Strategies for Building Better Alliances on Campus


  • Ian McCaw, Director of Athletics, Liberty University (Moderator)
  • Jenny Borg, Advisor, Athletics Strategy, University of Notre Dame
  • Bill Hardgrave, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Auburn University
  • Ragean Hill, Executive Associate Athletics Director, UNC Charlotte

Webinar Recap

Now that we are in one of the most historical summers in college sports history, LEAD1 Association (“LEAD1”) wanted to host a forum dedicated to helping its member athletics administrators better navigate some of the challenges faced on campus, particularly with respect to other units on campus. Whether it be faculty, governing boards, campus administration, or even those within athletics, building trust, achieving a shared commitment, and mastering conflict are core principles to navigate through these challenging times. It is incumbent upon the LEAD1 membership to advocate for the role of intercollegiate athletics within higher education – here are the important takeaways from the webinar, moderated by LEAD1’s Ian McCaw, Director of Athletics at Liberty University.

  1. Athletics departments should build a “communications checklist.” Athletics departments should be proactive in their communications with outside constituents, whether it be trustees, donors, alumni, corporate sponsors, or any other stakeholders. Athletics departments should create a “communications checklist” and include categories within the checklist such as the type of communication involved, for example, whether for advocacy or awareness purposes, and the method of communication, such as verbal or written.
  2. “Open communication” will lead to better alliances. Meeting regularly with campus representatives outside of athletics will help athletics personnel better understand varied campus perspectives. Moreover, meeting with representatives who support campus leaders can be as effective as meeting with the actual leaders themselves. Meeting regulatory with these people can help build trust, which is critical for effective communication.
  3. More integration, means more trust. Keeping campus representatives, like faculty representatives, integrated in athletics, can help build support for athletics. Inviting university faculty representatives, for example, to coaches’ meetings, practices, and away games can create the type of “intentionality” needed to sustain longer-term alliances.
  4. The higher education landscape is shifting. During COVID-19, academia became more flexible in terms of the method in which education is delivered, whether virtual or in-person. Virtual education can open the door for more student-athlete opportunities by creating more flexibility in course scheduling previously lacking. Flexibility is particularly important in the context of the new the one-time transfer rule, which will lead to more lost credits in courses previously taken among student-athletes who transfer. Higher education will also face more future enrollment issues, not only because of the pandemic, but also the economic recession of the mid-2000s, which resulted in fewer babies born. As a result, athletics can play an even bigger role in recruiting students; campus administrators outside of athletics must recognize this.
  5. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is paramount, including in the context of student-athlete empowerment.  In recent years across FBS college sports, there have been several notable examples of demands from student-athletes regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion issues that have led to significant outcomes. As LEAD1 stated in its diversity, equity, and inclusion white paper, diversity administrators, such as the Athletics Diversity and Inclusion Designee (ADID), should be given the power to substantially collaborate across campus to help effectively respond to such student-athlete demands.

In summary, on the subject of building better alliances on campus, “if you make the effort, people will give you the benefit of the doubt,” McCaw said.