table of contents


Selmon leading Bulldogs into a New Era

also included: CALS 23 Charlotte Wrap Up


The queen city

Now that we have 13 Collegiate Athletics Leadership Symposiums (CALS) under our belt, people often ask me which has been my favorite.

It’s an easy question to answer. The last one!

The Queen City served as the perfect location for our lucky 13th CALS. From the people to the venues every part of it came together to make a memorable experience for all that attended.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame was the perfect location for our opening dinner hosted by RealResponse. During the cocktail reception, hosted by Charlotte Athletics, several of our folks took advantage of the interactive experiences including everyone’s favorite the racing simulators. Working in this industry for the last few years had prepared people for travelling at high speeds, around sharp turns, with many unpredictable obstacles coming at them!

The Opening session conversation with ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips hosted by Duke’s Nina King was the perfect way to start a couple of days of conversations about our industry. It set the tone for meaningful dialogue and meaningful connections that took place throughout CALS.

As with every CALS there was an awesome group of people who worked to make CALS 23 in Charlotte a huge success.

David Chadwick and RealResponse have been involved as partners with CALS for several years. We are fortunate to be one of the first places that David chose to invest when he launched his product in 2016. It’s been awesome to see his company grow and expand over the years as their service has become a fixture on most college campuses. We greatly appreciate David’s support and efforts to bring CALS to his hometown of Charlotte. His comments at the Opening Dinner about his business, hometown, family and our industry were among my highlights of CALS23.

At the end of CALS 22 in Nashville my friend Samantha Huge, longtime athletics administrator and now Executive VP for RealResponse, approached me about CALS to Charlotte. Within the week Samantha, David and I were on a call making plans. As David and I both mentioned at the Opening Dinner, the next few months brought a cancer diagnosis and treatment for Samantha. Initially it looked like she wasn’t going to be able to be with us in Charlotte, but positive developments allowed her to join us and serve on one of our panels. We are grateful for Samantha’s continued progress as her health continues to improve and we are looking forward to her impact on our industry for years to come.

A big thanks to the whole RealResponse team and a special shout out to Director of Administration Briana Vargas for managing all the details of the Opening Dinner and making it look easy.

Thank you to Mike Hill and Charlotte Athletics for their support and assistance with all things CALS 23.

A huge thank you to our partners. Their support and expertise over the years has helped make CALS become what is. We are very grateful for these relationships, many of which span more than a decade.

The engine that makes CALS go has always been and will always be our faculty. The number of significant leaders and influencers that spent time with us in Charlotte is truly humbling. The atmosphere at the event has been greatly enhanced by faculty members who have been with us several times, many began as attendees, and truly understand the purpose and mission of CALS.

Finally, the team that makes CALS go.

We started the CALS intern program in 2014 and were excited to welcome back a handful of former interns as attendees this year! A big thank you to the ten graduate assistants that came from all over the country to serve as interns this year. Their assistance, energy, and positive attitudes played a huge role in making CALS go and we look forward to following each of their success in the future!

A big thanks to my partner with NextLevel, Joey McCutchen, for his encouragement and support over the years. Grant Hill has been a key part in making every CALS look good and we appreciate all of his efforts greatly.

Ryan Bradley has served in every capacity possible with CALS over the years and we are glad to count him as a trusted advisor. His wise counsel and investment in the success of others has continually made us better. You will enjoy his features on Zac Selmon and RealResponse in this edition.

Laura Keep has been an integral part of CALS since 2015. This year in Charlotte she did an amazing job of leading the team and making sure everything ran smoothly. I can’t thank her enough for being a constant encouragement and sounding board for all things CALS. She’s also a pretty good older sister.

Recently my friend Fran Fraschilla has started identifying basketball players who are “Culture Warriors” on ESPN broadcasts. They are those teammates who are about doing all the “little things” necessary to help a team win and don’t worry about who gets the glory or credit in the end. We are very fortunate to have our own “CALS Culture Warrior” in my dad Forest Reece. Since 2011 he has played a major role in coordinating and directing each CALS event. He has always been an example to me of how to treat people with respect and kindness. I travel all over the country and no matter where I am or what arena, stadium or campus I am visiting somebody always asks me to be sure to tell Forest they say hello. It's easy to see the impact he’s made on people.

I also want to thank the Reece family, Christy, Paige and Halle, for making me want to be a better husband, father, and man every day.

Woo Pig Sooie!!!

Call the Hogs because CALS 2024 is heading to Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas!

We are thrilled to be hosted by Arkansas Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Hunter Yurachek and his team with Razorback Athletics. For those of you not familiar with NWA (Northwest Arkansas), it is the area that Wal Mart, among other national companies, calls home. You will be excited to see the beauty, development, and the ease of flying in and out of XNA in Bentonville. Stay tuned for more information on CALS 24.

From conference realignment to major court cases to COVID responses to NIL to transfer portal, CALS has always been a place for people to gather and discuss the ever-changing landscape of college athletics. The enterprise finds itself in a different position than ever before navigating a volatile environment and an unsure future. The thing that gives me a great sense of hope in the present and future of college sports is the people that were in the room in Charlotte and at CALS in years prior. We are fortunate to have many of the smartest, hardest working and best people around helping provide student-athletes and college athletics with a bright future. We look forward to continuing to work passionately to provide a place for these leaders to learn, grow and connect for years to come.

