Craig White had a big job that was bringing him little happiness.In almost two decades in a premier college athletics department, White had witnessed all kinds of troubling issues: Players who struggled with reading and writing. Vast sums of money thrown at problems. Constant pressure to win now -- or else.What is it I've been saying about getting off the 24/7 treadmill? Less-burdensome job descriptions? Check.
"I wasn't enjoying what I was doing," White said.
So he quit. He left the University of Georgia to run an athletic department in college sports' alternate universe -- Division III. He's not alone. Disenchanted by a culture in which some schools spend money like professional franchises, a steady number of administrators have left Division I to join the lowest, least-funded level of the NCAA.
In Division III, there are no athletic scholarships and no lucrative television contracts. There's also very little money for athletics -- about $5,000 spent per athlete, compared to $90,000 at major football schools. Still, in recent years, job searches for athletic director openings in Division III typically attract one or two Division I candidates who are ready for a change, according to Alden & Associates, an executive search firm that specializes in such openings.Compensating differentials? Check.
"It's been pretty constant," said Betsy Alden, the Massachusetts-based firm's president.
It often starts with a phone call to Alden's company. "They say they're not happy with Division I and where it's going," she said.
Many who have made the move cite similar reasons: a more idyllic notion of what college sports is, and the better life that comes with it. To them, it's almost utopian compared to Division I, where they see a continued march toward more money-driven conference realignment, even bigger TV deals and regular allegations of recruiting scandals.
In Division I, there have been 562 cases of major NCAA violations since 1953, compared to 47 in Division III.
"While I may not be dealing with multi-million dollar budgets, household-name coaches (and) me-first donors ... I am seeing the last bastion of true college athletics every day: student-athletes playing truly for the love of the game," said Scott Koskoski, the athletic director of Division III Chatham University in Pittsburgh.But Mr Koskoski's proposal that aspiring power conference athletic directors do a hitch in Division III first may not be advisable, as ambitious and on-the-make people might be doing so anyway. Unlike faculty appointments, where upward mobility is rare, college sports still has meritocratic elements, and people can establish their winning credentials in Division III and move to the other divisions.
Koskoski moved to Chatham this year after previously serving as an administrator at Division I Denver and Temple, where he was involved in fundraising. Koskoski acknowledged it wasn't "fun" to give up his courtesy car and move into a smaller house.
"But do you know what's more fun?" he said. "Being home for dinner four nights a week, having my kids around me at games, and wearing the many hats Division III requires."
Talent moves at the margin? Check.
White said he tired of being a middle manager, and took a pay cut from his $129,200 salary when he was hired at Millikin in April. He declined to disclose the amount, but his department's entire budget is about $2 million -- about $1 million less than his head football coach was paid at Georgia.How many times do I have to repeat myself?
I'm going to be contrarian here and suggest that the hotshots who are walking away are actually going to compel those high-powered corporate and professional types to rethink their job descriptions. Why? Because the highest achievers are in the best position to negotiate more favorable terms of employment. I'm making an argument from economic theory, for which I can append anecdotal support as well as advice from a career guru. I will expand on that part in a book review post the next time diminishing returns to grading set in. For now, suppose the high achievers begin saying no to the "we will pay you lots of money but you will have no time to spend any of it" terms of employment? You suppose hiring committees might give a little on the hours, family leave policies or no? (Yes, regular readers, I have made this argument, recently, and certainly many times before.)But change on the margin is sometimes difficult.
When top jobs open up in Division III, some schools won't even consider a Division I candidate, Alden said. It's too much of a different world -- which is precisely the reason some Division I administrators want to join it, even if some call them idealistic.Going against established norms is difficult, and the norm of stay on the treadmill because that's achievement is an established norm.
"The first word I would use is refreshing," White said of Division III.
At a conference for college athletic directors in June, [Tim] Fitzpatrick of the Coast Guard Academy was approached by several other attendees.
"They told me, 'Man, you've got a lot of nerve to do that,'" Fitzpatrick said, referring to his decision to move down. "Several said they wished they had the same kind of nerve."
And yet, we're more likely to see improved work-life balance as a consequence of talented people getting off the treadmill than as a consequence of legislation and litigation.