An Examination of Career Mobility Patterns among Black Senior Level Administrators Working in NCAA Division I Sports

Steven N. Waller – University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Adam Love – University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Ashley C. Gardner – University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Emily J. Johnson – University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Chermaine D. Cole – University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Russell A. Pointer, Jr. – University of Tennessee, Knoxville

College sports in the United States is a mammoth business enterprise that is predominately led by White, middle-aged men—athletic directors (AD). At the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Division I level—the highest classification of college sport competition— according to Lapchick (2019), Whites occupy 84.5% of AD positions, compared to 8.8% for African Americans and 6.7 % for all other racial groups combined. For senior-level administrative (SLA) positions, Whites held 85.1% of associate AD positions and 82.4% of assistant AD positions (Lapchick, 2019). The purpose of this study was to explore the career experiences and perceptions about the career mobility of Black college athletics administrators at NCAA, Division I level. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven SLAs (4 men, 3 women) who self-identified as “Black” or “African American” and were employed by an NCAA Division I institution. NVivo qualitative data analysis software was used to organize and analyze the data. Four themes emerged from the interviews: (1) Champions in Your Corner, (2) Navigating the System, (3) the Responsibility of Representation, and (4) Variability of Career Pathways. Key findings of the study included: 1) mentor and peer relationships were central to participants’ ability to experience career mobility; 2) learning to navigate barriers (e.g., race, gender, lack of a network) is crucial to career mobility; 3) Black SLAs felt the pressure and responsibility of representing aspiring Black administrators in general; and 4) the narratives of the participants did not reveal a definitive career pathway to becoming an SLA. Understanding the career experiences of Black SLAs is important to addressing the inequities that persist in college athletics in the US.