Will Reece

CALS Director
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SIGHTs from cals23

Next Section →

Zac Selmon:
The Connector

by Ryan Bradley


Zac Selmon is a connector.

Virtually anyone who has spent time in his orbit calls him a friend.  

Selmon has been surrounded by student-athletes, coaches and administrators his whole life. Perhaps that’s why he seems so comfortable building relationships with all kinds of people in all types of environments.

Not only was Selmon born into a family of football royalty, he was also blessed with the opportunity to work for two of the titans of college athletics early in his career.

Selmon’s mentors include Oklahoma Athletics Director Joe Castiglione and North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham and both men have had a profound impact on his career.

Both attest to the unique intangibles Selmon possesses that seem to impact everyone around him.

“Zac has an incredible ability to communicate with every constituency,” Cunningham explained. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 80, he can relate to you and you can relate to him.”

“He’s like a magnet,” added Castiglione. “People just love being around him.”


Selmon was raised in the shadow of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium where his father and uncles made history on the gridiron.

Selmon’s father, Dewey, and his uncles, Lucious and Lee Roy, are widely regarded as college football’s most iconic trio. The Selmon brothers led Oklahoma to National Championships in 1974 and 1975 and all three went on to play professionally. After their playing days were over, Dewey returned to Norman to begin work in the construction industry while Lucious and Lee Roy started careers in coaching and athletic administration, respectively.

Lee Roy later became the AD at South Florida, sparking a new career interest for his young nephew.

“When I was in middle school, I’d go spend some summers with him in Tampa and I got to see what he did,” Selmon recalled. “I saw how he impacted young people’s lives and I thought the environment of sport and higher education was phenomenal.”

Selmon graduated from Norman High School and earned a football scholarship at Wake Forest where helped the Demon Deacons win an ACC Championship and trip to the Orange Bowl.

“I loved how much I grew as a person, as a student, and as an athlete when I was at Wake Forest,” Selmon stated. “When I got done with school, I knew I wanted to do something with sports.”



After college, Selmon returned to Oklahoma and landed a good job selling corrugated boxes. A short time later he reconnected with Castiglione, who offered him a pathway to a career in athletics, he jumped at the chance.  

“He was so gracious to give a kid with no experience a shot,” Selmon recounted. “We had a great relationship from day one that allowed us to speak openly and honestly. I wanted to work for everything that was in front of me, so he let me volunteer for a semester, then I was a graduate assistant and then went into fundraising full-time.”

The soon-to- become an SEC colleague, Castiglione served as a role model and guide for Selmon.

“He taught me so much about being grounded by your purpose and your core values,” Selmon said. “He showed me how to cast a large vision, to be bold, but to always keep the students first and that’s what makes him special.”


After five years at Oklahoma, Selmon returned to the Atlantic Coast Conference as an associate AD and special assistant to Cunningham at North Carolina.

“Working for Bubba was an unbelievable experience because I came up on the fundraising side and by being his chief of staff, he really helped me understand all the day-to-day operations,” Selmon explained.

Selmon credited Cunningham with teaching him how to manage internal operations and become a more effective communicator.

“Bubba’s a master of taking complex situations and putting them in simple terms for people in order to get buy-in and achieve alignment,” Selmon outlined. “He was instrumental in my growth because there were so many things about college athletics that I didn’t know, and he trusted me. He gave me so much more trust and belief in myself.”

Cunningham described the positive impact Selmon made throughout the UNC athletics department during his time with the Tar Heels.

“Zac was outstanding with our coaches, our students, the community as well as the faculty,” Cunningham boasted. “He has an infectious personality that people believe in and want to trust. And they trust him because he is a person of integrity and does what he says he’s going to do. He is very authentic.”


Selmon thrived during his time in Chapel Hill, but it wasn’t long before Oklahoma called him home.

“I remember telling Bubba, you’re hiring an awesome guy, but he’s on loan,” Castiglione said with a laugh. “I’m coming to get him again soon.”

True to his word, after a year in Chapel Hill, an executive staff position opened at OU and Castiglione lured Selmon back to Norman as senior associate AD and chief of operations.

At that point, Selmon’s preparation for an AD role was almost complete. Castiglione gave him oversight of fundraising, external operations and worked closely with him on multiple coaching searches. With potential AD jobs on the horizon, Selmon remained committed to the task at hand and the learning opportunities still in front of him.

“About six or seven years ago I decided to quit trying to put a time frame on things,” he said. “I just wanted to get better and grow every day and know that if I really focused on my daily input, the opportunities would take care of themselves.”


The second tour of duty in Norman ultimately served as the final training ground for Selmon. On Jan. 13, 2023, he was named Mississippi State’s 18th Director of Athletics.

Selmon said he knew he was ready to take the next step when MSU President Mark E. Keenum offered him the job, but admitted there’s still a learning curve when you move to the other side of the desk.  

“You immediately learn there’s a big difference between giving recommendations and making decisions.” Selmon admitted. “I’ve been so fortunate to be able to make recommendations to two of the best AD’s that have ever done it. I’ve learned so much from them, but there’s a big difference when you have to own the decisions.”


Selmon just completed his first year in Starkville, and it’s clear that his skills as a communicator and a visionary are already paying dividends.

He’s been busy building his staff, hiring a new football coach and developing a strategic vision for the Bulldogs.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised with everybody that we’ve met with,” Selmon said. “We talk about where we want to go as an athletics department and how we don’t want to take a back seat to anybody. We want to embrace the level of competition in the SEC and we want to be rock solid on the values that we have.”

