Ex-Terp, regent Tom McMillen has blank slate to lead Division 1A athletic directors group

September 30, 2015 | Baltimore Business Journal

By Michael Smith, Sports Business Journal

Tom McMillen, the former congressman and regent at the University of Maryland, is the new voice for athletic directors at the highest levels. Now he’s going to spend the next few weeks days figuring out what that means.

McMillen was introduced in Dallas last week as the new president and CEO of the Division 1A Athletic Directors’ Association, the lesser known of the two trade groups that represent ADs.

After the announcement, he returned to his home in Washington, D.C., with no office, no staff and a blank slate for how to turn this association into a stronger advocacy group that will represent ADs across its 126 schools in 10 FBS conferences. The group’s headquarters will move from Dallas to D.C.

That voice might be directed at the NCAA, Congress or any other entity that might play a role in reshaping college athletics during what McMillen described as a tumultuous time, given the new autonomy structure within the NCAA and ongoing antitrust lawsuits.

“Collectively, they can be a very important voice in the repositioning of college athletics,” McMillen said.

McMillen, 63, has given himself 45 days to establish a strategic plan for the association. He’s going to use that time to talk to athletic directors and establish a deeper understanding of their needs from a trade group. The strategic plan will chart the course for the association’s future, and it might involve a name change from the cumbersome and sometimes confusing moniker the group has used since it was formed in 1986. McMillen has not decided if he’ll hire an outside firm to conduct a rebranding or handle it internally.

He’ll also look to grow the association’s revenue streams, which essentially consist of dues and sponsorships.

“I have a lot going on, but this is an interesting challenge,” said McMillen, who is chairman and CEO of investment firm Washington Capital Advisors while also serving as a director for the boards of RCS Capital and Nexstar Broadcasting Group. “I’ve been involved in college sports my whole life, one way or another, and I see this as a chance to give back and make a difference in college athletics.”

McMillen was admittedly not very familiar with the Division 1A Athletic Directors’ Association several months ago when he talked to Maryland AD Kevin Anderson about the job. He then went through an interview process with the association’s search firm, DHR International out of Chicago. DHR managing partner Glenn Sugiyama and former Wisconsin AD Pat Richter, a partner in DHR’s sports practice, led the search.

“Once he became a serious candidate, I shared with the search committee that if we’re looking for a true advocate who has a strong understanding of intercollegiate athletics, has a broad and well-connected network, and can sit at a table with every commissioner and president and demand instant respect, thenTom McMillen is an ideal fit,” Anderson said. “Tom’s diverse background will empower him to become an influential voice for intercollegiate athletics.”

McMillen’s background made him an attractive candidate. He played basketball for the Terrapins in the 1970s and, after an 11-year stint in the NBA, went on to be a founding member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. During his three terms in Congress, McMillen supported the Student Right to Know Act, which made it mandatory for colleges to disclose their graduation rates for athletes.

The group is one of two trade associations that represent athletic directors. NACDA, the National Association for Collegiate Directors of Athletics, is older, larger and more established with several affiliate groups that stretch across all NCAA divisions. The intent of the Division 1A ADs is to narrow the issues to those schools in the FBS conferences.

Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame’s AD and association chairman, said McMillen’s hiring represents the start of a significant reform effort.

“We must play a bigger role in shaping how we meet the needs of our universities and our students,” Swarbrick said during McMillen’s announcement.

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