An Administrative Lens for the Modern Sport Leader

Craig P. DeAngelis, Ed.D., C.S.C.S. is a faculty member at Manhattanville College. He has an academic focus on organizational behavior and leadership. Please feel free to reach out to him via email at craigdeangelis@yahoo.com.

An interesting shift has taken place on the bottom “scroll” of cable sports networks. Scores and brief stat lines are still a fixture, but new content has been added. Information about leagues and players referencing politics or other social happenings are now present along with competition results. For example, during one week, there was a scroll topic related to the head coach of the Minnesota Lynx and one of her players calling on the NCAA to take action in response to legislative measures that they feel is restrictive for transgender athletes (Barnes, 2021). Another scroll topic was about Major League Baseball’s decision to move the 2021 All-Star Game out of Georgia. This move emulated the National Basketball Association’s decision to move their All-Star Game out of North Carolina in 2016 due to legislative action (Anderson, Fatsis, & Levin, 2021).

As fans process this new scroll content, they have the opportunity to form opinions based on personal beliefs. However, sport practitioners are not able to participate in the same individualistic thinking. People who are active in sports must be able to differentiate between their personal feelings and professional stance. Perhaps no group is more heavily impacted by this phenomenon than Athletic Administrators. These decision-makers are responsible for making timely decisions that are representative of their respective stakeholder groups. Undoubtedly, this is a daunting task. 

Recently, Southeastern Conference (SEC) Commissioner Greg Sankey reflected on a whirlwind of hypotheticals associated with the 2020 season, and in regards to the 2021 season stated “We will be prepared to play the season as scheduled and I can pivot off that approach” (Wilson, 2021). The “we” in his statement is not accidental, as he is speaking on behalf of the SEC. The “I” in his statement is in relation to how he will respond professionally but is not necessarily indicative of his personal beliefs.  

At no point in modern history have the minds of sport practitioners been so strenuously conflicted. Societal issues have burst through the sport-life divide in a way that has demanded the keen attention of all Athletic Administrators. While the most pressing matters have been championed by politicians and proclaimed in the media, this has not aided sport-based decision-makers. The determination of how to best balance personal enthusiasms with professional obligation remains largely unchecked.

Contrary to daily itineraries, Athletic Administrators do have “life” beyond sport. The availability to pursue personal passions away from the job are somewhat limited, but it is of the utmost importance for practitioners to foster personal passions and hone individual beliefs. Sport leadership is taxing and requires dynamic individuals to operate at peak performance. It is true that long work hours are coupled with expectations for winning, revenue generation, media scrutiny, and unsettled fan bases (Hancock, Balkin, Reiner, Williams, Hunter, Powell, & Juhnke, 2019; Daughters, 2013). But, no Athletic Administrator, regardless of trait composition, can truly perform at their best if the whole person is not addressed.

This is a point of tension in the modern climate. In their personal life, Athletic Administrators have been forced to wrestle with matters that elicit feelings of intense fervor. Their stance on current circumstances must be explored while potential steps of action are keenly considered. Simultaneously, in their professional life, a massive overhaul of typical function has been mandatory. Typically, added time spent on the job would alleviate this tension (Hancock, et al., 2019) However, current circumstances cannot be eased with additional on-the-job efforts. Therefore, on both fronts, there is no available timetable for completion. Consequently, the only clear path forward must be blazed by, a likely conflicted, Administrator.

The personality and stylistic leadership qualities of appointed Athletic Administrators inevitably mark organizational function. Athletic Leaders tend to be admired and extolled for their uncanny ability to motivate people and cause positive change (Powers, Judge, Makela, McKenna, & Voight, 2016). In some spaces, the “finger prints” of leadership are an asset, while in others they are a detriment. Regardless of outcome, Athletic Administrators must be cognizant of their overarching influence. As such, Administrative practitioners must be able to isolate personal preferences in contrast to organizational duty. A key challenge for Administrators is to balance decisions and satisfaction rewards (Hancock, et al., 2019). The sport-setting carries unique demands and should not be leveraged by leadership for personal gain. In the same vein, the Administrator must accurately determine the most appropriate steps independent of personal passions.