His process for success at MSU sounds a lot like the way he’s approached his own career.

“If we take care of the daily inputs, the outputs will take care of themselves.”

For those who know him best, the grounded approach and his early success is no surprise.

“I know that Zac is going to be a phenomenal leader of his own program, and in fact, I already see it,” Castiglione said. “You can see the impact he’s having at Mississippi State as he finishes his first year.”

“He is an incredible leader,” Cunningham added. “Whether he finishes his career in college athletics or any other profession, he can solve problems. He has impeccable character and he will be a positive influence in any industry in which he works.”



With Zac Selmon

Favorite athlete?

My dad

Favorite book

How to Win Friends and Influence People
by Dale Carnegie

Favorite quote

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou

Bucket list sports experience

The Masters

Leader you admire most right now

Commissioner Sankey

Next Section →



Total Attendees
(Attendees, Faculty & Sponsors)


Registered Attendees


Returning Registered Attendees


First Time Registered Attendees


Total Athletics Administrators
(Attendees & Faculty)

Participants by Division:

Division 1 230

Division 2 5

Division 3 3

Attendees by Title:

Deputy Athletics Director 60

Director of Athletics 58

Senior Associate Athletics Director 40

Associate Athletics Director 33

Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director 20

Assistant Athletics Director 10


Division 1 Conferences Represented
Every conference except Big Sky, MAAC, NEC & SWAC

Participants by Conference:

SEC 43

American 30

Big 12 28


Big 1014

Sun Belt14


37 States

+ Washington D.C. Represented

Participants by State:

Texas 27

North Carolina 22

Virginia  16


South Carolina14








West Virginia8



Search Firms Represented

Bowlsby Sports Advisors

CarrSports Consulting

Collegiate Sports Associates

DHR Global

Korn Ferry

Parker Executive Search

Renaissance Search & Consulting


Next Section →

cals23 recap

Opening Dinner 

at the Nascar Hall of Fame

Nina King
Vice President & Director of Athletics, Duke University

Jim Phillips
Commissioner, Atlantic Coast Conference

Today’s Challenges and Tomorrow’s Opportunities

Wren Baker
VP & Director of Athletics, West Virginia University

Ross Bjork
Director of Athletics, Texas A&M University

Troy Dannen
Director of Athletics, Tulane University

Bernadette McGlade
Commissioner, Atlantic 10 Conference

Transfer portal isn’t going anywhere. NIL is moving forward. All of us struggle with where NIL is now - no rules, no regulations. We have to figure it out to benefit our student-athletes.  
— Wren Baker

Why Stay in the Game?

John Roberson
CEO, Advent

Name, Image and Lots of Things we Need to Figure Out

Kevin Barefoot
VP of Business Development, Teamworks/INFLCR

Julie Cromer
Director of Athletics, Ohio University

Rob Sine, Partner
Blueprint Sports

Hunter Yurachek
VP of Intercollegiate Athletics, University of Arkansas

Our collective is important because it allows our student-athletes to volunteer in the community and make an impact. 
— Julie Cromer

Kevin Barefoot Asking AD’s Questions

Bubba Cunningham
Director of Athletics, University of North Carolina

Alan Haller
VP & Athletics Director, Michigan State University

Nicki Moore
VP & Director of Athletics, Cornell University

Graham Neff
Director of Athletics, Clemson University

Moderator: Kevin Barefoot, VP Business Development, Teamworks

I think what we learned over the last couple of years is to put all your cards on the table. Tell people what you think and sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. And I don’t think you can fault anybody for being honest and forthright in what they say. We’re going to disagree at times, and most of the time we will agree. 
— Bubba Cunningham

Lessons from the AD’s Office presented by Paciolan

Whit Babcock
Director of Athletics, Virginia Tech

Nina King
VP & Director of Athletics, Duke University

Scott Stricklin
Director of Athletics, University of Florida

Moderator: Christian Lewis, Chief Revenue Officer, Paciolan

By Jake Angstreich

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Moderated by Paciolan’s Chief Revenue Officer Christian Lewis, three power five athletic directors – Virginia Tech’s Whit Babcock, Duke University's VP Nina King, and University of Florida’s Scott Stricklin — gave insights into some hard truths of leading an institution’s athletic department. Discussing the transition to becoming an AD, Babcock, King, and Stricklin advised the audience on navigating the transition to becoming the boss and realizing the power of being true to themselves as a leader while making crucial decisions.

The AD’s first discussed creating culture when first stepping into their respective positions. All three valued understanding the institution to make the best decisions for their respective athletic programs. After taking the Florida job, Stricklin set up meetings with his entire new staff, prioritizing the longest-tenured Gators, succinctly stating that “institutional knowledge allows you the credibility to make the right decisions because it’s hard to lead people without knowing them.”

In his first weeks as AD at Virginia Tech 10 years ago, Babcock used similar introductory meetings to find current staff whom he wanted to build the program around to make it better. He asked every person in the office “when you’re in a bind and need advice, who in your department do you go to” and “who in the department generally [has] the positive energy?” Babcock reflected on the success of using these questions by saying that now five of the seven on his leadership team were assistant directors that were those “positive energy, go-to people.”

