Monday, March 8, 2010

Help Wanted

The second week in March is a rite of passage on the Georgetown athletics calendar, the week that no matter what the sport, eyes are fixed on New York.

For 30 years, the Big East men's tournament has become a magnet not only for the basketball fans among us (myself included), but for much of the Georgetown athletics and development staff-- a time to reconnect with the New York base, meet some new fundraising contacts, and take part in the conference's showplace event.  While not in the Big East, football has also taken advantage of the weekend over the years, with alumni receptions and meet-and-greets with the head coach.
And over the years, you couldn't miss a Frank Rienzo, a Joe Lang, or a Bernard Muir moving quickly through the halls at the Affinia Southgate or Madison Square Garden, because this was no week off for them. Come to think of it, there are no weekends off for that position. But for only the second time in 30 years, Georgetown heads to the Big East in continued search of an athletic director, and the time it has taken to fill the position says a lot about how important (and daunting) the challenge is.

At first glance, it would seem to be a job with a lot of takers:

"Help Wanted:  Top 25 university in BCS-level Division I conference invites nominations and applications for Director of Athletics. Sucessful candidate will lead an award-winning intercollegiate program with a budget comparable to Mississippi State and New Mexico, the largest budget of any major school not playing I-A football. Extensive national coverage during winter months on CBS and ESPN, with instantly identifiable worldwide brand for licensing opportunities. Frequent exposure to national leaders, professional athletes, and local celebrities in vicinity. Work may extend to nights and weekends, some travel required."

Were it that easy! The days where an athletic director was an early retirement job for an ex-coach are long, long gone. No more are the days where an athltic director would pay the bills, say hello to a visiting trustee on their way through town, and get in a couple of rounds of golf before the weekend--it's literally become the CEO of a multi-million dollar company, with 150 employees, 800 participants, and more than a few alumni and fans who mistakenly think the athletic director answers to them. Little wonder that when Michigan hired its new director, it hired a former CEO from Domino's Pizza. Faculty bemoan how athletics is a business, but if it's not run with sound business principles, things break down in a hurry, unlike the glacial pace of academia, where tenure is a lifetime pass and philosophy professors don't have to present a win-loss record to keep their jobs.

In April 2009, the Wilmington News-Journal announced Georgetown AD Bernard Muir was a candidate for the director's post at Delaware. That surprised a lot of people, especially as Muir was considered a rising star in NCAA  circles and, to most, Delaware is not a step up from Georgetown. But unless someone is prepared to make Georgetown their last career stop, the employment door swings two ways: you either open the door or someone opens the door for you. Muir decided to exit on his own terms a month later, and for the last 10 months, Georgetown has been on the lookout for his sucessor.

(It bears repeating that Georgetown has been well served by interim director Dan Porterfield, who has done great work to keep things on an even keel and whose service to this University deserves a lot of praise. Of course, Dan already has a job at Georgetown (sometimes more than one) and interim does not mean indefinite, so the need to bring in a new leader is as important for him as it is for the coaches and players.)

It's not surprising that the search has taken this long--the next paragraph of this fictional job listing would give any serious candidate pause:

"Candidate must manage largest intercollegiate program in conference with less resources per student than any peer school. Must manage revenue stream of one sport with rising scholarship and program needs of 28 other teams, 25 of which have no revenue potential. Must work within university bureaucracy to help raise approx. $10-15 million for athletics annually. Must promptly address over $100 million in deferred/delayed construction projects without funds in hand, with extremely limited space, and with no debt financing. Candidate must have all teams competing at highest competitive levels and to still graduate 100% of seniors amidst rigorous educational requirements, without scandal or sanction." 

This is not an easy situation. There is no T. Boone Hoya waiting to fill the cofffers, no Yum Brands or FedEx waiting to build an athletics campus down the street. A sixty year old building houses a staff of 150 when it was built for six. Kehoe Field has been unplayable for seven years, the track and field program hasn't seen its on-campus track in almost 14 years. Baseball field? Gone. Two 100-yard fields are the remaining sources of outdoor athletic space not just for teams, but for 6,500 students. A boathouse has been in the planning stages since the second term of the Reagan administration.

And then there's football--where does an new AD start with this? Georgetown isn't sitting at the bottom of the Big East, it's sitting with a 1-22 record in the Patriot League over the last four seasons. Recruits see aging, temporary bleachers surrounded by piles of construction dirt, and coaches are still expected to outrecruit Yale and Princeton for kids with a 1400 SAT and a 4.8 in the 40...and stay within two touchdowns of them in the process. 

But through it all, the most important part of the job listing reads: "Georgetown University". It's the tie that binds this job to a wealth of great opportunitiss and possibilities, no less with a football program that could do so much more with a strong athletic director at the helm. Richmond went from almost downgrading its football program to national champions in six years, and will debut a $25 million on-campus stadium this season. If Georgetown got behind its football program, the turnaround could be almost as dramatic.

Yes, it's a tough job, but Georgetown can't long survive in major college athletics without an athletic director, one who will not only articulate the strategic visiton of athletics at the University, but chart a course for it to succeed and excel. It might just be the second toughest job at the school.

The toughest? The president that has to hire him.