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Administration of Athletics


Effective administration of athletics is built on a solid leadership approach that outlines the composition of the administration and the roles of different administrators. There are about 500,000 student-athletes that compete in NCAA collegiate sports each year (NCAA, n.d.). Each of the NCAA’s three divisions focuses on different goals (NCAAb, n.d.). Division I (DI), Division II (DII), and Division III (DIII) colleges and universities have developed more distinct identities as a result of the dramatic evolution of collegiate sports over the years (Belzer, 2015). Athletics at the collegiate level, especially the Division I level, are now multimillion-dollar industries with businesslike traits (Mossovitz, 2019). The roles of athletic directors and other executives in managing sports programs at NCAA schools have evolved (Mossovitz, 2019). It used to be that athletic administrators were chosen for their background knowledge and expertise in the field, either as athletes or coaches. Due to income shifts caused by the commercialization of college sports in the early 21st century, athletic directors need to possess a broader set of competencies (Mossovitz, 2019). In sports management, strong leadership is a crucial asset. Although there have been substantial changes in the responsibilities of the athletic director, the people who work in the field of college sports administration have remained mostly the same (Lapchick, 2021). Women in college sports administration often have challenges being hired, advancing their careers, and balancing their personal and professional lives (Bower et al., 2015).

Within the recent decade, there has been a rise in studies examining the role of leadership in sports administration in light of the expanded duties of athletic directors (Peachey et al., 2015). This study seeks to fill such gaps by reviewing the literature on college sports administration to pinpoint applicable leadership practices for athletic administrators, assess the challenges currently faced by the field, and provide avenues for further study.

Transactional Versus Transformational Theories of Leadership

From the 1990s to the present, both transactional and transformational leadership models have been used regarding sports administration. The two theories were developed to better understand the concept of leadership and its impact on the organizational goal. As Northouse (2019) states, transformational leadership creates a revolution within the organization, impacting workers and structures. These changes aim to significantly improve systems and workers who interact with the systems to make the working environment viable and motivate the employees to realize the overall goal. Previously, leadership theories had a greater emphasis on the relationship and the interaction between the leader and the followers, where the leader provided some benefits to the followers in exchange for a service. Leaders’ and followers’ relationship was based on the transaction, which introduces the transactional leadership theory. Transformational leadership aims to build a strong community within the entity where each cares for the other. However, transactional leadership only cares about the needs of the followers, and the leaders are concerned about what they will get from the employee. In contrast, the employee is concerned about the compensation.

Two main components of transactional leadership are performance-based compensation and management by exception. A leader’s application of contingent compensation motivates subordinates by promising them benefits in return for their work (Northouse, 2019). Both active and passive elements of management by exception encompass providing constructive criticism, reviews, and reward in the form of punishment. Management by exception may be either active (in which cases errors are addressed as soon as they are discovered) or passive (in which case the subordinate is not confronted with his or her inappropriate conduct) (Northouse, 2019).

When a transformational leader leads followers to break beyond their comfort zones and achieve extraordinary results, transformational leaders motivate their subordinates to raise the bar on productivity and persuade them to grow as individuals while gaining their unwavering trust and devotion. Leaders may inspire and encourage followers by cultivating good connections through mental stimulation and customized attention, resulting in significant shifts in participation and attitude. In the end, transformational leaders increase the output and expectations of their teams.

Theories in Leadership and Their Influence on Sports Administration

Doherty and Danylchuk (2019) examined leadership styles in Canadian varsity sports. The leadership type’s impact was also analyzed in terms of four different outcome factors. The four factors in question were as follows: coach dedication, follower happiness, leadership effectiveness, and additional effort from coaches. The authors used Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) Form 5X, a scheme developed in 1991 by Bass and Avolio. The study by Doherty and Danylchuk involved 114 participants who were all head coaches from different teams in Collegiate Athletics.

According to the study, sports department administrators’ top leaders often exhibit transformational traits. Compared to transactional leadership, all four characteristics of transformational leaders were more prevalent (Doherty & Danylchuk, 2019). Consequence factors were also shown to be significantly affected by leadership conduct. All the characteristics of transformative leaders were associated with greater levels of job satisfaction, productivity, and initiative. The highest positive link was found between attributed charisma and personalized concern and satisfaction and productivity. There was no correlation between the leadership variables and employees’ dedication to the department (Doherty & Danylchuk, 2019). Moreover, substantial negative correlations were discovered between transactional leadership practices and job satisfaction ratings, productivity, and initiative. The most negative association was identified between passive management by exception and low satisfaction levels, low productivity, and low levels of additional effort.

