Weekly Q&A Series: Jim Abbott, Athletic Director (Oklahoma City University)

In an effort to provide aspiring sports business professionals with a deeper insight into the college athletic world, BusinessofCollegeSports.com will be conducting weekly Q&A’s via email with industry professionals working in higher athletics. This week’s guest is Jim Abbott, Athletic Director at Oklahoma City University.

Connect with Jim on Linkedin.

Check out the Q&A below and let us know what you think of Jim’s advice on Twitter.

BusinessofCollegeSports.com — When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in college athletics? Why did you decide to pursue a career in college athletics versus maybe a career in professional sports?

Jim Abbott — I went to grad school at the University of Oklahoma and got my Masters in Sports Administration. The final part of my degree was an internship which I did with a Minor League baseball team. The internship led me to a full-time job with the team, and I worked there for four years. I applied for a job as a Development Director for Athletics at Oklahoma City University, and I’ve mostly worked in College Athletics and Administration since then. I use a lot of the skills that I learned in Minor League baseball in my current job. I enjoy working in college, particularly at a small college, because of the student-athletes. They are like my own children and I enjoy watching them grow, and learn, and ultimately moving on to impact our society.

BOCS.com — You have a bachelor’s degree as well as a graduate degree. Is a graduate degree necessary to work in college athletics? What is the benefit of a Master’s in Sports Administration or maybe an MBA?

JA — Colleges value education. So, if you think you’d like to work in college athletics it doesn’t hurt to have a Master’s degree. Obviously, you also see Athletic Director’s these days with PHD’s. I don’t think it is necessary to have a degree in Sports Administration; an MBA is an excellent choice or several other fields of study would be fine. While education is important, the experiences that an individual has had will take them farther in their career than their education.

BOCS.com — How much of a factor does “luck” play into career advancement? With your career, did “luck” come into play at all with how you moved up the ladder to where you are today?

JA — I’m not sure that luck plays much of a factor in career advancement.  There may be a “chance” meeting that takes place at some point that leads an individual to an opportunity. Even if you are “in the right place at the right time,” you still have to be prepared and get the job done.

I think that working in sports is a lot like playing sports. You have to build your skill set, be willing to work long hours, have a great attitude about doing seemingly mundane tasks, and approach your job every day with a passion to excel. I’ve been lucky in my career to have great mentors and role models who took the time to help me get better at what I do. Many of these folks worked at competing institutions but still took the time to share with me. I think it’s important that I do the same for others.

BOCS.com — What do you do on a daily basis as the Athletic Director at Oklahoma City University?

JA — I manage a department with 21 sports, a staff of 30 people, 400 student-athletes, and a budget of approximately $9 million. My job is to support our coaches and students, insure that we meet the mission of the university, and plan both short term and long term goals for the department. I spend a significant amount of time raising funds/worrying about finances.

BOCS.com — After working in college athletics for the past 20-plus years, what one or two pieces of advice would you give to young aspiring sports business professionals who are looking to pursue a career in college athletics?

JA — I meet with individuals all the time that are interested in working in athletics. The first thing that I point out to them is that we all pretty much start at the bottom. So I encourage them to meet (network) as many people as they can in the business and pick their brains. If you think you want to work in college athletics, reach out to people who already do and get a sense of what they do and how they got started.

I also encourage them to get started. Any experience that they can add to their resume will help them take the next step in their career. This is critical because there is a lot of competition for these jobs. I remind them that working in sports isn’t glamorous. People tend to watch championship games on TV and think every day is like that — it isn’t. A lot of the things that must be done to be successful in college athletics have nothing to do with the game on the field.

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  • Roy X. Hill
    August 27, 2013

    OU inspires champions today and prepares leaders for tomorrow by enabling its student-athletics to acheive their highest academic, athletic and personal aspirations. The OU Athletics Department sponsors 21 varsity sports with more than 600 student-athletics and is completely self-supporting.