An athletic director (AD) is an administrator who oversees athletic programs, typically at a university or college, although sometimes larger high schools may also have an athletic director on staff. As an administrator, an AD does not generally work directly with student athletes but is responsible for supervising all the details related to smoothly functioning athletic departments. In this role, the AD works closely with coaches and is generally responsible for hiring and firing decisions regarding coaches and athletic staff. An AD also oversees financial, practical, and legal matters pertaining to the schools’ teams. It can be the athletic director’s role to successfully promote a school’s teams and sometimes to act as a liaison between athletic and academic departments. The AD usually supervises or is directly responsible for details regarding team schedules, transportation and equipment.
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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 the average salary for postsecondary education administrators (the category in which most ADs would be included) was $86,490 annually. Payscale.com puts the annual median athletic director salary at around $69,000, with more experienced directors making more.
Payscale.com states that athletic directors in the early years of their careers tend to make around $52,000.
As an administrator, the AD is responsible for a number of important things, which will likely include hiring and firing decisions regarding coaches, supervising coaches, making sure that teams meet national or conference ethical and legal standards, promoting and fund-raising for athletic departments, making decisions about and supervising the ordering of athletic equipment, setting athletic department budgets and scheduling games. Athletic directors are also responsible for public relations regarding the school’s athletic department.
A variety of skills help athletic directors to become effective in their roles, most notably communication, management and organizational skills. It’s important that athletic directors be able to communicate with people at various levels, including coaches, faculty, alumni and parents. Public speaking skills may come in handy. Skills in understanding finances and budgets, as well as legal regulations, will also be important. Managing time effectively is another crucial skill.
Degree and Education Requirements
Most athletic directors at the college level will need a master’s degree, usually in sports administration. Other graduate degree options that might help prepare you to become an AD are a master’s in educational leadership or a master’s degree in general management. A sports related bachelor’s degree, such as a bachelor’s in sports management, is usually a good way to get started whether you end up going on for a graduate degree or not. At the high school level, you may not need to hold a graduate degree in addition to your bachelor’s degree, though it’s possible that you may need be certified to teach at the high school level.
Pros and Cons (or Rewards and Challenges) of This Position
There are many rewarding aspects to an athletic directing career. The salary has the potential to be high, especially if one stays in the field for many years and if you are fortunate to work for a large college or university. There is also the satisfaction of a job well-done if one is able to help a university maintain a healthy and flourishing athletic program. However, there are plenty of stresses and challenges that go with the job too. College sports, especially at the highest levels, have many of the same pressures that one faces in big businesses. Ethical decisions, the need to hire and fire personnel and the hard work to obtain necessary funding for programs can all be a big part of the job. In order to do the job well, there are many priorities to juggle and the hours can be long.
Hands-on experience along with your education can be helpful as you prepare for work as an athletic director. It can be beneficial to work as a volunteer or intern and perhaps eventually as an assistant AD in order to learn the many ins and outs involved in the role. Since there are many skills involved in the work of an athletic director, you might want to especially focus on finding internships or work opportunities that will help you to build skills in areas where you have less confidence. For example, you might want to look into internships that help you learn more about marketing and public relations or that help you gain experience in managing personnel. In addition to providing you with the chance to develop your skills, these kinds of experiences can also help you to gain new contacts which you can help to network as you begin your job search. A campus job counseling center or regional sports facilities or venues may be good places to go looking for part-time work or internships while you’re studying.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job outlook is positive for postsecondary education administrators. They predict 15% job growth through 2022, which is better than average job growth. Graduates in sports management sometimes work as managers of sports facilities. In general, athletic directors work for colleges and universities, though sometimes high schools hire them too. In addition to the position of head athletic director, you can often find jobs for associate or assistant directors who work under the head of the of the department. In an assistant position, you might be assigned a very specific role such as business manager or head of marketing and development for an athletic department. To get an idea of the range of jobs available in the field, you might want to take a look at the job listings on the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA).
The job of an athletic director is complex, offering many challenges and responsibilities. An athletic director career can bring in a high salary. Such multifaceted work can also be rewarding, however, especially if you’re dedicated to athletics and have the managerial, organizational and people skills to help run a successful athletic program.