Small College Athletics Blog/News

By Jim Abbott 21 Jul, 2017

I’m a big fan of annual performance evaluations. Our evaluations start with a self-evaluation that requires an employee to evaluate their effectiveness in areas like leadership, communication, etc. The self-evaluation also allows the employee to list highlights from the year, areas that need improvement, and goals for the coming year. The self-evaluation itself tells me a lot about the employee as some folks are much too modest (rating themselves too low in numerous areas) and others are overly confident in the jobs that they are doing. Once the employee completes the evaluation they submit it to me and I add my ratings and comments about the employee’s performance. I give the completed form back to the employee and then we meet to discuss it. I want employees to have a chance to see and contemplate my written comments before we meet in person. This gives them the opportunity to be better prepared to discuss the details.

Here are some of the goals that I keep in mind when completing annual performance evaluations:

Stick to the Mission – Throughout the hiring process and the academic year we spend a lot of time talking about the expectations of our department. These expectations are closely tied to the mission of the university and the performance evaluation should reflect this. My evaluations always have a primary focus on 1. Academic success. 2. Social success. 3. Competitive success. And 4. Financial success. We expect teams to enjoy success in each of these areas and each area is relatively easy to evaluate in an objective way.

Be Specific – A coach recently listed “become more active on campus” as a goal. Honestly, I applaud this goal but I want something more specific. When I met with the coach I brought this point up to the coach and we worked together to find specific campus committees and opportunities that would help the coach reach this goal. Similarly if a coach lists “improve academic performance” as a goal, I want to know the specific steps that a coach is going to take to achieve this. This gives me items to follow up on during the year and deeper understanding of the programs a coach plans to initiate.

Praise the Good – Take the time to discuss in-depth the positives of an employee. Don’t just gloss over the good with a comment like “You’re doing great.” Back it up with a list of positives and the impact that this employee is making on your department. Coaches/staff want to know that you pay attention to the details. When I can, I like to point out positives that the staff member didn’t think to include themselves when they list their accomplishments.

Discuss the Bad(Opportunities for Improvement) – Many think that evaluations only exist so that you can nit-pick the deficiencies an employee has or take the necessary steps that will allow you to terminate the employee. It’s important that evaluations are an honest assessment and if an employee is falling short in some area then it must be openly discussed. This doesn’t have to include an overly critical approach but it should end in mutual agreement that improvements must be made and some effort to assist the employee in making the improvement.

Follow Up – The conversation that takes place during the performance evaluation often leads to additional thought and action for me.  I regularly ask employees to submit a plan of improvement, submit a financial overview, or to give me specifics that relate to goals that they have set. Similarly, when I see them initiating new programs to reach their goals I address it with them throughout the year and offer any advice that I can.

How do we get better? – This is a theme for every evaluation meeting for me. The meeting offers a real opportunity to look back at the year, evaluate what worked and what didn’t, and then set the goals that will propel the program further. This year my softball team won the National Championship and finished the year 68-1. Naturally, there isn’t much more that we can do to be better competitively. Regardless, improvement is a goal of every meeting.

What more can I do? – I always ask coaches for their assessment of the administrative functions of our department. Getting their feedback on athletic training, compliance, sports information…even our administrative assistant, helps me as I evaluate these employees as well. I also encourage their frank assessment of the job that I’m doing and what more I can do to serve the needs of their program.

Annual evaluations offer a great opportunity to pat an employee on the back, celebrate success, evaluate opportunities, and set goals for the coming year. Generally, these meetings don’t offer many surprises to employees. Department heads should be communicating with employees and working with them toward goals throughout the year. Consistent communication leads to on-going evaluation, goal adjustment, and reflection on the university mission. While I encourage administrators to have a thorough annual evaluation with each employee, these meetings are less productive if you haven’t  been communicating and evaluating success throughout the year.  Make sure that you are consistently communicating throughout the year and this annual meeting will be much more productive.

By Jim Abbott 21 Apr, 2017

For several years I lamented the lack of professional development opportunities geared specifically toward athletic administrators working in small college athletic departments. To be clear, I love NACDA and am proud to serve on their Executive Board. I love NACDA and have developed tons of great relationships and picked up great advice in the more than 20 conventions that I have attended. The fact is that I just wanted more and specifically I wanted to opportunity to interact with and learn more from people that could relate to the challenges that I face at a small college. Trying to provide a great experience for student-athletes on a very tight budget and with a very small staff.


Five years ago I created the Business of Small College Athletics (BOSCA). I contemplated this for more than a year and relied on input from good friends like Matt Donovan, Tracie Hitz, and Trip Durham among others. I’ll admit that this was a selfish endeavor. I wanted to get better at what I’m doing, so I created an event that could make that possible. 2017 marks the 6th year for the workshop and it has been a blessing to me in terms of relationships gained and ideas stolen!


