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How to Become an Athletic Director

how to become an athletic director

If you’re energized by the excitement and competitive nature of sports and thrive in a leadership position, the role of an athletic director could be a perfect fit. This career offers sports lovers (especially former athletes) a way to remain close to the action, while also serving as a mentor to young athletes.

Let’s talk about how to become an athletic director to see if it’s right for you. We’ll cover the day-to-day responsibilities of an athletic director, their education and skills, and the job outlook for this field.

What does an athletic director do?

An Athletic Director manages sports programs and departments at a university, college, high school, or middle school. Although duties can vary depending on the size of the institution, its division, and the types of sports programs, an athletic director will typically be responsible for:

  • Hiring and managing coaches and staff
  • Coordinating officials and umpires at games
  • Creating budgets for coaches’ salaries, team travel, equipment purchases, and facility upkeep
  • Checking with academic departments on student eligibility
  • Ensuring compliance with athletic rules and regulations
  • Planning fundraisers
  • Working with coaches or a travel coordinator to plan trips
  • Promoting the athletics program through community and media relations
  • Purchasing athletic equipment
  • Determining the time allocated for a field, court, or weight room
  • Creating sporting event schedules
  • Maintaining athletic facilities
  • Mediating disputes between athletes and coaches or between coaches
  • Ensuring student-athlete health and well-being
how to become an athletic director

One of the athletic director’s primary duties is managing people. They not only supervise administrative staff and coaches, but also officials for games, volunteers for fundraisers, and any student interns in the department.

What education or experience do you need to become an athletic director?


Not surprisingly, colleges and universities seek athletic directors with higher education. According to the Sports Business Journal, “Every current Division I athletic director has earned a bachelor’s degree, while 280 (80 percent) have earned a graduate degree. A hiring trend in favor of advanced degrees has picked up over the last five years, as nearly 90 percent of athletic directors hired since 2009 have earned an advanced degree. The most common master’s degrees are in sports administration (92 of 231).” 

And as Work in Sports notes, “It’s not just the higher learning institutions that enforce such firm standards either. Your degree is a must-have for high schools and prep schools as well.”

St. Thomas University pioneered the first undergraduate Sports Administration program in the nation in 1973 with a group of nationally recognized sports executives. Since that time, we’ve added multiple degrees in sports management to suit aspiring athletic directors at every stage of their careers, whether you’re just starting out or want to increase your chances of promotion and compensation. We offer:


While higher education is critical, employers are also looking for hands-on experience. St. Thomas University’s location in South Florida offers a wide range of internship opportunities, which often help our students make valuable networking connections.

As you work toward your goal of becoming an athletic director, you can often find jobs for associate or assistant directors, especially for large institutions. In these positions, you might have a specific role such as media relations or staffing for an athletic department. To get an idea of the jobs available, take a look at the listings on the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA). Like any field, sometimes it takes time to work up the ladder.


Some athletic directors obtain nationally recognized certifications through the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. You can pursue the Registered Athletic Administrator, Certified Athletic Administrator, or Certified Master Athletic Administrator. While not required, they can improve your competitiveness.

What skills do you need to be an athletic director?

As you can see from the job description above, you need more than a love of sports to be an athletic director. You’ll be an administrator, so you need to be well versed in all the responsibilities of a business manager. That’s why the St. Thomas University programs have a heavy focus on business concepts. Let’s look at the top three skills you’ll need.

  • Leadership – You’re setting the strategy for the athletic organization, so you must be comfortable being the person ultimately responsible for the outcomes of your program, good or bad.
  • Organization – From creating budgets to hiring staff to fundraise, athletic directors have their hands full. With such a wide variety of duties, effective organizational skills are crucial.
  • Communications – You’ll need to communicate with people at various levels, including coaches, faculty, media, alumni, and parents. To do this effectively, athletic directors must have excellent writing, public speaking, and interpersonal skills.
how to become an athletic director

An athletic director is the face of the program. You need to be comfortable speaking with the media, presenting to institution leaders, and leading department meetings.

What’s the salary and job outlook for athletic directors?

Sports programs continue to be a critical source of revenue for many colleges and universities, so the demand for athletic directors is expected to increase. The Bureau of Labor Statistics includes athletic directors under the category “Postsecondary Education Administrators,” and forecasts seven percent growth for these roles through 2028. This is faster than average for all occupations. Naturally, openings for Division I athletic directors are quite competitive, but there are many opportunities at Division II and III schools as well as high school and middle schools.

The salary varies widely based on the size of the institution, and if it’s a college or university, the NCAA division. Years of experience also factor heavily into compensation. Keeping that in mind, PayScale reports that the average salary for an athletic director was $60,018, with the top 10% making around $100,000. 

As the first sports administration program in the nation and with a network of over 1500 alumni working in every aspect of the sports industry, St. Thomas University is a great fit for aspiring athletic directors. Contact us to learn more about how to become an athletic director.

Michelle Tulande

Author Michelle Tulande

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