Sports Management Careers: Athletic Director

In Sports Management there are many different careers to choose from and today I am going to give you a brief profile of the position of Athletic Director.

An athletic director is an administrator at many colleges, universities and high schools who expected to provide leadership and oversees all aspects of an intercollegiate or interscholastic athletic program including:

  • The Coaching Staff
  • Budget Preparation
  • Promotion
  • Facility Management
  • Scheduling of Games

In a sense, Athletic Directors are the General Managers of intercollegiate or interscholastic athletic programs.

Although Athletic Directors are technically in charge of all of the coaching staff, they are usually paid less and receive far less publicity as coaches these days have their own television and radio programs.

If you enjoy sports and are an extremely organized person who excels in a leadership position, then a career as an athletic director could ne a great choice for you.


Athletic Directors have many responsibilities but their main duty is to provide guidance and direction for a school’s sports program.

This is a lot harder then it sounds and includes preparing a budget and allocating funds for:

  • Coach’s Salaries
  • Team Travel
  • Equipment Purchases
  • Facility Upkeep

Depending on the size of the institution and its athletic program, some of these responsibilities may be delegated to others but the Athletic Director still oversees these areas even if they are not actually doing it themselves.

Athletic are responsible for the hiring and firing of coaches, work closely with and provide guidance to the coaching staff.

Remember however that if you hire a coach and the team does not win you could be subject to public scrutiny and even take the fall if it is a popular or renowned coach.

In addition, Athletic Directors must make sure that the program is acting within association, conference and NCAA rules.


Athletic Directors typically have a bachelor’s degree in education, physical education, or sports management and a master’s degree in education administration or sports management.

The reason they possibly have a degree in education is because Athletic Directors typically begin their careers as coaches and teachers, especially at the high school level.

According to a study by Old Dominion University, Sports Management graduates are a good fit for high school athletic director jobs.

In that study, development of the following skills was important:

  • Planning And Organizational Skills
  • Legal Liability Knowledge
  • Public Relations
  • Oral And Written Communication Skills
  • Staffing And Hiring Skills

However, Sports Management graduates usually go after jobs at the college and professional level and with these skills can also thrive in that environment.


While coaches get the teams ready to play on a daily basis, athletic directors put their teams in a position to succeed with more behind-the-scenes work and while they enjoy being in a leadership role and receive some levels of public recognition, a successful coach will get most of the spotlight.

However, successful Athletic Directors sometimes move up the ladder into bigger positions with a conference or league.

Athletic directors can expect a salary of:

  • $50,000-90,000 On The High School Level
  • $115,000- $2,500,000 On The College Level

At the nations top sports schools Athletics directors’ salaries may be on the verge of escalating as fast as head coaches.

In addition, most athletic directors receive medical benefits for themselves and their families and depending on their level and experience; they can also receive up to 4-5 weeks of vacation every year.

However, if you are in it only for the money and not because it is what you love to do, you will probably not succeed.


Athletic Directors face numerous different challenges every day which could be compared to the CEO of a large company.

If an Athletic director is new to his current position it is probably because his predecessor did not do the job and the program is losing and turning it around into a winner is going to be the biggest challenge.

Other challenges that an Athletic Director will face include:

  • Being On Top Of Changing Rules
  • Pressures From Changing Budgets
  • Politics With Coaches
  • Politics With School Leaders
  • Politics With The Public
  • Media Scrutiny
  • Concerns Of Athletes
  • Concerns Of Parents On The H.S. Level

In addition, depending on the nature of the schools athletics program, an Athletic Director is often expected to be “on call” in case any issues arise with the teams or athletics program meaning long hours, evenings, and weekends.


With most large college athletic programs, the school that has an opening for an Athletic Director is most likely looking for somebody who has proven and well documented sports and coaching experience so it is highly unlikely that you will land a position such as this right out of college.

Another drawback is the fact that most Athletic Directors work hard to get to this level and once they get there, they hold onto it for a long time.

Athletic directors must have a strong background in order to manage all sports functions.

The likelihood of job openings for Athletic Directors is significantly higher on an elementary or middle school level and would be a great place to begin your career.

However, people gaining experience at a high school, community college or other small college or has worked as a coach could have the opportunity for advancement into an Athletic Directors role down the road.

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