Mounting societal issues weigh heavily on Athletic Administrators. History would suggest that the incorporation of sport as a part of the solution is appropriate. Due to an increase of interaction between athletic departments and community organizations, research confirms there to be positive local outcomes (Svensson, Huml, & Hancock, 2014).  However, current cultural issues are not as easily discernable as the topics of yesteryear. Some matters may be close to the heart, but the Athletic Department as a whole might be unable to support large-scale change. The personal beliefs of the Athletic Administrator might not be shared in corporate magnitude. This may leave the Athletic Administrator feeling compromised as they sense that something should be done, also knowing that in the guise of the organization it may not be representative of best practice. 

There is a wise old Proverb that states “as a person thinks, so they are…”. It is in the cognitive, not the emotive where the Athletic Administrator must consider their actions. Internal tension can be alleviated if practical processing is accomplished. In order to do so, a perceptive filter is required. Using the context of their specific sport setting, matters should be classified in four distinct areas. These areas are defined as:

Capacity – the actual ability of an Athletic Department to realize a benchmark. Competency – the actual ability of the stakeholders involved in the Athletic Department.
Community – the impactful characteristics and expectations of the local area setting.
Competition – the demonstrated quality and/or outcomes of Athletic participation.

This classification system aids the Administrator in achieving operational success. As issues arise that ignite personal passion through individual held beliefs, the Athletic Administrator can rely on this structure for immediate lucidity. By categorizing where an issue applies, clarity can be gained on how it is best addressed. In applying this type of thinking the Athletic Administrator is forced to be intentional and true to their beliefs, regardless of organizational outcome. However, the cycle does not end here. Initial classification must be progressively aided by:

Diagnosis – identifying areas of needed improvement.
&
Development – making improvements on areas of needed improvement

Not all societal inquiries are equal. For some, action will be warranted within the Athletic Department and for others simple acknowledgement will suffice. It is vital for Athletic Administrators to carefully consider their actions despite the often-insurmountable external pressure. Modern culture has made a clear plea for change. Change should be embraced as a positive step for all sport-settings. However, Athletic Administrators cannot be held captive by events, social media trends, and narratives. Instead, to assure equitable movement at a meaningful pace, there must be a separation between personal desire and sport-organization needs. While the former might influence the latter, it can only be sustained with coordinated rationale and an eye on sustainable growth.

References
Anderson, J., Fatsis, S., & Levin, J. (April 7, 2021). Why Major League Baseball is Boycotting Georgia. Retrieved on April 10, 2021 from http://www.slate.com, https://slate.com/culture/2021/04/mlb-all-star-game-moved-atlanta-georgia-voting-law-sb202.html

Barnes, K. (April 9, 2021). Cheryl Reeve, Napheesa Collier of Minnesota Lynx call on NCAA to take action for transgender athletes. Retrieved on April 10, 2021 from http://www.espn.com, https://www.espn.com/college-sports/story/_/id/31222466/cheryl-reeve-napheesa-collier-minnesota-lynx-call-ncaa-take-action-transgender-athletes

Hancock, M. G., Balkin, R. S., Reiner, S. M., Williams, S., Hunter, Q., Powell, B., & Juhnke, G. A. (2019). Life balance and work addiction among NCAA administrators and coaches. Career Development Quarterly, 67(3), 264–270. https://doi.org/10.1002/cdq.12195

Powers, S., Judge, L. W., Makela, C., McKenna, J., & Voight, M. (2016). An investigation of destructive leadership in a Division I intercollegiate athletic department: Follower perceptions and reactions. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 11(3), 297–311.

Svensson, P. G., Huml, M. R., & Hancock, M. G. (2014). Exploring intercollegiate athletic department-community partnerships through the lens of community service Organizations. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 18(4), 97–128.

Wilson, M. (March 1, 2021). SEC preparing to play 2021 football season as scheduled, commissioner Greg Sankey says. Retrieved on April 10, 2021 from http://www.azcentral.com, https://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/college/university-of-tennessee/mens-basketball/2021/03/01/sec-football-season-schedule-2021-greg-sankey/6870079002/

Author: NASSM Blog

The purpose of NASSM is to promote, stimulate, and encourage study, research, scholarly writing, and professional development in the area of sport management. The NASSM Blog is meant to connect practitioners and academics to the latest research, programs, and innovations in the sport industry.

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