Mason Director of Athletics opens up about the new-look collegiate sports world.
BY GABRIEL KING, SPORTS EDITOR
Associate Director of Sport Management Craig Esherick discussed the ever-changing world of collegiate athletics. Issues such as conference realignment, the transfer portal and name, image and likeness (NIL) have become a focal point for institutions.
Lewis recognizes the importance of athletics for an institution, saying that athletics are “the front porch of a college campus.” Athletics are capable of bringing a college community together, Lewis adds. “We bring the community together. We unify the campus.”
Despite the power of collegiate athletics, recent changes have caused trouble for institutions across the country. The most glaring change is conference realignment. With many schools looking to enhance their competition level and increase television revenue, they have begun to switch conferences. But Lewis, who was on the leadership team at the University of Maryland when they left the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) for the Big Ten nearly a decade ago, emphasizes that academics are also a priority when realigning.
“There’s also academic consideration. There’s a consortium sharing library and research materials, and also just alignment in terms of profile.” With these factors in mind, Mason is content with its current position in the Atlantic 10 Conference, because its members are academically strong and many do not sponsor football, much like Mason.
With the increase in revenue over the years, the NCAA began to allow student-athletes to profit off their brand. “The NCAA permits student-athletes to capitalize on publicity. The intent is, if a student-athlete has a business, they can use their name, image, and likeness to promote that business,” Lewis explained. There are some limits to NIL, however. The NCAA prohibits schools from using NIL as a recruitment strategy and laws vary by state on how NIL can be used.
College coaches face new challenges as a result of NIL, causing Lewis to reassess the process for hiring coaches. “We’re looking for a CEO that can manage a multimillion dollar company, so to speak. It’s a complex job,” Lewis said. In addition to recruiting and coaching student-athletes, coaches now have to manage the realities of NIL.
The NCAA has also loosened restrictions on student-athletes transferring schools, leading to the creation of the transfer portal. Student-athletes are now allowed to transfer schools once without any restrictions, adding another layer of recruiting for coaches, as they have to convince their own players to stay at their school. Lewis views this as another reason to maintain a strong culture surrounding athletics.
“Recruits ask, ‘What’s the environment like? Where do you spend time? What’s the culture?’ and if your current student-athletes… don’t feel great, it’s going to be hard to get the best talent,” Lewis said. Many institutions and programs across the country now focus on building a culture just as much as they do winning.
Ultimately, Lewis sees collegiate athletics returning to its roots in the future. “I see it refocusing on what’s important, and that’s the student-athlete.”