Managing an Athletic Department with Diverse, Non-Core Sports

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Rowers on a boat

When Ron Ford became athletic director of Cohasset High School in Massachusetts 18 years ago, the program had 19 sports. During his tenure, it grew to 27. The kids in Cohasset now have a wide variety of non-core sports available to them ranging from field hockey to wrestling, gymnastics, tennis, and lacrosse.

Ford, in the Cohasset Wicked Local article, “Cohasset Athletic Director Ron Ford Stepping Down at End of Season,” credits the success of the program to principals, assistant principals, superintendents, and booster clubs who understand the importance of sports programs — all sorts of sports programs — in the lives of student-athletes.

He also says that social media provided an outstanding opportunity to reach the public and keep interest in all of the school’s sports programs alive and well.

“I love the addition of Twitter,” explained Ford. “Twitter has been a great way to promote the program and get information out. I love that. I try to keep it fun. The next athletic director will have that account – @cohassetsports – and I’ll have my own. It has made things easier, but I still never put the phone down. It is a job that never ends.”

Aspiring athletic directors (ADs) enrolled in an online master’s in athletic administration program can learn from Ford’s relentless efforts to ensure that all of his sports programs received equal treatment and adequate funding. Successful sports programs in today’s world of budget cuts require teamwork and cooperation between school athletic departments and the community, and an advanced knowledge of promotional opportunities ranging from local TV and newspaper coverage to social media accounts.

A dedicated AD can find a number of blogs and athletic director articles on the internet that offer advice on scheduling, promoting, and allocating resources for non-core sports programs (generally any sport other than football, basketball, and baseball or hockey, depending on the region).

Ideas for Fair Treatment of Non-Core Sports

ADs are expected to accomplish amazing feats of juggling when scheduling games and facility usage, fundraising and allocating funds where they are needed, establishing pay-for-play fees, marketing their teams on local media and the internet, and keeping track of student-athletes’ academic performance.

Popularity and attendance can tempt an AD to prioritize core sports like football and basketball over non-core sports such as volleyball, softball, badminton, and crew rowing. But in today’s tight school funding climate, non-core sports may be in danger of fizzling out if athletic administrators don’t pay them the attention they deserve.

Sports writer Michael Austin and Dr. Carol R. Chory, CMAA, discuss several concepts that ADs can use to help non-core sports in their departments on the Coach & A.D. website. Austin’s article, “Giving Non-Core Sports the Attention They Deserve,” and Chory’s article, “Eight Unique Ideas to Promote Non-Core Sports,” suggest the following measures:

  • Make time for everyone: ADs should make an effort to attend the games and events of as many different sports as they can to show their impartial support of the entire program. Scheduling of practices should also be done so that everyone who needs to use facilities has a chance to use them. ADs also need a plan for inclement weather so one team doesn’t steamroll over another team’s indoor facility practice time.
  • Share all sports’ activities with the media: Local newspapers and TV stations often feature school football and basketball activity. Local media, however, might also be interested in other sports. More often than not, ADs don’t send updates about non-core sports to local media. Every team in every sport should also have its own up-to-date social media pages and accounts so that more local enthusiasts can connect and follow their favorite teams.
  • Host and attend events: Invitational matches, signing days, senior games, parent/athlete information nights, recognition events, raffles, and festivals are a great way to get teams into the public eye. Such events can either be put together by ADs and hosted at their schools or attended at other schools or community centers. Even recruiting days within the school, where students can explore sports opportunities, can help keep interest high in the entire athletic department. Any chance to involve the public in local high school sports, both core and non-core, should be taken advantage of.
  • Fundraising and budgeting: More often than not, ADs are left with the task of acquiring funds above and beyond what they are allotted by their state and school district. Some funds can still be raised through the old familiar ways, such as raffles, walk-a-thon pledges, bake sales, and car washes. But with budget restraints, ADs may have to dig a little deeper into fundraising, especially when funding non-core sports. On its “Marketing and Fundraising” page, suggests taking advantage of booster clubs, alumni-based fundraising, corporate packages and signage agreements, partnerships with the community (e.g., renting facilities to off-campus groups during downtime), and “friend-raising” (crowdfunding).

Ingenuity is the key to success in interscholastic sports programs. Devoted ADs who constantly look for new and creative ways to supplement their departments’ budgets should be able to keep all of their programs, including non-core programs, going with a bare minimum of fees.

Keep Lobbying for More Sports Funding

The unfortunate “cost” of arranging for outside fundraising is that voters may get lulled into believing that sports programs no longer need state funding because they can take care of all their financial needs through fundraising now. In reality, the sudden need for alternative funding sources is intended to be a temporary fix — just enough to keep athletic departments afloat until the state is able to raise their budgets again.

State funding is especially crucial to non-core sports, which may not draw the crowds necessary to augment their budget needs through sponsorships or fundraising activities.

There are other potential costs to reducing or losing completely athletic programs in schools. “When faced with making cuts, the goal of every superintendent is to lessen the impact of any budget cut on ‘the classroom,’” explains Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald in “School Administrators: Consider the ‘Cost’ Before Cutting Athletic Programs” on “Attention then focuses on what is perceived as “non-instructional” programs, which for too many means cutting athletics, and every superintendent must do what is best for his or her district.

“Districts with vibrant Boys and Girls Clubs, community recreational programs, the YMCA, or other opportunities may be able to make the argument that middle school students will still have the opportunity to participate. However, the existence of club or AAU programs could make some or all of their high school’s athletic programs susceptible to being eliminated.”

When governments cut athletic funding, non-core sports are generally the first to go. Football, basketball, and other core sports will siphon off money from the non-core athletic teams when there is not enough to go around.

Although athletics don’t constitute the “core” reading, writing, and arithmetic subjects considered to be the primary goal of education, sports programs do provide valuable character lessons for students that will serve them and their communities well throughout their entire lives. And not all students are going to make the football or basketball team. Non-core sports give a wider variety of students the opportunity to compete athletically, even those who are not interested in, or built for, core sports.

Learn More About Ohio University’s Online Master’s in Athletic Administration

Ohio University houses one of the first academic programs in the nation to offer post-graduate educational options in sports administration. Since its inception, OHIO’s Master’s in Athletic Administration online program (MAA) has consistently graduated well-rounded athletic directors capable of using every tool at their disposal to keep all of a sports department’s programs running smoothly.

OHIO’s online courses focus on preparing interscholastic athletic directors to nurture student-athletes in any sport and run entire athletic departments. In fact, Ohio University’s MAA students learn how to manage diverse athletic departments through graduate-level courses in sports marketing and financial administration of sports facilities and programs.

Ohio University’s MAA program is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA) and prepares students for National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) certification. For more information, visit Ohio University’s MAA page.


Recommended Reading:

Booster Clubs: Raising Funds for High School Sports

Interscholastic Sports Financial Issues for Athletic Administrators

Finance Administration of Sports: Budgeting, Forecasting, and Planning



AD Ron Ford Stepping Down – Cohasset Wicked Local

Giving Non-Core Sports Attention – Coach & A.D.

Eight Ideas to Promote Non-Core Sports – Coach & A.D.

Marketing and Fundraising –

Consider the ‘Cost’ Before Cutting –