The most common reasons that I heard over the years from people who could not attend the NACDA or BOSCA events were: I can’t afford the trip, I have a conflict on my schedule…etc. While these reasons make perfect sense, they also leave the individual behind on the current trends in the industry. Naturally, anybody in college athletics can pick up a phone and call a peer at another institution to gain insight into what they are doing. The trouble is that this can be a time consuming approach that doesn’t always lend itself to quick results.



As I continued to seek opportunities to grow in knowledge I soon learned that Twitter offered multiple avenues. For several months I tuned in on Sunday nights for #SBCHAT (Sports Business Chat) led by J.W. Cannon and Lou Imbriano. I’ll admit that I’ve never met either of these guys but they led a lively chat that discussed sports from all angles including professional, college, and more. Through the chat I connected (followed) with several other sports minded people and shared my own thoughts and opinions. I’ll admit that several topics were outside of my range of expertise…but topics like these gave me an opportunity to just sit back in listen. Eventually #SBCHAT led me to the conclusion that a chat focused on Small College Athletics could serve the same purpose.



In the Winter of 2013 I approached Ryan Ivey, then the Athletic Director at Texas A&M Commerce, and Kirby Garry, Athletic Director at Cal State – Monterrey Bay about the idea of creating #scachat. Both of these guys were active on Twitter and were thought leaders among small college administrators. I had just met Ryan within the last year and frankly at that point I don’t think I had ever met Kirby in person. If so, it was very briefly at the NACDA convention. Ryan and Kirby readily agreed to serve as co-hosts to the chat, with the idea that if nobody showed up for it we would just move on to something else. We hosted the first chat on Sunday, February 23, 2014.


Over the past 3 years we have hosted more than 130 chats and seemingly covered every topic imaginable. I can say without question that I have implemented ideas on my campus that I learned about through the chat and my professional network has grown immensely. The best thing about it is that every week I was able to converse with multiple other small college athletic administrators about timely topics that were relevant to my department…all from the comfort of my couch and absolutely free of charge. The 2nd best thing is that #scachat went on to encourage the development of other chats including #sida_chat and #ypsportschat


The FINAL #scachat is scheduled for Sunday, May 7, 2017. I’m grateful to all that have participated over the years and particularly appreciative of Ryan, Kirby, and Paul Smith who joined in as a regular co-host in the past year. I’m excited to see where the next great idea comes from and look forward to continued opportunities to grow and learn.

By Jim Abbott 28 Jul, 2016

Near the end of each Spring semester I get a laugh when students ask me what I’m doing for the Summer. I tell them to enjoy this time in life when “summer” really means 3 months off from school work and practice. Like many, I look forward to the summer if only because it means that I will go home from work each day while the sun is still shining. I have also always seen Summer as a time to get re-charged, evaluate where we are and “dream up” new ideas for getting better. At the same time, summer is still filled with important tasks that keep our department running.


Here are some of the ways I spend the summer months.


Evaluations – The end of every school year also brings an opportunity to complete performance evaluations. In my case this involves evaluations for 15 head coaches and 4 administrative staff members. Our approach with the evaluation is to let each employee evaluate themselves first followed by an evaluation and meeting with me. The process can be time consuming but provides great opportunities to celebrate success and discuss future opportunities.

Budget Clean-Up – At OCU our fiscal year ends on June 30th each year. Throughout the year I monitor 50 or so budgets(each sport has an operating and scholarship budget) and 30 or so Restricted Accounts(these accounts hold revenue from fundraising, sponsorships, etc). My job at the end of the year is to make sure that every budget account balances. To do this, I send instructions to our Business Office to transfer funds from Restricted Accounts into the budget accounts that are in deficit. Almost every sport budget is in deficit at the end of a given fiscal year. I tell my coaches that I don’t mind them going over their budget, provided that they can cover their deficits with funds from their Restricted Account.

Professional Development – I am a big proponent of professional development. So much so that I created my own workshop….The Business of Small College Athletics. Summer professional development starts with the NACDA convention. The annual convention covers every level and angle of college athletics and is unmatched in providing opportunities for growth. Hundreds of sessions covering every topic imaginable and opportunities to network and share ideas with others in the profession. I also like to reach out to other administrators, whether I know them or not, to pick their brains about how they are doing things. One of the best things about working in college athletics is the willingness that administrators have to share ideas and help solve problems. I also participate in a weekly chat on Twitter known as #scachat.   #scachat brings together administrators from around the country “virtually” each Sunday night at 8pm CST to share ideas and has been a great source of information and networking for me.

