June 12, 2013 • Athletic AdministrationHuddle Up

Athletic directors: Who needs them?

KevinWhen I was a young boy, I dreamed of one day becoming an attorney. Who doesn’t? You wake up, spend hours in a courtroom arguing with others, collect your generous paycheck and call it a day.

That’s the good life. At least it would be if my impression of practicing law was realistic. It’s not until you get older that you learn lawyers spend less time in oral arguments and more time in the discovery phase, sorting through countless documents and statutes.

School boards in states like Michigan hold similar misconceptions. Last month, the Lansing School District cut both of its athletic directors, reassigning their duties to assistant principals. This sort of thing is taking place at several school districts around the nation, as boards grapple with smaller budgets and the need to reduce costs. Much like my 8-year-old self, I imagine the Lansing board’s perception of athletic directors goes something like this:

Wake up, schedule some games, watch some games, pat athletes on the back, collect your paycheck and call it day.

You and I both know that’s not true, but how else can anyone explain what’s taking place? If these board members understood the responsibilities of athletic directors, there is absolutely no chance they get rid of them. They didn’t value the role of their sports administrators, and my guess is they’re going to pay for it before long.

Consider a small snapshot of an athletic director’s duties — budgeting, maintenance, scheduling, staff management. I can’t fault the assistant principals who were kicked into this mess, but do they have formal training or certification in athletic administration? Can they build a rapport with student-athletes and athletic directors at nearby school districts? Can they appropriately assess the needs of students and coaches in their departments?

Through no fault of their own, they’re now in over their heads. They can’t create more time in the day, so either their assistant principal or athletic director duties are going to suffer as a result. As will the coaches, student-athletes and the community when they’re left with a subpar sports program that doesn’t adequately meet their needs.

We all understand that reduced funding means tough decisions must be made. But this was a dumb decision far removed from the land of logical thinking. Athletic directors are an added expense, but what the school district didn’t take into account was how the intimate knowledge of the sports programs and the relationships these professionals forged over the years spared the district thousands in additional spending.

No longer will that be the case.

“All I can say is good luck, because they have absolutely no idea what we do and the amount of time that we put in,” said David Panici, one of the Lansing athletic directors who were cut. “It’s going to be real interesting.”

Good luck, indeed. They’re going to need it.

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