What Does an Athletic Director Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

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Image by Julie Bang © The Balance 2019

Athletic directors (ADs) generally oversee all aspects of an athletic program, including hiring coaches, scheduling, budget preparation, promotion, compliance, and facility management. So, if you are an organized person who thrives in a position of leadership and enjoys sports, a career as an athletic director may be a good fit for you.

Athletic directors typically enjoy working with coaches and athletes to help teams reach their potential. Whereas coaches carry out a team's day-to-day preparation, athletic directors take pride in the behind-the-scenes work, which puts teams in a position to succeed.

Athletic Director Duties & Responsibilities

Athletic directors' duties vary and may include the following:

  • Providing guidance and direction for a school’s sports program
  • Preparing budgets and allocating spending on items such as coaches' salaries, team travel, equipment purchases, and facility upkeep
  • Coordinating with coaches about the scheduling of games and practices
  • Collaborating with conferences and leagues about scheduling issues
  • Speaking with league officials about subjects such as postseason play
  • Determining the time allocated for a field, court, or weight room
  • Working with coaches and perhaps a travel coordinator to plan trips
  • Coordinating officials and umpires at games and budgeting for their pay
  • Filing reports on the status of each team and its successes and shortcomings
  • Mediating any disputes between athletes and coaches or between coaches

At the high school level, the athletic director typically is a school administrator who provides hands-on leadership in these areas. At the major college level, some of these responsibilities may be delegated, but the athletic director will oversee the process.

Athletic directors at the high school level work with other school administrators to assure that student-athletes are academically eligible for a given sport. They carry out this responsibility at the college level as well. At colleges, ADs also typically work with a compliance officer to make sure a program is acting within conference and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) or other association rules.

Athletic Director Salary

The annual salary for an athletic director is based on education, experience, and skill level. Their salary is as follows:

  • Median Annual Salary: $59,745 ($28.72/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $100,068 ($48.11/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $34,353 ($16.52/hour)

Education, Training, & Certification

The education and qualifications for becoming an athletic director vary among schools, as well as the school level:

  • High school and middle school levels: At the high school and middle school levels, athletic directors typically begin their careers as coaches and teachers. They may retain a coaching or teaching position, but in high school, the AD role tends to be a full-time job. Athletic directors usually have a bachelor’s degree in education, physical education, or a related field. Some schools may also require a teaching certificate and two to three years of coaching experience.
  • College levels: Some colleges and universities hire athletic directors with bachelor's degrees and experience in athletic administration, but most schools require master's degrees and three to five years of coaching and administrative experience. Master's degrees may be in education administration, business, or sports management. Numerous sports management schools prepare students for administrative positions, such as an athletic director, at the college level.

In addition, while sports management graduates often pursue jobs at the college and professional levels, high school athletic director jobs are also a good fit.

Athletic Director Skills & Competencies

Certain skills are important for an athletic director, in areas such as:

  • Leadership: Overseeing the strategic plan for the athletic department and providing motivation and direction
  • Management: Effectively handling and delegating tasks to other team members
  • Organization: Staying current on the various rules and regulations, schedules, budget figures, and information on personnel
  • Interpersonal communication: Manage relationships with coaches, school personnel, and the public.

Athletic directors must learn to run an effective program under budget constraints. While this job can be rewarding, it requires fortitude, perseverance, and the ability to work well under stress. 

In addition, athletic directors should enjoy being in a leadership position. They sometimes move into positions with a conference or league office. They may receive some level of public recognition, but not as much as a successful coach. Many ADs in colleges and high schools oversee the strategic plan for the athletic department. Therefore, an ability to form a long-term vision and communicate it to other administrators, donors, students, and the public is a key responsibility.

They must keep track of quickly changing rules. They must have the interpersonal skills necessary to work well with coaches in their program as well as school leaders and the public. At the high school level, athletic directors may also have to address the concerns of parents. At the college level, athletic directors can become the focus of media scrutiny.

Job Outlook

College athletic director positions are available for those with proven, well-documented sports and coaching experience. Because these positions are difficult to obtain, they are rarely vacant.

High school and middle school athletic director opportunities are more available. However, you must meet certain education and experience qualifications as required by a particular school.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a classification for umpires, referees, and other sports officials. The employment outlook for that category is expected to experience 8 percent growth in the 2016–2026 period.

Work Environment

An athletic director works in a school office performing various administrative tasks, as well as away from the office attending fund-raising events and sports practices and games. This position may also require travel to away games.

Work Schedule

Athletic directors primarily work full-time jobs, but hours often include night and weekend games.

How to Get This Job

APPLY

Look at resources such as Indeed, Monster, and Glassdoor for the latest job postings. These websites also provide other helpful resources such as tips for resume and cover letter writing, as well as getting and mastering an interview. Also, visit local schools and research school district websites for job openings for an athletic director, or an entry-level position or apprentice opportunity that can lead to that career.

NETWORK

Membership in local and national organizations may provide job postings and networking opportunities that can lead to a job. The National Association of Collegiate Director of Athletics (NACDA) and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) are two such organizations. Also, check for an association in your state. For example, California, Oregon, and Illinois have athletic director associations.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Those interested in becoming an athletic director may also want to consider the following career paths. Here's a list of jobs, along with the median annual salary: