Tim Downes was fragile, but tough. His lacrosse career, which included four years at Dartmouth, was marred by a broken thumb, elbow, toe and ribs. Despite playing without an athletics scholarship amid the academic burdens of an Ivy League school, Downes never quit.
“I’d have a really good year, and then I’d have a broken bone year,” he said. “But sports were always such a big part of my life.”
More than two decades later, that hasn’t changed. Now athletics director at Emory, Downes has devoted a career to serving student-athletes like him, who play for no scholarship and hold no illusions of playing professionally; who give countless hours to their sport while immersed in difficult coursework; and whose rewards for their efforts might be only quiet satisfaction and a few fractures.
Rather than work in the lucrative finance world after college, Downes returned to Dartmouth to coach lacrosse. He continued coaching while attending law school at Washington and Lee, though friends warned that doing both simultaneously was foolhardy. His coaching background and law degree positioned him for an athletics administration career.
So what has made him most proud during his seven-year tenure at Emory? Given his studious background, it’s no surprise: Twenty-four Emory student-athletes have been awarded NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships under his watch, though he certainly doesn’t mind the seven national championship banners that have also been hung in his time.
“I love being at a place where you have a president, where you have people in academics who don’t apologize for wanting to win championships,” he said.
Downes recently spent several years serving in NCAA governance. His terms on the Division III Championships Committee and Division III Management Council came to an end at January’s NCAA Convention.
Also at an end are the seven trips a year he made to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. He brought his family on his final trip.
“They really thought I had another family in Indianapolis,” he quipped. “I had to dispel that.”