Kim (2017) examined how different aspects of an athletic director’s leadership style affected staff happiness and productivity. The authors collected data from 359 Division II (DII) collegiate head coaches, via questionnaires. The MLQ 5X tool tested coaches for leadership satisfaction, loyalty to the employer, turnover intentions, and commitment to the organization. The poll found that transformative leadership is associated with more incredible employee dedication to the company and greater work satisfaction (Kim, 2017). Citizenship behavior activity was positively related to dedication to the institution both directly and indirectly. Relationships between transactional leadership, organizational dedication, and employee happiness were all good. Leadership was not shown to impact either job performance or planned turnover significantly (Kim, 2017). The findings show that both transformational and transactional leadership styles have beneficial effects on worker conduct.

Gender differences in leadership perspective and performance were studied by Burton and Peachey (2009) in Division III (DIII) context. One of four leadership vignettes was given to 98 athletic directors. They were developed to highlight the qualities of a transformational leader (a female sports director), a transactional leader (a male athletic director), and vice versa. After that, respondents judged results related to leadership behavior on the MLQ-Form 5X. The additional effort and happiness results were more positively appraised when led by a transformational leader. Unlike previous research on the issue, this one found no difference in perceived efficacy between transformational and transactional leadership styles (Burton & Peachey, 2009). Gender did not influence participants’ evaluations of institutional results. Both transactional and transformational directors were seen as successful irrespective of gender, and both were able to positively affect employee happiness and motivation irrespective of the gender of their subordinates (Burton & Peachey, 2009).

Peachey and Burton’s 2011 analysis included NCAA Division I and II for the first time. In order to compare transformational versus transactional leadership styles, the researchers employed four variants of the same vignette. In order to gauge things like exemplary effort, follower happiness, and chief prowess, they administered questionnaires based on the MLQ tool. As many as 47 Directors from Division I and 52 from DII schools responded to the poll. According to the study’s findings, subordinates are more satisfied with and willing to work for leaders that demonstrate transformational rather than transactional leadership styles (Peachey & Burton, 2011).

Lack of Minority Representation in Athletic Administration

Recent data from the Race and Gender Report Card have shown the persistent underrepresentation of minorities (Lapchick, 2020). The NCAA publishes an annual report detailing the recruitment procedures of its member colleges and conference offices. The survey found that just 15.5% of Division I athletic directors, 9.4% of Division II athletic directors, and 8.7% of Division III sports directors are persons of color. Disproportionate minority employment declines from 2019 to 2020 were seen across numerous industries (Lapchick, 2021). Minorities’ proportion in upper-level positions fell in the following fields: sports information directors, division I men’s and women’s head coaches, associate athletic directors, men’s assistant coaches, and senior women administrators, all took part (Lapchick, 2021). There has been some improvement in appointing minorities as DI athletic directors since the initial report in 2005 (13.4%), but only a minor gain (2.1%).

Myles (2005) looked at the difficulties minorities experience working in college sports administration. Sixty-six Black senior sports administrators from NCAA Division I schools were questioned for this research to get their perspectives on racism, sexism, and the influence of “old boys’ systems” in their fields (Myles, 2005). For those unfamiliar, the “old boys’ system” alludes to the tightly knit group of primarily White males who work in sports administration. The survey found that Black DI athletic directors recognized that stereotyped ideas had a role in their employment but did not believe the role was as significant as it had been in the past (Myles, 2005).

There was a wide range of opinions on how discriminatory behaviors and racial attitudes affected the careers of Black sports administrators. 10% of respondents and 22% of respondents, respectively, said that acts of discrimination and racial views impacted their careers (Myles, 2005). Most respondents said that acts of discrimination and racial sentiments did not, or hardly, influence their professional lives (Myles, 2005). Forty-four percent of respondents said the old boys’ system affected their professions, and another forty-four percent said it had a significant effect (Myles, 2005). The author concludes that although racial prejudice and discrimination are less common now than formerly, the old boys’ system remains a significant barrier to Black employment and progress in college sports administration. The author, Myles (2005), argues that university administrators should take a more active role in recruiting to promote inclusiveness.

