Drew Watson first became director of athletics at Southeastern University in 2013, the same year the school announced it would launch its inaugural season of football.“I had never been at a school that had a football program, so everything was new to me,” he recalled. And everything about football was also new to the school, which didn't have a field on campus. Besides needing a new field, Watson also had to address all of the other needs of a new program, including developing a budget, hiring personnel, recruiting, purchasing equipment, and building a weight room.“On the eligibility side of things, processes needed to be put in place to handle the volume of 110 players and making sure we had no embarrassing slip‐ups. We had to prepare for games on campus and all that entails. It was a huge undertaking,” said Watson, who has a 25‐year career in college athletics and is a recipient of the 2016–17 Under Armour AD of the Year Award for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.Looking back, Watson pointed to a significant factor that helped transform his “football challenge” into a football success story: “The hiring of a coach who had years of experience at the college level and, even more importantly, would work with me to build the program instead of running ahead because of the learning curve I was facing. From day one, I have felt like Keith Barefield and I have been partners in this as we've faced the ups and downs together. It made a huge difference.”And on a very practical level, “effective communication was the most important factor in a successful start of the program,” Watson noted.That was the only way to successfully iron out the many varied details of launching a new program, from identifying important deadlines and key purchases to developing eligibility processes and academic support for the program. “All of these things needed to be talked through and implemented,” Watson recalled.But equally important was communicating expectations to the school's administration. “I have learned over the years that if expectations are not effectively communicated, it can lead to significant issues,” Watson noted.The development of a game day operations team also helped smooth the road to success. For example, student life staff addressed the game day experience and tailgating, while security managed parking and communication with law enforcement, and a consultant worked on ticketing and concessions.“Because so many people were involved, we had to make sure there was great communication,” Watson noted. This communication plan involved holding regular meetings and working through any problems as they arose.“It was a team effort that had a dual effect,” Watson explained. “It was not only highly effective in helping us roll out an effective game day operation, but it also engendered a level of teamwork across campus that made football more than just an athletic department endeavor. It was something our whole campus community embraced, and it made all the difference.”If you're also considering launching a new sport at your school, review Watson's advice:❏ Provide resources. Ensure that the coaches and student‐athletes receive what they need to be successful. Promote effective communication between the AD and the school's administration. Watson noted that, unfortunately, many schools overlook this step because they view adding new sports “solely as a revenue‐generating exercise.”❏ Find the right leadership. Administrators must first determine what they need in a new head coach and then refuse to compromise those standards just because they're tempted to make the easy hire or land a big name. For example, when Southeastern announced it would add football, “there were many who predicted that the adding of that sport would destroy the Christian culture on our campus,” Watson recalled. “In order to avoid that scenario, we needed to hire a head coach who would recruit student‐athletes who fit our mission and not compromise when there may be a great player who had questionable character.” That approach led to success for Southeastern, Watson noted.❏ Plan well. “Don't be too proud to ask for advice from those who have done it before,” Watson emphasized. And always have a Plan B ready — that will come in handy when things don't go according to the original blueprint.You may email Drew Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @DrewWatsonAD.
College Athletics and the Law – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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