Hiring/Human Resources – A big part of my job is hiring coaches and administrative staff. Generally, openings occur at season’s end or in the summer. Hiring involves working with Human Resources to get jobs posted promptly, communicating with team members to reassure them and help them understand the approach to filling the position, evaluating resumes, conducting interviews, and ultimately offering and filling the position. Hiring is a challenging experience that can easily eat up 4-6 weeks of time. As an Athletic Director I’m only as good as the people around me. I don’t particularly enjoy the hiring process but I know how important it is to my department’s success.

Revenue Generation - In my role as Athletic Director I am also the head of our External Relations efforts. During the summer I meet with all of our sponsors to evaluate and renew our partnership agreements and make calls on prospective new sponsors. I also spend the summer planning our annual giving efforts for the coming year, planning our annual golf outing, making calls on donors, organizing efforts of our Athletic Advisory committee, and helping plan special events like athletic alumni gatherings. In a given year we generate $700,000 - $900,000 in outside revenue. We rely heavily on these funds to support our student-athletes.

Prepare for Next Year – Planning and scheduling are major activities in the summer. Finalizing competition dates, scheduling outside events, planning alumni gatherings and fundraising efforts all take time and organization. Every summer we review our student-athlete handbook and schedule a staff retreat and student-athlete orientation. We also look at the new ideas that we have and figure out which ones to try to integrate for the coming year.

Relax – It’s not all work. Summer is the perfect time to read a good book, play golf and take trips with the family. I encourage our staff to get away and recharge during the summer and I follow that advice as well. Make no mistake, working in college athletics is a lifestyle that involves working nights, weekends and holidays. Enjoy and make the most of the downtime.


Working in college athletics is more than ball games and activities that occur when school is in “session.” It is a year round endeavor! The truth is that summer goes by very quickly for a small college athletic administrator. Despite the lack of games and students….some days can be downright hectic and issues/opportunities can take on a sense of urgency all their own. That having been said, the work you accomplish in the Summer just makes you that much more prepared when students return in the fall and the games resume. Make the most of this time!

By Bob Peterson 30 Jun, 2016

Late last week members of the NACDA Executive Committee received an email from NACDA Executive Director Bob Vecchione about the health prognosis of Mike Cleary. Mike had returned home from the hospital and was under hospice care. Saturday morning we got the bad news that Mike had passed. What happened next was a deluge of responses to the email from members of the Executive Committee. Each shared their condolences at Mike’s passing, prayers for the Cleary family, and a testament to the impact that Mike Cleary had on them personally and professionally. In a humble and steadfast way, Mike Cleary impacted thousands of people. You can too!

I didn’t know Mike as long or as intimately as some of the others. Although, the few times we talked he treated me like an old friend and on more than one occasion he sent me a note to congratulate me on some success. What I knew about Mike and what I glean from the news reports of his passing, the tweets and email responses, is that he is a guy we should all seek to emulate.

Here are a few attributes of Mike’s that we can all strive to attain.

See the “Value” in Everyone   – Mike genuinely loved people and saw their potential. His contributions to helping athletic administrators grow in the profession are unmatched and still growing. NACDA grew from 300 members to over 12,500 under his guidance because he embraced the idea that anyone seeking to grow should have that opportunity. Mike created growth opportunities within NACDA through the wildly successful intern program. A program that has developed hundreds of collegiate athletic administrators. He helped develop and chair the John McClendon Minority Scholarship Foundation to provide opportunities for minority students interested in careers in athletics.  In short,   Mike saw value in everyone and helped them understand and realize their own potential . You should too.

Make the Big Time Where You Are At   – Many of us are in such a rush to advance in our profession that we don’t embrace the opportunity right in front of us. Mike didn’t seek out greatness…he simply was great. Part of what made him great was that he embraced where he was and who he was. Mike went to a relatively small college, John Carroll University, and was proud of that fact his entire life. Mike’s early career included jobs in the American Basketball Association, the NAIA, and the NCAA. Starting NACDA in 1965 gave Mike the opportunity to follow his passion by working with Athletic Director’s. He embraced this passion and grew the profession for the rest of his life. Mike’s example shows us that the great opportunity you are looking for in life might just be the one you are engaged in now.   Make the most of the opportunity in front of you today .

Never Stop Growing   – The danger in life is when you reach the point that you can’t get any better. Mike never did. He devoted his life to growing and helping others grow. While serving as the NACDA Executive Director Mike also served a stint as a Conference Commissioner, was active in the USOC, and the National Football Foundation to name a few. He saw endless opportunities to grow and contribute. Each opportunity shaped who he was, expanded his base of knowledge, and made him better at what he did. NACDA provides the ultimate opportunity for growth in college athletics. Mike not only built NACDA but sought every opportunity to keep growing personally. You should too.

Live Your Life to Serve Others   – Like all great leaders, Mike was a servant first. His professional career was devoted to serving others. He did so in a humble, gracious, loyal, and unwavering way that is a great example for the rest of us. Devote your life to lifting others….and you will be lifted .