King takes institutional learning even further by meeting with every first-year Duke student-athlete for 15-30 minutes throughout the school year to learn how to make their Duke experience the best it can be. King asks each student-athlete the same set of questions, wanting to see “what makes them tick” inside and outside of their sport. When told in one of the meetings about problems with the track and field locker room, King responded to the student-athlete “if I can’t fix it, we’re going to find somebody who can” and immediately got the problem fixed for the track team.

Even after gaining this institutional knowledge and establishing a positive and effective culture, the tough decisions remain tough. However, all three directors emphasized the importance of staying true to themselves even when people close to them may not agree or a bad outcome could affect their job security.  

Babcock first discussed how to deal with the paralysis of figuring out if a tough decision should be made. Paraphrasing Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Babcock pointed out that “if you don't make a decision or you just try to treat everyone nicely, all you'll do is alienate the high performers” in your team. Like the rest of the panel, Babcock’s priority of honesty and making tough decisions when they need to be made has led to his success and long tenure at Virginia Tech.

Stricklin built off this point, admitting that while it is “really hard to free yourself from thinking about what the personal consequences are going to be, you develop thicker skin and you understand that your goal as a leader isn’t to keep your job, [it’s] to make the best decision for the people you’re leading.”

King also added nuance to staying true to herself when she makes decisions. King stands firm on her beliefs, but she tells her team that she “deserve[s] the right to get smarter.” This allows King to both take accountability if more information overrides her previous decision and learn with her team about how to better handle similar situations in the future.

Not only do AD’s deal with the pressure of making every final decision, they also have to adapt to the isolation of balancing their unique heightened presence in all settings and establishing appropriate roles and boundaries with employees and coaches.

Babcock addressed how this pressure as a leader can detach him from his team stating that  “you can’t be the brother or sister” in the department and instead be “the mom or dad.” This distinction where “you're the one where the buck stops, where you get too much praise, too much blame…can make you go off on an island.”

Stricklin then noted how student-athletes, especially when they are struggling, see an AD showing up to their full practices and games as a sign of support. He reflected that “It takes a lot of energy to always be on. But it’s so important to be present and show your face and for the athletes and staff to see you’re there for them. And that’s hard. It is the opposite of being alone,” but since the AD is the only one that has to do it, “it is kind of a burden” to only need to attend events just to be seen since the game or practice will happen regardless if he is there.

King even admitted that when she first was offered the Duke job, she was hesitant due to this pressure and isolation of the position and she preferred exceling behind the scenes. However, she inspiringly stated that even though she does not “like getting up in front of people being always on,” she felt compelled to take the job because “there are just not enough people who look like” her in AD roles. She stated that she wants to “help create opportunities for people to come with me not after me because I'm young, I think. And to have some time. And so I don't want to pave the way I want to do this with a lot more people who look like me. If I can, from this position, really help focus on creating those opportunities, then why wouldn’t I want to do this?”

Overall, the three athletic directors were honest and insightful, pulling back the curtain on what it means to be in their position and giving excellent advice on how to tackle the many challenges of being in their role.

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A Formula for Success: Hiring Coaches and Building Programs

Desiree Reed Francois
Director of Athletics, University of Missouri

Pat Kraft
VP for Intercollegiate Athletics, Penn State University

Zac Selmon
Director of Athletics, Mississippi State University

Brian White
VP & Director of Athletics, Florida Atlantic University

By Jake Angstreich

CHARLOTTE, NC – Led by moderator Deputy Athletic Director at the University of Tennessee Cameron Walker, four prominent athletic directors — University of Missouri’s Desiree Reed-Francois, Penn State University’s VP of Intercollegiate Athletics Dr. Patrick Kraft, Mississippi State University’s Zac Selmon, and Florida Atlantic University’s VP Brian White — explained the importance of hiring coaches with high morals and a competitive edge and how to put these coaches in the best position to succeed.

All four ADs firmly believe that the most important element of hiring a coach is their character. Kraft put it simply that the coach he hires has to be “a good human being.” He expanded on this principle by stating that “there’s a lot of coaches that win national championships at a lot of places, but if their values of not being a good person don’t fit yours, don’t waste your time on it. (College athletics) is not a win at all costs business.”

Reed-Francois elaborated on the value of hiring a noble coach, stating that when looking for coaches to hire at Mizzou, she prioritizes “person over scheme.” She reflected that “sometimes we get so excited about this scheme or winning this conference, but you have to hire the man or woman because you’re creating a partnership with this person … when you're in the foxhole with them, you want someone to partner with.”

Even though winning isn’t everything, when hiring a coach, the panelists wanted a competitor who could find ways to elevate their program. Selmon stated that “advantage (is) a great quality for a head coach.” He explained that every coach “can find the problems … but (where’s) the coach that looks at it like ‘there’s no perfect person, there’s no perfect situation (so) how can we find our advantage” to improve the program?

Kraft acknowledged that in order to find that “dog competitor” of a coach, you need to value the competitiveness of all of your teams equally. He claimed that with 31 teams at Penn State, his mindset is that they “can win 31 national championships. If you sit there and you don't know where every one of your programs is … you better go check yourself because those athletes deserve it the same” and the coaches do too. This builds the same competitive spirit in every sport and therefore in every coaching hire.

