It’s almost always about money. There may be other factors in changing jobs: Going back home, returning to an alma mater, or, as Dan Radakovich said Tuesday, having the desire to “get into a collegiate environment. I hadn’t had the opportunity to be in a pure college town.”
A nice sentiment. But primarily it’s still about the money, either what one can make or one can spend.
When Radakovich resigned from the athletic director’s job at Georgia Tech for the same position at Clemson, it said as much about his former employer than his new one. Radakovich won’t have to sell a ticket or plead with donors at Clemson, which is what he had to do at Tech. The pressure for victories and the chase for dollars is greater than ever in college athletes – too great, actually, but that’s a topic for another column – and right now Tech just isn’t all that attractive.
Radakovich won’t say that. But he’ll use words like “challenges” and “difficulties.” He was weary of trying to get people to “jump off the connector” in hopes he could alter their perceptions of what the metro campus looked like. He won’t criticize Tech’s high academic requirements or limited number of majors, but he’ll amplify on the difficulty coaches have to convince recruits that the school can provide an “enriching” experience.
That’s why he was so driven to improve and add facilities. “Sometimes they [recruits] make their decision first with their eyes,” he said.
Here’s the problem: While Radakovich denies also that the Tech AD position is a “steppingstone” job, relative to others in major college athletics, that’s basically what he just affirmed by leaving one ACC job for another, just two hours up the interstate. He is close with Clemson’s retiring AD, Terry Don Phillips, and had coveted the impending vacancy for several months.
None of this bodes well for the perception of Tech on the college sports landscape, and we haven’t addressed the ever-present shadow cast by the beast in Athens. Georgia and Georgia Tech are different campuses with different missions. But they’re rival programs in close proximity of each other. The financial situations at the two athletic departments are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
According to the Equity in Athletics database, which tracks budgets of every collegiate athletic program, Tech’s sports teams had total revenues of $46,910,364 for the one-year period ending June 30, 2012. Georgia was nearly double that at $91,670,613.
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said he wasn’t surprised by Radakovich’s exit. The two have known each other for years and speak often. He knows what drives the man. “When he was at American University, he missed the bright lights of big-time college athletics,” McGarity said.
He also knows what can wear down an athletic director.
“The financial challenges to run a college athletic program are much more difficult at some institutions than others,” McGarity said. “When you have a strong fan base and full stadiums and when you have a tremendous level of support, it makes your job easier from a fundraising standpoint. Financial circumstances can be taxing mentally. You’re always worrying about where the next dollar will come from. It wears on athletic directors just as it wears on anyone. There’s a constant pressure.”
Radakovich was back in his Edge Athletic Center office Tuesday for some desk cleanout. Asked about the challenges of running athletics at the Institute, he didn’t hesitate: “Always looking at ways to get people to consistently come to the stadium and the venues. When we’re winning, attendance is good. When we’re OK, attendance is OK. When we’re not winning, attendance falls. The challenge is to create a bigger core. We tried a lot of things to get that to happen.”
Some have characterized Radakovich’s decision to leave as “jumping ship.” That’s overstatement. Tech isn’t in financial straits. The football team, while struggling, isn’t devastated. But his departure is a reality check for the school.
Radakovich tries to minimize Georgia comparisons, saying, “The comparisons aren’t fair because the schools aren’t chartered the same, and they don’t have the same level of resources athletically. … Georgia has been up the street for the last 100 years. It’s a factor. It’s something that you have to manage each and every day. But it doesn’t make the list of why we do what we do.”
He was still saying “we” Tuesday. A day earlier, he was putting on a bright orange sports jacket at a news conference. “We” is past tense. And the jacket he put on Monday might as well have been green.
By Jeff Schultz