For the Love of the game
Next up in our Power Play series, highlighting women in the sports business, is Arizona State AD Lisa Love, one of only seven female athletic directors in charge of a Division I football program.
espnW: Arizona State has won seven national championships since you took over in 2005. What is the secret to your success?
Lisa Love: Our coaches have done fabulous work. I think it's a matter of working to assemble and resource terrific talent and then letting them perform the way they know how.
espnW: When you are hiring a coach for one of your teams, what qualities do you look for?
LL: First, I want someone who completely understands the wonderful nature of the university experience -- someone who gets the concept of student and athlete. I also want a person who cares very much about the students, as well as someone who clearly understands the high priority placed on academics and integrity. On top of that, I'm looking for someone who is a master teacher in his or her craft. It's those intangibles that make great teachers and coaches.
espnW: At ASU, you actually have more women's programs (12) than men's teams (nine). Tell us a little bit about why -- and how, exactly -- the university puts such an emphasis on women's sports.
LL: We've got a great track record with our women's teams, and we have had success with our women's programs for a really long time -- it certainly predates me. But I would say with 12 women's teams and nine men's teams, it's an effort to work toward having a nice, balanced athletics program where women are substantially represented in a powerful way. It's a commitment to a very successful athletics program for both men and women.
espnW: Do you find it is more challenging to gain support for the women's teams, versus the men's programs?
LL: We have a national culture that loves collegiate football and men's basketball, so those are our largest audiences. However, I will tell you that on the West Coast, many of our women's programs are either in the top two or three in terms of attendance. People enjoy our volleyball program, our softball program, our women's basketball program -- they enjoy watching those teams play. There are lots of parents with daughters in the stands.
espnW: What is the most important factor necessary for the continued growth of women's sports?
LL: The power of marketing has something to do with that. There's certainly an exposure component, as well. The more people watch our women's teams compete, the more they enjoy it and the more often they come back. On the women's side, it's often about the relationships and really connecting to the team. Since we've won a couple of national championships in softball, our stadium is typically very full. It's those autograph sessions after the game -- when the little ones have an opportunity to meet the players -- that go a long way with women's programs.
espnW: According to the NCAA, you are one of only seven female athletic directors currently running an athletic department at an FBS school. Have you ever faced any challenges being in such a male-dominated environment?
LL: I think only to the degree that people have had to scratch their heads a little bit and take the time to get to know me because I don't fit the usual mold of an athletic director; I'm a female. Initially, it was just a matter of getting acquainted. We've been able to build some fantastic facilities, and we've had some sporting success, so I think regardless of gender, people are just looking for me, or whomever happens to be the AD, to do a good job for Arizona State.
espnW: What advice do you have for other women who are one of only a few females in their field?
LL: Well, first of all, I'd say the men in the field have been incredibly collegial. I have not felt any negativity from my fellow athletic directors. So what I would say is this: Being an athletic director at a Division I, high-market institution is not something you go into with thin skin. Don't make assumptions, don't take it personally, and put your best foot forward at every turn.
espnW: You were actually a collegiate athlete yourself -- a four-year starter on the volleyball team at Texas Tech. Later, you were the head volleyball coach at USC. How do you think your experience as a player and a coach has helped you in your position as athletic director?
LL: It gives me a great understanding of the student-athlete. I recognize the demands of managing class work with practice time. I also understand a student-athlete's heart -- that passion for wanting to play well.
espnW: Just a couple months after you took over as athletic director in 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. You had to move the ASU football game against LSU from Baton Rouge to Tempe. Talk a little bit about what you learned about handling sporting events when a crisis hits.
LL: I think first and foremost, I gained tremendous respect for the talented athletic department staff at Arizona State, who pulled this off in such short order. It's key to be able to confidently delegate responsibility and then be able to trust those people to do their jobs well. This was not a circumstance that could be micromanaged at all. It was my out-of-the-box learning experience about the talents and capabilities of the Sun Devil athletic staff and senior management team. They hit it out of the ballpark.
espnW: In light of all that has gone on recently at Penn State, what can be done to ensure parents that their student-athletes will be safe at college, as well ensure accountability at the top of every athletic department?
LL: I think this situation gives all of us pause to go back and review policy and make sure that policy is effectively communicated, so that people of all pay levels and staffing positions know that the first step when they feel they're witnessing a dangerous situation is to make the phone call to the police. I'm sure this is done all across the country and certainly at Arizona State, but it's important to make sure that the policies and phone numbers are clearly communicated, so that there is no hesitation. This situation permitted us the opportunity to strongly reiterate and reinforce our policies.
espnW: Did the Penn State scandal cause you to go back and reiterate proper protocol with your staff?
LL: Yes. That came from the athletic department, and then a week after that, it came from the president of the university to the entire school. When circumstances arise that are front-burner topics, you take the opportunity to make sure everything is in order in your own house.
espnW: When it comes to the heated topic of paying student-athletes, are you in favor of the movement?
LL: The new NCAA legislation has put us in a position to be able to step forth and help by taking scholarships closer to the full cost of attendance, and I am in support of that. You want to be supportive of helping student-athletes effectively manage the demands of being a student-athlete, which are significant. But I like it in terms of scholarships to help with room and board, books, tuition and fees, as opposed to the students becoming employees of an institution.
espnW: What is the one thing you love most about working in college sports, and what is the one thing you would change about collegiate athletics?
LL: I like watching a great coach take a program and an athlete and help them rise to their potential. It's fulfilling to watch the joy an athlete has when they perform at their peak, and it's a delight to watch a master coach craft the learning environment to make that happen.
If I could change anything, I'd love to have a public perception of collegiate athletics be about embracing education. I'm a big proponent of teaching winning, but I'd like the educational component and the value of the university to be emphasized by the public. That blend of student and athlete at the collegiate level is a special arrangement in the United States, and it is not something that should be taken for granted.