By Michelle Brutlag Hosick
Eight months after she graduated from Cornell with a consumer economics degree, Noreen Morris was working out of an office building in downtown Boston, making 60 to 80 phone calls a day to try to convince people to use MCI telephone service.
She wanted to hang up on that career.
“It wasn’t a job I loved. It was probably a job I hated,” Morris said. “First jobs are where you learn what you don’t want to do – and I learned I didn’t want to do that.”
A former soccer student-athlete at Cornell, Morris’ coach called her out of the blue and offered her an assistant coaching job. She took it without question. Just like that, she was back in athletics. And she never left.
Now the commissioner of the Northeast Conference, Morris will become chair of the Leadership Council on July 1. Her varied background that includes campus jobs at Connecticut and Northwestern and previous conference work at Conference-USA – as well as leadership roles in national bodies like the National Association for Athletics Compliance – prepared her for the position.
“From each experience I was able to glean different skill sets and a different take on things. They all help me in the job I’m in today,” Morris said.
She looks forward to leading the Council at a time when she believes the group is coming into its own. She points to the recent success the group had in studying the men’s basketball recruiting landscape and proposing a new model that was adopted earlier this year with broad support from administrators and coaches.
“We’ve figured out how we can be more effective and be part of the solution,” she said. “With all the NCAA reform happening, we will continue to be a sounding board for the Board of Directors on those issues. There’s a lot of change happening, and I think the Leadership Council can create some options and have some productive dialogue.”
Unlike the Board, Morris said, the Leadership Council has representatives from all 31 multisport conferences in Division I, which allows a variety of perspectives in the room for discussions and strategic thinking. One of her goals for the next year is to ask the membership to be more involved in driving the Council’s agenda.
Right now, she said, the NCAA staff tries to figure out what the membership wants to talk about. Morris wants the Council to form closer relationships with outside organizations (like it did with the National Association of Basketball Coaches for the men’s basketball recruiting model) such as the Collegiate Commissioners Association to help focus the Leadership Council’s direction.
“The membership should say, ‘This is our agenda. Can you help us form it and present the information so that we can have constructive and interactive dialogue?’ ” she said. “This really is a membership organization.”
Morris has always taken her job as a member seriously. She’s been involved nationally both within the NCAA and other outside organizations.
“When you’re on a campus or in a conference office, if you volunteer and become a part of the process, you understand better how the process works. Then you can use that knowledge to help your organization and your peers,” she said. “Unless people get involved, an organization is going to fail.”
Being involved allows Morris to have a bigger role in a field she has passion for, something that allows her to give back to the enterprise that gave her so much as a student-athlete. She was a member of the first recruited class of soccer players at Cornell, which meant she had a leadership role over older players who had played on a club team that was elevated to varsity status. That experience, and the sophisticated way some of the older players handled it, taught her a lot about leadership and teamwork, skills she still uses today.
Just as her experiences as a student-athlete shaped her future, Morris is thrilled to play a part in providing that experience for others.
“You have freshmen coming in the door, and through their participation in athletics, they will grow and face different challenges that they wouldn’t have faced had they not been student-athletes,” she said. “I believe they are better people for it when they graduate. To be a part of that, to help provide that venue, is rewarding.”
Just like the freshmen student-athletes grow and face challenges, so has the Leadership Council. Morris will lead it through the next year of both with an eye toward being a part of the reform of Division I.
“(When the reform process is complete,) I hope we have a division that is united in its philosophy and its vision for the future of the organization, and that we can operate in a way in which everybody wins, regardless of where you sit in the organization. It might be a little naïve,” she said. “But that’s what I hope for.”