Something that has never happened before will happen this summer.
There will a change in the leadership of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics when Executive Director Mike Cleary retires and is replaced by current Deputy Executive Director Bob Vecchione.
What makes it unique is that NACDA’s executive director has never before been replaced. Cleary is the original model, having been in the role for 45 years. We’ll offer a well-deserved profile on Cleary in the summer issue of NCAA Champion magazine.
In the meantime, I caught up with Vecchione and asked him a few questions about NACDA:
Q: Where do you see NACDA going over the next several years?
A: We’ve done a tremendous job of overseeing the growth of the associations that we have under our umbrella (NACDA currently manages 12 associations, in addition to its core membership). Now we’re going to focus on managing each of those associations. For instance, the compliance association − we need to do a better job of assisting them in growing their market and educating their members. Seeing as NACDA’s basic mission is education, we want to assist in the education of all the various components that are contained under our umbrella.
Q: Sometimes, it might look to outsiders that NACDA and the NCAA are rivals in some ways. How do you see the relationship?
A: I don’t see them as rivals at all. I’ve been on both sides of the desk. I’ve been a corporate sponsor back in my National Car Rental days, and I ran the Final Four locally back in 1992, so I’ve seen the NCAA and NACDA from both sides. There are so many similarities; there are so many things we can and will be doing together. I should mention that Mark Emmert’s inaugural appearance as NCAA president was at the NACDA convention. We work real hard to develop these relationships, and the NCAA has been a fantastic partner.
Q: Where do athletics directors fit in the college sports universe nowadays?
A: They say the athletics department is the front porch of the university, and the athletics director is in the No. 1 rocking chair on that porch. The AD is a vital role, and as you see in the role of the evolution of the athletics director. There are ADs who carry the role of vice president of a university. Gene Smith has it at Ohio State, I know Jimmy Phillips has it at Northwestern, Kevin White has it at Duke. There are a lot of ADs who are now gaining in that recognition and responsibility with that vice presidential title. And that means that university presidents are also seeing the importance of the athletics departments on campus, and that’s going to continue to grow.
Q: What are the biggest priorities?
A: It’s all based on education, what happens with the media. There are so many moving pieces out there right, especially the media rights piece. The compliance piece is such a big part of the equation. But that’s the beauty of our business. It’s ever-changing. That’s why the educational component, which we focus on, is so important because the more things change, the more you need to be constantly aware and constantly educated as to what is happening out there and, more importantly, what are your counterparts doing to overcome the obstacles and take advantage of all the opportunities. And that’s what we provide.
Q: Does NACDA have a role to play with how college sports are portrayed?
A: No one is satisfied with how the enterprise is portrayed in the media. You can’t control what other people say about you. But just look in our daily lives. Look how many hours our athletics departments are putting into community service. Nobody says anything about that, and that’s just wrong. What about all the great things that the student-athletes at the University of Alabama are doing in the community? Is anybody writing about that? All you can do is work in your own community, and if the stories come out of it, that’s great. You have to work from an inside-out perspective. By the way, Bob Williams and the NCAA put together a media summit of conference media people earlier this year and brought them to Indianapolis, and that was a great, great first step. We have to continue doing those things because we have a tremendous story to tell.
Q: The academic advisors association will join NACDA next year, and CoSIDA also plans to meet jointly with NACDA in the future. Will other organizations be joining NACDA?
A: We take it case by case. We have our base foundation set up right now. If there are other groups down the road, we will definitely analyze it and look at it. But the basic intent was to build an organization that is based on the creation of an association for each business unit that reports into the director of athletics, and we’re well on our way to accomplishing that goal. We don’t have too many other silos to fill. For the time being, we’re very happy where we are. We’re just going to enhance the educational components within each of those silos and, down the road, if additional opportunities present themselves, we’ll sit down with our leaders and see if that’s the direction they want to take. But for the time being, we’re very happy. Plus, if we added any more associations, I think the staff would probably assassinate me.
Q: Describe how Mike Cleary adapted over such a long career.
A: The industry has gotten a lot younger, if you will. But Mike has been flexible with that evolution, primarily because he’s raised nine kids. You don’t raise nine kids and 21 grandkids – all live within a five-mile radius − and not be part of that evolution. So it’s a perfect marriage of the growth of the association and the growth and evolution of his family. There’s nothing he hasn’t seen. His management style is based honesty and integrity. He’ll support you 1,000 percent. He’s just been a tremendous role model, a tremendous mentor, and I’ve learned a great deal from him.