Lack of Women in the Administration

Research conducted by Burton et al. (2011) examined how people’s assumptions about sports administrators varied by gender. Of those managing NCAA Division I athletics, 158 women and 118 men were polled for the research (Burton et al., 2011). Male and female vignettes featuring potential candidates for compliance, athletic, and life skills directors were sent out to respondents. The research found that women who applied for the role of the athletic director were seen as less feminine than those who applied for the post of life skills administrator (Burton et al., 2011). Performance expectations in any of the three occupations studied showed no significant gender disparities (Burton et al., 2011). Despite no gender gap in how successful people felt they were, men were shown to have a substantially higher chance of landing the position of athletic director than women.

Based on their findings, the authors suggest that there is a common misconception that women are not suited for executive leadership roles in sports administration (Burton et al., 2011). The research provides a thorough understanding of the low participation of women in athletic administration and the obstacles women experience when applying for roles in sports organizations. The fact is, however, that women still face similar roadblocks while trying to enter the workforce (Burton, 2014). To further comprehend the problems women encounter while attempting to advance to management positions in sporting organizations, more study is needed on women’s views of gender biases and stereotypes in executive positions.


Many characteristics essential for success as an athletic director have been discovered in the research. Some of the most critical characteristics of successful athletic administrators across all three NCAA divisions are intellectual ability, professional communication expertise, and career-related job experience. The findings indicated that transformational leadership had the most bearing on the result parameters studied, particularly work satisfaction, presumed leader competence, additional effort, and organizational citizenship behavior. With the more significant potential for contingent benefits under transactional leadership, it is unsurprising that this management style has a more significant impact on employee dedication than transformational styles. Leadership styles of the transformational and transactional varieties were equally successful in the eyes of their subordinates. The marginalization of women and minorities in university sports administration is a significant flaw, according to studies. Many explanations have been proposed for the paucity of women in sports management. The most typical challenges that women in sports administration positions face are those associated with sexism, prejudice, lack of access to networking opportunities, and juggling work and family responsibilities. Minorities also face severe underrepresentation in positions of power within the college sports industry. Researchers have not yet been able to successfully establish unique impediments to employment for minority persons in sports administration. Systemic racism, prejudices and preconceptions, and individual factors may all contribute to the marginalization of ethnic minorities in sports leadership roles. This recommendation covered amateur and professional sports. Further study is required to learn about the unique challenges minorities face when applying for jobs in college sports administration.


Bower, G. G., Hums, M. A., & Grappendorf, H. (2015). Same Story; Different Day: Greatest challenges for women in intercollegiate athletic administration. International Journal of Sport Management, Recreation & Tourism, 19, 12–39.

Burton, L. J., Peachey, J. W., & Wells, J. E. (2017). The role of servant leadership in developing an ethical climate in sport organizations. Journal of Sport Management, 31(3), 229–240.

Burton, L., & Peachey, J. W. (2009). Transactional or transformational? Leadership preferences of Division III athletic administrators. Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, 2(2), 245–259.

Doherty, A. J., & Danylchuk, K. E. (2019). Transformational and transactional leadership in interuniversity athletics management. Journal of Sport Management, 10(3), 292–309.

Kim, H. (2017). Transformational and Transactional Leadership of Athletic Directors and Their Impact on Organizational Outcomes Perceived by Head Coaches at NCAA Division II Intercollegiate Institutions [The Ohio State Universtiy].

Lapchick, R. E. (2020). The 2020 Racial and Gender Report Card.

Myles, L. R. (2005). The absence of color in athletic administration at Division I institutions [Unpublished doctoral dissertation] University of Pittsburgh.

NCAA. (2020). Finances of Intercollegiate Athletics Database. NCAA.

NCAAb. (n.d.). Divisional Differences and the History of Multidivision Classification. NCAA.

Northouse, P. G. (2019). Leadership: Theory and Practice (8th ed.). SAGE Publications Inc.

Peachey, J. W., & Burton, L. J. (2011). Male or female athletic director? Exploring perceptions of leader effectiveness and a (potential) female leadership advantage with intercollegiate athletic directors. Sex Roles, 64(5–6), 416–425.


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