After AD’s find the right coach, they need to sell the coach on their institution and help the coach by investing in the program’s success. Similar to Kraft, Selmon emphasized analyzing and investing in all of the institution’s teams. He argued that “if you don’t believe that you can (win), why are you even competing? … so for us … it’s to be connected with each program and to figure out what we can do to take them to the next level. We’ve always believed if you do the inputs at such a high level, then the outputs will take care of themselves” and all of his coaches will be in the best position to succeed.

White also advised the audience while negotiating with coaches to “hear their vision, under-promise, and over-deliver.” This allows him to exceed the coaches’ expectations of the environment they are joining, which makes them feel like he has their back. Reed-Francois echoed this point, acknowledging that coaches are in a “lonely position (so) they need you as a partner, but in order for them to listen to you, right, you have to put those chips in to develop that trust.”

When discussing retaining coaches after sustained success, White gave some insight into FAU extending their men’s head basketball coach Dusty May after their extraordinary final four run. He clarified that even though Coach May signed his extension after the tournament run, the conversation of extension started much earlier, as White gave him a raise and extension in the years prior to the run. He explained that:

We have an obligation because we don't see things like a fan (and) we see things on the inside, we know how difficult of a job our basketball job is and the historical data will back that … You also see the culture every day, you see the way they are running the program. So if we can see under the hood, then it's our job to make sure that we are reinforcing our faith in that coach early on … we have improved a lot of the issues that Coach May very intelligently pointed out … that’s the process of building a relationship to where you know you don't have to spend your years shopping for other jobs.

Ultimately, these ADs agree that a great coach is a good person with a competitive edge and hiring coaches is about building a partnership based on trust, not just chasing wins. Their insight was crucial for maintaining an institutional culture coaches feel supported and can help mold student-athletes into better people.

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Lead the Way: Proactive Leadership in a Reactive World

David Benedict
Director of Athletics, University of Connecticut

Boo Corrigan
Director of Athletics, North Carolina State University

John Currie
Director of Athletics, Wake Forest University

DeWayne Peevy
VP & Director of Athletics, DePaul University

Rather than be fast, be thoughtful, be thorough, and make the best decision for your institution.
You need to have empathy and accountability.
— Boo Corrigan

Student-Athlete Well Being – Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

Tim Duncan
Vice President of Athletics & Recreation, University of New Orleans

Dixon Gillis
CEO, A-G Administrators

Samantha Huge
Executive Vice President, RealResponse

Maisha Kelly
Director of Athletics, Drexel University

You need to get creative as an enterprise and leverage relationships on your campus and in your community.
— Samantha Huge

A Vision for the Future of Athletics Facilities

Greg Brown
Director of Sports, AECOM

Josh Francois
Managing Director-Spectaculars Division, Daktronics

Chris Nations
President, Nations Group

Nate Pine
Director of Athletics, Air Force Academy

One trap people fall into is “I want that, and I want that.” My advice is to be bold, chart your own path. Don’t just say I need what’s next door. Make your experiences unique to your situation.
— Greg Brown

College Athletics Leadership: Riding the Wave

Chris Clunie
Director of Athletics, Davidson College

Mike Hill
Director of Athletics, UNC Charlotte

Sherika Montgomery
Commissioner, Big South Conference

Randale Richmond
Director of Athletics, Kent State University

You can’t control the outcomes, but you control the narrative. Having authentic relationships with people is the key to having success.
— Mike Hill

What’s Next? Identifying & Implementing Revenue Opportunities

Jeff Chandler
Director of Partner Development, Fanatics College

Sarah Davis
Senior Vice President, Learfield

Bill Fagan
CEO, The Aspire Group

Tommy McClelland
VP & Director of Athletics, Rice University

We’re here for the movement, not the moment.
— Jeff Chandler

Communications is the Glue: Engage, Inform and Influence

Bryan Blair
VP & Director of Athletics, University of Toledo

Jim O’Connor
Senior VP, Anthony Travel

Christian Spears
Athletic Director, Marshall University

Cherie Swarthout
Director of Athletics, Queen University of Charlotte

Moderator: Erik Christianson, Exec. Director, College Sports Communicators

Teamwork is really easy to say but really hard to execute.
— Bryan Blair

A New Vantage Point: Year One AD’s Perspective

J Batt
Director of Athletics, Georgia Tech

Marvin Lewis
Assistant VP & Director of Athletics, George Mason University

Jeff Mitchell
Director of Athletics, Ball State University

Jared Mosley
VP & Director of Athletics, University of North Texas

Be the best encourager you can be.
— Jeff Mitchell
Next Section →

partner spotlight
David Chadwick

by Ryan Bradley

The Power of Feedback
David Chadwick

Founder and CEO of RealResponse

Author and leadership guru Ken Blanchard called feedback “the breakfast of champions.”

Thanks to David Chadwick and his company, RealResponse, athletic programs across the country now have access to the tools necessary to keep their organizations strong and healthy.

“I think people are realizing that feedback can be a powerful tool to help uncover and identify easy changes that can have a significant impact on your student-athletes’ well-being and experiences,” Chadwick explained.

What started out as a class projects based on his personal experiences as a student-athlete, quickly evolved into a technology tool and full-fledged business idea.

Chadwick began his college basketball career at Rice University. Although he loved the school, he found himself in the crosshairs of controversy when two teammates brought forth claims of abuse and discrimination that became public. Chadwick recalled wishing there was a better way for student-athletes to use their voices proactively and give organizational leaders a better understanding of their experiences.  

“This is what forever changed my life and really shaped the company today,” Chadwick said. “It's not the external facilities, uniforms or whatever. It's the intangibles. It's the people. It's the culture. It's the relationship.”

