but on the leadership side we should be looking at coaches. Some of the brightest people we have in the business are in football and Olympic sports, and we’re not providing a means for those people to have access into administration.”

College presidents also have learned how important sports is to their overall bottom line and increasingly require athletic directors to report directly to them or the trustees.

Maryland’s admission applications increased 10 percent after the Terrapins won the 2002 NCAA basketball championship and 30 percent after they reached two straight Final Fours. Hood’s men’s teams are essentially marketing tools for the expanded coed college.

“You’ll hear from institutions what they offer academically, but the problem is the media is not going to write about it,” Romaine said. “If you can be good in sports, fund raising and admissions are increased and you can become much more selective in students.”

Said McGee: “The athletic department is the front porch of the university.”

For Yow, the business never ends. She is expected to announce plans for the expansion of Byrd Stadium in the next few months. There also are new facilities for several other teams, an upgraded track and a cardio unit. This comes after the paint on a $14million football building expansion has barely dried. No wonder other schools have pursued Yow in recent years.

“If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if I was leaving, I’d leave wealthy,” she said.

Alvarez doesn’t plan to leave coaching in the near future, but eventually he’ll become only the athletic director. Maybe it’s his final stop before retirement, but it’s hardly a peaceful interim post.

“It has been invigorating,” Alvarez said. “New challenges are good for you. Normally, there’s some slow time outside football. Now my days are full.”

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