Learn What Athletic Directors Do

The duties, benefits and challenges of the position

Hofstra AD Jeff Hathaway at press conference
••• Hofstra University/Flickr

Athletic directors are steadily in demand because of the variety of sports schools offer, but the ins and outs of these jobs remain unknown to much of the public. So, what exactly does an athletic director do?

Generally, athletic directors oversee all aspects of an athletic program, including hiring coaches, scheduling, budget preparation, promotion, compliance and facility management. So, if you are an organized person who thrives in a position of leadership and enjoys sports, a career as an athletic director may be a good fit for you.

Typical Duties of an Athletic Director 

Athletic directors provide guidance and direction for a school’s sports program. They prepare a budget and allocate spending on items like coach’s salaries, team travel, equipment purchases, and facility upkeep. At the high school level, the athletic director typically is a school administrator who provides hands-on leadership in these areas. At the major college level, some of these responsibilities may be delegated, but the athletic director will oversee the process.

Athletic directors also coordinate with coaches about the scheduling of games and practices. They collaborate with conferences and leagues about scheduling issues as well. They also speak with league officials about subjects such as post-season play. Within an athletic program, directors may have to decide how to allocate time for a field, court, or weight room.

The athletic director often provides guidance for coaches. At the major college level, the hiring of coaches is a key responsibility of athletic directors. This responsibility is oft subject to public scrutiny.

Athletic directors work with coaches and perhaps a travel coordinator to plan trips. They also coordinate officials and umpires at games and budget for their pay. Typically, athletic directors file reports on the status of each team and its successes and shortcomings. They may mediate any disputes between athletes and coaches or between coaches.

at the high school level work with other school administrators to assure student-athletes are academically eligible for a given sport. They carry out this responsibility at the college level as well. At colleges, they also typically work with to make sure a program is acting within conference and NCAA (or other association) rules.

Preparation for the Job

At the high school and middle school level, athletic directors typically begin their careers as coaches and teachers. They may retain a coaching or teaching position, but in high school, the role tends to be a .

Athletic directors usually have a bachelor’s degree in education, physical education or a related field. They may go on to earn a master’s degree in education administration or perhaps . While sports management graduates often pursue jobs at the college and professional level, a study by Old Dominion University determined high school athletic director jobs are a good fit for sports management program graduates.

In that study, respondents listed the development of the following skills as important: planning and organizing skills, knowledge of legal liability, , oral and written communication skills, and skills in staffing and hiring. There are numerous that prepare students for administrative positions, like an athletic director, at the college level.

Benefits of the Position

Athletic directors typically enjoy working with coaches and athletes to help teams reach their potential. Whereas coaches carry out the day-to-day preparation of teams, athletic directors take pride in the behind-the-scenes work, which puts teams in a position to succeed.

Athletic directors should enjoy being in a leadership position. They sometimes even move into positions with a conference or league office. They may receive some level of public recognition, but not as much as a successful coach. Many athletic directors in both colleges and high schools oversee the strategic plan for the athletic department. Therefore, an ability to form a long-term vision and communicate it to other administrators, donors, students and the public is a key responsibility.

Challenges Athletic Directors Face

Athletic directors must keep track of quickly changing rules. They must have the interpersonal skills necessary to work well with coaches in their program as well as school leaders and the public. At the high school level, athletic directors may also have to address the concerns of parents. At the college level, athletic directors can become the focus of media scrutiny.

If those challenges weren't enough, athletic directors must learn to run an effective program under budget constraints. While being an athletic director can be a rewarding job for the right person, it requires fortitude, perseverance and the ability to work well under stress.