Chadwick eventually transferred to Valparaiso where he began working on his MBA while completing his basketball career. There, he took the idea he formulated for a class paper at Rice one step further. He arranged a meeting with athletic director Mark LaBarbera to pitch the concept for his entrepreneurial thesis.

“I remember the first thing Mark said to me was ‘it’s really hard to gather feedback from student-athletes. If you could help me collect feedback from our student-athletes, I’d pay you for it.’

“I was like, great, challenge accepted!” Chadwick recalled.

Chadwick set out to gather more input, ultimately interviewing more than 200 athletic administrators. He began to hear themes like ‘student-athletes don't participate in exit interviews, we find out about stuff when it's way too late and if we would have known about it sooner, we could have addressed it.’

“So that was ultimately the validation to me that this was worth pursuing,” Chadwick said.

The first version of Chadwick’s tool was called “RealRecruit” and functioned as a survey instrument where student-athletes could rate everything from athletic training, strength conditioning, travel and food, to experiences with their coaches and everything in between.

Chadwick shared the survey apparatus with many of the AD’s he’d previously interviewed and asked if they’d be willing to take a look at his class project and what it became. Remarkably, twelve schools signed up to utilize the business in its first year. From there, the tool and how it was utilized quickly took on a life of its own.


“What happened was the student-athletes used that initial survey tool to begin bringing forward really serious concerns. Stuff that should have come out much, much earlier,” Chadwick outlined.

Asked to explain why his tool was immediately effective in a space where other methods had failed, Chadwick pointed to the origins and the integrity of the system.

“I think it was the third-party appeal,” he explained. “The whole mission statement of being ‘built by athletes for athletes,’ and maybe just the user friendliness of our system versus some of the alternatives they had done in the past. But for whatever reason, the student-athletes quickly grasped our platform and the athletic departments that we were working with at the time told us, ‘your platform needs to expand now.’"

Those early adopters challenged Chadwick to move beyond surveys and develop a real-time mechanism that would allow student-athletes to come forward at any time with needs or concerns. They also requested a way to document and track how the reports were handled so they could keep automated and detailed records in partnership with compliance, HR, Title IX and their legal offices.

“So that really lit a fire under our company,” Chadwick recounts. “At that point we had a really good path on what we wanted to do and how we could provide value.”

And in the span of just five years, from 2015 to 2020, RealResponse grew to more than 100 schools. That list of universities included Texas A&M, where Samantha Huge was working as senior associate director of athletics.

“When David first brought the idea to us at Texas A&M, I started by looking at it through the lens of compliance,” Huge recalled. “As the system grew and I later became an athletic director (at William & Mary), I began to see the benefits of it beyond compliance and recognized this is more than just something to catch issues. It’s a comprehensive feedback mechanism.”

Huge now serves at the Executive Director of Collegiate Accounts for RealResponse. Her compliance background and experience as an AD have given her a unique and informed perspective on how the company can remain at the forefront of equipping institutions with the information and tools they need to build healthy organizations.

“One of our distinguishing features is the ability to, through our system, immediately go in and ask follow up questions when a student-athlete makes a comment.” Huge stated.

“For us, as administrators, it's really nice to have the ability to specifically engage in the matter with that student-athlete, whether their responses are anonymous or not.”

“But it also has another side,” Huge continued. “And that is the way our system allows administrators to respond immediately and keep a track record of that response. We help universities and athletic departments protect themselves and document, here’s when it first came in and here’s how and when we first responded to it.”

Chadwick added he’s been encouraged to see leaders across college athletics embrace a more proactive approach to managing internal issues.

“Things are going to happen that are outside of your control,” he explained. “You may or may not be held accountable for things that happen that are outside of your control, but what you will be held accountable for, without a shadow of a doubt, is what you did once you found out. We’ve seen more and more organizations take the stance of, I'd rather know about it than not know about it because once I find out about it, I can respond to it the right way.

Since 2020, RealResponse has continued to evolve and expand, offering its solutions to professional sports teams, Olympic programs, NASCAR and even entire university campuses.

Last year brought another milestone as RealResponse served as the presenting sponsor and co-host of CALS in Charlotte. The company had been involved with CALS since 2017 and both Chadwick and Huge were instrumental in bringing it to the Queen City.

“As someone who was born and raised in Charlotte, it was really cool to have that full-circle moment and put my hometown in the spotlight for an event that everyone in our industry looks forward to every year.” Chadwick said.

Throughout its rapid growth and evolution as a company, RealResponse has remained true to its founder’s guiding principles.

“It’s a very powerful and fulfilling mission to know that what you are doing is helping to address people’s well-being,” Chadwick noted. “At the end of the day, it’s about relationships. The relationships we have with each other and the relationships we have with our clients. That will always be our number one focus.”



With David Chadwick

Favorite athlete or sports hero

Dirk Nowitzki

Favorite sports team

My dad played for Dean Smith at UNC so I grew up on Carolina basketball

Favorite sports memory

Duke vs. North Carolina, March 2007
(the game where Tyler Hansbrough got elbowed in the face and the Dean Dome went crazy)

Favorite quote

“Your destiny is not determined by chance, but by choice.”