Mike Cleary was a larger than life person that was proudly just a good Jesuit kid from Cleveland. He built success by making others successful and never missed a chance to provide opportunities for others. A simple blueprint for a life that we should all seek to emulate.

By Bob Peterson 29 Jun, 2016

My good friend Trip Durham talks about “casting your shadow” in the sense that athletic administrators should be seen and recognized around campus.   I think this is great advice and a particularly important reminder to get out of the athletic department and expand your influence on campus.   This creates exposure for you, good will around campus, and positive influence for the department.

Similarly, it is important to “cast your shadow” as you work to continue to grow in the profession of sports.   Just as mentioned above, this implies increasing your personal visibility and stature while at the same time enhancing the reputation of your university and department.   Make no mistake that you are always representing your department….meaning that as people meet you and form opinions about you, they are also forming opinions about your department/university.   What I am suggesting is that you   actively   seek out more opportunities to do this beyond your campus and local community.

Here are some ways that you might grow your stature and reputation in college athletics.

Be Really Good at What You Do   – Let’s face it, the folks that we admire the most are the ones that show up every day and earn it.   First and foremost be dedicated to your job and institution.   Seek out opportunities to develop and improve your skills and freely share your knowledge to help others grow.   If you have the skills, opportunities will come your way.

Professional Development   – Never stop learning!   There exists a plethora of great opportunities to improve your skills by participating in conventions and workshops designed to help you grow.   NACDA, BOSCA, CASE, NCAA & NAIA convention to name a few are chock full of sessions designed to share best practices and exchange ideas.   Attending these events exposes you to these ideas and enables you to interact with others in the profession that you can add to your network of contacts.   In the early stages of your career you should be intent on attending and soaking up as much knowledge and as many relationships as you can.   Eventually, you should be the person presenting at the workshop or leading the meeting.   Actively seek out opportunities to be at the front of the room sharing the idea. What better ways to show your stuff, share your ideas, and increase the visibility of your department.

Networking   – While conventions and workshops offer great opportunities to meet others in the profession, it’s not the only way to do this.   Frankly, sometimes conventions can be overwhelming with so many meetings and so many people swarming around.   A natural place to start is within your conference.   If you are an Athletic Director you probably meet with other AD’s in your conference on a regular(quarterly) basis    to discuss league-wide issues and business.   I advise others, Asst. A.D.’s, Directors, etc to do the same thing.   Reach out to peers in your conference to share advice and ideas.   Make plans to meet and engage socially at the conference tournament or some other event. Build your own “affiliation” group.   Kelly Perry is the Asst. A.D. for Compliance on my staff.   She is one of only 15-20 people that hold this position full-time at an NAIA Institution.   Kelly has taken this advice and begun working to coordinate this group, bringing them together to discuss issues and exchange thoughts and ideas.   The end result is that Kelly will have more connections in her field and more people will know Kelly and the work that she does at Oklahoma City University.   My advice to Kelly was: “If the organization doesn’t exist to meet your needs or to give voice to your group….create it.”

Leadership   – I once heard Dan Parker tell a group of aspiring AD’s, “Prospective employers aren’t impressed that you are a member of an organization…they are impressed when you are the President of the organization.   Aspire to lead…and remember that leading means serving.   Don’t just join NACMA and expect to gain the benefits of membership, seek to become a presenter, and then a conference rep, and eventually an officer in the organization.   Keep in mind that you have to earn these leadership positions by giving of your time and by doing your job well.   Leaders of these organizations cast a nationally prominent shadow that benefits them, the organization, and their department.   Guys like Jeff Bain(former NACMA President) and Matt Donovan(former NAADD President) are great examples of this.   Their leadership of these organizations cast an incredibly positive light on their campuses (Martin Methodist and the University of Indianapolis) while inspiring people like me to follow their lead.

Utilize Twitter   – Notice that I am specifically pointing out Twitter as opposed to Facebook, Instagram, or other forms of Social Media.   I think that Twitter is an excellent way to send your message and build a following.   Plus it’s free. Follow industry leaders; share your thoughts, ideas, insight into new things that you are working on.   Join in on chats like the weekly #scachat that occurs on Sunday nights at 8pm CST.   Chats like this bring together folks that want to share and learn and they are a great way to make an initial connection and share your insight.   Why not take advantage of them.   The primary decision to make here is using Twitter as your professional social media outlet.   It’s obviously fine to share personal items on Twitter but make a concerted effort to use this to share thoughts that help your followers shape their opinion of you professionally.


It’s important to remember that none of this is easy!   It requires you to handle all of the aspects of your day job while looking for other opportunities to grow(you should be doing this anyway) and share your personal experiences.   The key is to add value to your position and university while also growing your personal and professional stature.

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