Names begin surfacing in athletics director search

Ben Goessling

Three new candidates surfaced this week in Minnesota’s athletics director search, which appears to be nearing its conclusion.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported June 14th that Robert Burton, Nebraska’s senior associate athletics director, and Jeff Long, an associate athletics director at Oklahoma, were two candidates contacted by Heidrick and Struggles, the Chicago-based search firm the University is using to conduct its search.

Additionally, the Star Tribune reported June 16th UCLA associate athletics director Betsy Stephenson has also been contacted by the firm.

None of the three candidates could be reached for comment.

Search committee chairwoman Mary Jo Kane declined to comment on specific candidates, but said the search has drawn extensive interest from major conference athletics directors and assistants in addition to mid-major conference athletics directors.

Kane said the committee is right on schedule with its plan to forward names to outgoing University President Mark Yudof by early July.

“Central administration, in consultation with the regents, will determine who the finalists will be,” Kane said. “At that point, (the finalists’) names must become public, and I would think that would be a very quick turnaround.”

Before coming to Oklahoma, Long served as an assistant at Michigan, Virginia Tech, and Eastern Kentucky.

Stephenson is in her fifth year at UCLA after coming from Kansas State, where she held the same position from 1992-96. She worked on the NCAA championships staff for nine years, where she served on the management team that coordinates the Division I men’s basketball championship from 1990-1993.

“Betsy has a great deal of experience and understanding of various situations,” said Bill Hancock, director of the Division I men’s basketball championship. “She’s a very capable administrator, and she would be a top candidate for any position.”

A challenging position

When a new athletics director is finally named, he or she will inherit one of the toughest jobs in the country.

Some of the struggles a new athletics director will face:

ï The women’s basketball program awaits NCAA decision on possible sanctions stemming from a dozen minor violations under former coach Cheryl Littlejohn.

ï The athletics department must come up with $21 million over the next five years to maintain its current level of operation, putting it in one of the worst financial situations in its more than 125 years of existence.

ï The men’s and women’s athletics departments are scheduled to merge July 1st, but the period of transition will last much longer.

Iowa combined its separate athletics departments in September 2000, and according to Mark Schantz, who oversees athletics as a member of the university’s general counsel, the transition period is just now coming to an end.

“Our departments weren’t as separate as Minnesota’s are, but we still had to spend a year or two working out the details,” he said. “I don’t think Minnesota can expect to have a fully completed merger in a few months.”

Schantz said the departments at Iowa were merged primarily to provide more support for women’s athletics. He added Iowa will receive some financial benefit from eliminating unnecessary positions, but doesn’t expect to save more than $1 million from the merger.

Despite the myriad of challenges facing potential candidates, Schantz isn’t surprised to see a high level of interest in the position.

“The more uncertainty there is, the less interest there will be, but I don’t see any fatal obstacles with the Minnesota job,” he said. “Big Ten positions always draw a lot of interest, and this one is no exception.”

Ben Goessling welcomes comments at [email protected]