Favorite book

Shoe Dog

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social media buzz

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Breaking down
Challenging up

The following excerpt is from How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge by Clay Scroggins. The chapter is called “Breaking Down Challenging Up” and is written as a guide for a young leader who might sense the need to have a difficult conversation with the boss. In this section, Clay discusses three behaviors any one of us can employ today to have better dialogue with our boss tomorrow.

Breaking Down Challenging Up

Working for a great leader has many benefits. My favorite aspect of working for Andy Stanley is that I feel like I’m getting a graduate-level leadership degree just by observation and osmosis. Every leader has their greatest hits of leadership maxims, those phrases and sayings that come up time and time again. As for Andy, what I have learned from him about approach is definitely on my “Best of” list for him.

Everyone has had a conversation derailed because they had a poor approach. The way you approach or lead into a conversation can often trump the content of the conversation. We have all been in a conversation where we were right, but we ended up apologizing because we had the wrong approach. When I was first married, my desire to be right would cause me to bring more energy and passion to conversations. I remember being at a restaurant with my wife. There was something wrong with the food and I was clearly right. But the tone I used in speaking with the server about the issue really bothered my wife. I was right in sending the food back, but before I could be on the same page with my wife, I needed to apologize to the server because of how I approached the situation. Approach is everything. With the right approach, you can say just about anything. With the wrong approach, it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong; it won’t work.

Adjust your approach to fit the person.

In order to know what approach to take, we need to be deeply acquainted with our boss’s wiring, temperament, and personality. In the same way great spouses study each other to have a great marriage, you need to study your boss. There’s a lot you can do to get to know your boss’s style without taking it too far. Our kids crack up every time at that line in Planes: Fire and Rescue when Lil’ Dipper whispers to Dusty, “I like watching you sleep.” I wouldn't suggest stalking your boss but landing somewhere just short of that is a great idea.

What is your boss’s personality type?

Is your boss more concrete or abstract?

What level of detail does your boss need?

How does your boss like to receive information?

Do you need to send an email ahead of time with all the details or should you follow-up with an email with them after the conversation?

These are all questions you can ask your boss when emotions are low. Later, in challenging conversations, if you have done your homework it will show. The bottom line is that you do some homework and learn the approach that best fits your boss.  

Declare your intentions before you challenge.

Every great wedding gives the bride and the groom a chance to declare their intentions.  This is where they publically say what this is all about, and I really appreciate that. You don't spend all this money, invite all these people, and waste all of our time by not making it clear why we are all here. And the same is true when you need to have a difficult conversation. Declare your intentions up front.  It’s like clipping a carabineer to a harness. If something goes awry, your declared intentions provide a safety net for you in a free-falling conversation. Here are a few examples:

  • “I really believe in you and I love working for you. I have something I want to bring up that could really help us grow. Maybe I’m missing something, but I think this might be a better solution for all of us.”
  • “I think I’ve identified something that is holding us back and if I were in your shoes, I would want to know what it is. And I think I have an idea on how to solve it. Would you mind if I shared that with you?”
  • “I want your advice on something. I have an idea that I think is going to make us better but I want to know what you think about it. I’ve thought a lot about it. It might initially create some complication but in the end, I think we’ll be glad we made the change because of the results it could produce.”

How you start out and what you say here is so crucial. Before you get up in anyone’s space, trying to throw around your brilliant ideas that have the potential to wreck someone else’s world, lead with a clear statement of your intentions. You’ll either be glad that you did or regret that you didn’t.

Ask questions of curiosity and mean it.

One of the constant pieces of feedback I receive about my leadership is that I have a tendency to move too quickly. When that happens, I jump to conclusions that may or may not be true. When I misjudge someone, it negatively affects the relationship. No one likes feeling judged even when it’s spot on. Feeling incorrectly judged feels wrong on multiple levels.

Disciplining myself to lead with questions helps me avoid the trap of rash judgments. Curious questions cause humility. Lately, I’ve started beginning every important conversation similarly to this: “I’ve got a lot of thoughts about this situation, but I know you do as well. Tell me how you’re processing it.” This is crucial for me. Incorrect assumptions create walls and cause humiliation. If you would choose to lead out in the challenging conversation with questions, it will teach you something, it will build trust, and it will save you some embarrassment.

Clay is an author, podcaster and speaker who focuses on helping people become better leaders. For more information on his books, podcast and other good stuff be sure to check out his website.

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Jana Woodson


Jana Woodson
Deputy Athletic Director, Tulane

What does your role at Tulane entail?

My role at Tulane entails overseeing our external units (marketing, ticket operations and sales, strategic communications, broadcast, creative services, branding, our Learfield partnership as well as a liaison for development).  In addition, I’m the sport supervisor for four sports and oversee our NIL efforts.

A recent success of our external team was having the highest revenue year for football since our stadium opened.  This included records for ticket sales as well as philanthropic gifts.  Our football team had a great year in winning the Cotton Bowl, but our staff did a good job of grabbing the moment to maximize sales.

It’s always interesting to hear how people started their career. What was your path to your current role?

I was originally a pharmacy major at the University of Kansas after playing softball and volleyball in junior college.  After being accepted to pharmacy school during my junior year, I decided that didn’t really interest me or make me happy. I visited our career counselor, and she asked me what my interests were so of course I mentioned sports.  Luckily KU was one of the first programs with a sports management undergrad, so I switched majors.  I graduated with a sports management degree, which included a semester long internship. That led me to UMKC where I then stayed on to get my MBA as a grad assistant in the athletics department.  I was later offered my first full time position at UMKC handling marketing and ticketing and the rest is history.

