BC’s New Athletic Director Needs Energy and Fan Engagement
Sports, Column

BC’s New Athletic Director Needs Energy and Fan Engagement

As Boston College Director of Athletics Martin Jarmond took the podium for newly hired head football coach Jeff Hafley’s introductory press conference, the Barber Room in the Yawkey Athletics Center swelled with the sound of fans, alumni, and media members cheering.

“Thank you,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that round of applause for me.”

After all, it wasn’t his press conference—he was just giving the opening remarks.

Love or hate the work he did in his three years at the helm, it’s undeniable that Jarmond infused the Heights with a new energy. From the thunderous chants echoing across campus when he appeared on ESPN’s College GameDay in 2017 to his own round of applause at someone else’s press conference in 2020, Jarmond had a magnetism about him that got crowds invested. 

But the good times can’t last forever, and after three short years, Jarmond will head to sunny California to take over the athletics program at UCLA. Left behind are two things: a Power Five athletic program in Titletown without someone to lead it and the question of who will fill the hole. 

For me, Jarmond’s energy was what set him apart. As the youngest AD at a Power Five institution, he got both students and alumni excited about lots of BC sports, not just football, basketball, and hockey. 

Take, for example, the first women’s soccer game of the school year this year. Jarmond and the athletics department encouraged the student body to attend the game, and my friends and I—a few doe-eyed freshmen looking for something to fill our time—figured we’d check it out. Little did we know, Jarmond’s encouragement wasn’t just directed at us freshmen, and newly arrived upperclassmen piled onto the Newton bus in droves. 

The problem is, however, that the standing-room-only crowd was only there for the first game of the season. Jarmond was good at drumming up excitement—for example, by adding an extra hour of tailgating for all football games—but that excitement was always temporary. 

His successor has to be a person capable of not only creating interest in BC sports, but sustaining it. As a young administrator, Jarmond had a heightened ability to connect with the students, and I’d like to see BC take another risk on a young, exciting candidate. 

Here are my top picks for the AD job, in no particular order:

M. Grace Calhoun—Athletic Director, University of Pennsylvania

Calhoun was briefly in the running for Jarmond’s new job at UCLA, but the chair of the NCAA Division I Council was reportedly the third choice for the job, according to the LA Times

Calhoun has more experience than some of the other candidates on this list, making her one of the safer choices for BC. She has worked at some of the top athletic and academic schools in the country, including Penn, Loyola Chicago, Indiana, Florida, and Dartmouth. As a bonus, she’s got her doctorate in higher education administration from Florida. 

She has a lot going for her, including a wildly successful head basketball coach hire for Loyola Chicago. That year, the No. 11 seed Ramblers made their way to the NCAA Tournament Final Four before their Cinderella story came to an end against Michigan. That hire is a major check in Calhoun’s “pro” column, as BC will likely be in the market for a new men’s basketball coach next season. 

Vaughn Williams—Senior Associate Athletics Director for Administration, Boston College

Williams is one of the only internal hires I would consider a home run for BC if he’s chosen. Williams returned to BC in 2017 after serving a six-year term with Kennesaw State. There, he served as the athletic director, so he’s familiar with the role. 

But for Williams, familiar is a bit of an understatement. After the 2016-2017 school year, he was named the Under Armour Athletics Director of the Year by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. According to BCEagles.com, he led a rebranding effort for the Owls, and he added a lacrosse and football team to the school’s athletic department. In its inaugural two years under Williams, the Owls’ football team was 6-5 and 8-3, respectively. 

Williams has dealt with complicated athletic changes before, and BC may need that in the future. With a first-year head football coach on the staff, there will be a lot of adjusting for the athletics department, and Williams’ familiarity with building a football program from the ground up could be helpful for the Eagles. 

Graham Neff—Deputy Director of Athletics, Clemson

Neff is an ACC man, through and through. The 2006 graduate of Georgia Tech currently works with Clemson, but he credits his success with collegiate athletics to both schools. He’s also served a term as an associate AD with Middle Tennessee, and before that, he was a consultant with Deloitte.

Neff graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in civil engineering, but he eventually returned to earn his MBA before getting the job with Middle Tennessee. He worked in the athletics department throughout his years with Georgia Tech, so he’s experienced in the ins and outs of ACC sports. 

At Clemson, his focus has been on the financial and business side of the athletics department, so I would speculate he’d bring that same mindset should he be hired by BC. That sort of structure could be helpful in BC’s athletics department, as the average attendance at a BC men’s basketball game in 2019 was 5,243, and Conte Forum’s capacity is over 8,000.

To top Neff’s prowess off, he’s only 37—the same age as Jarmond when he was hired. If he can tap into his youth, he’ll hopefully be able to gain an even higher level of engagement with the students. 

Diana Sabau—Deputy Director of Athletics, Ohio State

The BC-Ohio State connection is thriving for BC at the moment. Consider this: The former athletics director, current head football coach, and many of the assistant football coaches all have ties to the Buckeyes. If BC went with Sabau, that would add another Buckeye to the list. 

Sabau’s role at OSU as a deputy director got her involved in every aspect of OSU sports, from business to communications to sport-specific administration to department brand messaging. In her time with the Buckeyes, she oversaw a major shift in revenue production through growing partnerships with Gatorade, IMG, and other organizations, including a $252 million partnership with Nike. 

A lot of her work with and before OSU involved marketing and ticket sales, which would be incredibly helpful for BC, which is trying to “get in” to the national spotlight. She has also been involved in OSU’s five-year strategic plan, similar to BC’s own “Greater Heights” strategic plan, which was founded by Jarmond and is set to be in action until 2023. 

This list is not exhaustive, but whoever BC and its search firm, Collegiate Sports Associates, select should be high-energy, business minded, and up for a challenge. As we’ve seen with Jarmond, age shouldn’t be a factor in consideration, but willingness to create lasting change should be. 

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Senior Staff

Featured Graphic by Ally Mozeliak / Heights Editor

May 22, 2020
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