Flexibility is key. No, I am not talking about those old flexibility tests you used to take in gym class (which I was bad at back then and even worse at now). I am talking about flexibility in your career path. In college athletics, many of our paths look like the paths of football coaches, two years here, one year there, three years here. I have a tough time recounting the years I spent at each place sometimes.
As we get towards open season (April, May, June), when it seems like the most movement in our industry happens, it is worth it to take a look at how you can move up the career ladder. When young professionals ask me: How do I get into the industry, the first thing I tell them is: Be flexible. Be flexible when it comes to:
- Where you want to live
- What school you want to work for
- How much you want to get paid
- What you want your job responsibilities to be
Let's talk about this...
Where you live:
Obviously, there are schools with athletic departments all over the country. Some in places you want to live, and some in places you have never imagined yourself being in. For me, I was flexible when I took a job at New Mexico State University. I had always been an east coast guy. Born and raised in New Hampshire, went to school in Connecticut, worked as an intern in Maryland and then did grad school down in Florida. Never in my life did I think I would be living in New Mexico (Las Cruces is literally like 30 miles from Mexico, like nowhere I have ever been before), but that is where the best opportunity was for me and I learned SO much during my time there. You are young, you probably haven’t acquired much junk yet, and it is a great time to take risks and put yourself in unfamiliar situations to grow. If you refine your job search to a certain area, fewer opportunities will be available to you in an already super-competitive industry. Whether the opportunity is in New Hampshire, Alaska, Montana, or Arizona, be flexible on where you are looking to land early on in your career. Some of the best opportunities are in places you probably didn’t think about.
What school you work for:
I have heard the concerns before: If I take a job at a small school, will I ever be able to make the jump up to a bigger school? I believe the answer is yes. If you can kick butt at a small school with little resources and a smaller fanbase, I think that makes you a very marketable candidate to move up to a larger school if you want. If you do great work, great opportunities will present themselves to you. There are as many small school jobs out there as there are big school jobs. Be flexible in your search. Look at the potential and opportunities of the school and not just it’s standing in the hierarchy of college athletics. The smaller environment might allow you to be more creative, take more risks, learn more about and work with a wide range of departments, and work more closely with administration. Be open to schools that might not exactly fit where you see yourself fan down the line. If you are passionate about your work and great at what you do, you can go anywhere (I think Dr. Seuss might have said something like this).
How much you want to get paid:
I am not telling you to go work for pennies or take another unpaid internship, but don’t discount an opportunity because it doesn’t pay a boatload of money. Frankly, if you are in this business to make money, then we probably need to have a bigger discussion, but we will save that for another time. When you are young, you have a better chance to live under your means. Look at the job opportunity not just as “it pays _____ a year” but at what else it might offer. Is the town affordable? Usually the cost of living in college towns is pretty cheap (not looking at you DC or San Francisco), and roommates are easy to find. Does the job offer any tuition reimbursement? Would the schedule allow you time for a part-time job? Are there opportunities for growth in the position? What will you be able to leave your mark on? Be flexible when looking around and don’t immediately shrug off a spot that might not pay what you wanted.
What you want your job responsibilities to be:
When I moved on from New Mexico State and took at job at the Naval Academy, I initially did not like that one of the responsibilities of the job was to sell corporate sponsorships. I wanted to do marketing and promotions and that was it. I didn’t feel comfortable giving a sales pitch to business owners, but I could sure sell the heck out of a basketball ticket. Fast forward five years when I took my next job, the experience I gained trying something new helped me in future conversations with third party rights holders. I knew where they were coming from and was able to work with them on different ideas. I was aware of their perspective and it improved our working relationship. All of this is to say, when you are looking at your next move, be flexible with the responsibilities you are willing take on. Go out of your comfort zone, try different things. You will be a better and more marketable prospect in your next step.
I say it all the time, but I think this is the best, most dynamic industry to work in. Every semester, thousands of students are graduating with their degrees in sports management with the hope of working in college athletics. You need to be flexible in your pursuit of your next job. Don’t immediately turn away from an opportunity that might not pay as much as you like. Don’t overlook a job posting at a school because you don’t want to live in that particular state or be at a school of that size. And don’t discount a potential landing spot because you might have a few responsibilities that you might be uncomfortable with. Be flexible.
Assistant Athletics Director for Marketing
Penn State University