During your career, you’ve spent time at other institutions and in other roles. Tell us a little about your path to your current position and how your previous experience helped shape you as an administrator.

UMKC: (2001-2006) – Promotions Coordinator, Director of Marketing, Sr. Director of Marketing & Communications

University of Richmond: (2006-2014) – Asst. AD Marketing and Fan Development

Rice University: (2014-2017) – Assoc. AD Marketing

Tulane University: (2017-current) – Assoc. AD External, Sr. Assoc AD External, Deputy AD External

I’ve been fortunate to be at some great institutions where I got the chance to do many things. By not being afraid to do tasks outside my job description, I was set up for future success by having a broad knowledge of the external side of the house.  I believe there’s a great advantage to working at a mid-major/smaller school during your career as you must wear many hats and work alongside everyone in your department to get things accomplished.

Who have been your role models/mentors to you in your career to this point and what have they offered you?

I’ve been blessed with so many great mentors in my career.  A few that stick out are Terry Mohajir, Keith Gill, Troy Dannen, Joe Karlgaard, and David Walsh.  Each of them offered tons of advice on my career, balancing my personal and professional life as well as believing in myself in this industry.  They also taught me not to take myself so seriously at times.  Each of these individuals remain my biggest cheerleaders and are always there to pick me up or answer any question when I need them.

How have you grown as a leader throughout your career?

I think I’ve grown by learning to let things go more easily, listening more to others, thinking about the broader good of the department as well as not taking myself so seriously. However, I think I’m still growing and learning every day from my colleagues on how to be a better person and leader.

What is some advice you give to people just starting out in their career in college athletics?

Be sure to take the time to do a good job at each task you are given, no matter how insignificant it may seem, someone is watching and noticing.  Network as much as you can but stay grounded and present where your feet currently are.  And make sure to make time for yourself and your loved ones so you don’t burn yourself out.

Discuss the role that professional development events like CALS and others have played in your career.

Professional development and networking in this field is so important as it is such a small industry where almost everyone knows someone and can help you get where you need to go. CALS is the best event for mid to upper management professionals as it takes the next step in showing you how to invest in yourself and take the next step professionally while listening to some of the best leaders and great minds in our industry.

Share something fun or unique about being at Tulane that you’ve really enjoyed.

New Orleans is a gem in itself with so many things to do and see (yes, there are tons of fun things outside Bourbon Street).  Tulane Athletics is great about engulfing the culture of the city into our branding and messaging.  Our student-athletes get to enjoy all the culture, food, events, and unique personalities in our city on a regular basis.  Mardi Gras is coming up soon which will be a key to telling our story over the next few weeks.  Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest are must on your calendar if you haven’t experienced them.

What book/podcast/tv show are you currently recommending?

I’m bad about reading and listening to podcasts on leadership and industry items, but I’m currently watching Shrinking on Apple TV and it’s hilarious. Would recommend!

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Cals 1-day

Over 200 attendees from twenty athletics departments convened in Newark, NJ on June 21st for the 2nd annual CALS 1-Day. The event hosted by NJIT AD Lenny Kaplan was hosted on campus at the Wellness and Events Center.

2024 CALS 1-DAY

June 5, 2024

Knoxville, Tennessee – University of Tennessee

Hosted by Tennessee AD Danny White

Learn More

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Congrats to CALS Faculty & Alumni on Recent Moves

Since the last issue of The CALS Report

Jeff Mitchell

Southern Miss Deputy AD Ball State AD

Anthony Henderson

Yale Deputy AD → Hampton AD

Michael Oblinger


Jim Curry

Florida State Sr. Associate AD → Texas A&M-Commerce AD

Craig Angelos

Long Island Sr. Deputy AD → Hawai’i AD

Marvin Lewis

Brown Deputy AD → George Mason AD

Tim Collins

Fresno State Sr. Associate AD  → Eastern Washington AD

Ashwin Puri

Villanova Deputy AD → LaSalle AD

Adam Tschuor

Dayton Senior Associate AD → Pacific AD

Tommy McClelland

Vanderbilt Deputy AD → Rice AD

Diana Sabau

Big Ten Chief Sports Officer → Utah State AD

Jennifer Cohen

Washington AD → USC AD

Troy Dannen

Tulane AD → Washington AD

David Harris

Northern Iowa AD → Tulane AD

Jon Schemmel

DSU Foundation CEO → South Dakota AD

Ross Bjork

Texas A&M AD → Ohio State AD

Beth Goetz

Iowa Deputy AD → Iowa AD
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THank you, cals23 interns

A big thank you to our CALS 23 Intern team. We appreciate all of your hard work and look forward to the great things you all will accomplish in this industry.


Thank you to all our amazing partners for your support of CALS and college athletics.

In Memoriam

Kristina Navarro-Krupka


Mike Hamilton


Bill Carr


Issue 09, January 2024

CALS Director:
Will Reece

Creative Director:
Grant Hill

Contributing Editors:
Ryan Bradley
Laura Keep
Forest Reece

Contributing Writers:
Jake Angstreich
Ryan Bradley
Laura Keep
Clay Scroggins

Michael Strauss, Strauss Studios, Charlotte

Finch Creative, Oklahoma City

The CALS Report is the official publication of the Collegiate Athletics Leadership Symposium, produced by NextLevel.

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