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A Winning Combination

A Winning Combination

While overseeing the athletic department, the University of Georgia’s Damon Evans doesn’t lose sight of the academic heart of the institution.

By Frank J. Matthews

Damon Evans

Title: Athletic Director,  University of Georgia, 2004-Present
Previous title: Senior Associate Athletic Director for Internal Affairs, UGA, 2000-2004
Education: Bachelor’s; Finance, UGA, 1992; Master’s, Sports Management,   UGA, 1994

If Damon Evans operated in the corporate world, he would probably have graced the cover of several magazines by now. Just 36 years old, his organization turned a $23.9 million profit during 2005-2006. But he isn’t the hot-shot CEO of some Fortune 500 company. Evans is
the athletic director at the University of Georgia.

Recently ranked among the 101 most influential minorities in sports by Sports Illustrated magazine, Evans is the first Black athletic director in the history of the Southeastern Conference and one of the youngest ADs in the country. He oversees a $65 million budget and a program that includes 21 intercollegiate sports teams, 500 student-athletes and a coaching and administrative staff of 250.

But what may set Evans apart from most athletic directors is   $2 million. And that’s not his salary, although in May he did sign a contract that will pay him $2.1 million over five years. Rather, $2 million is the amount he donated back to the university from his athletic budget to support the “Archway to Excellence” capital campaign. The campaign intends to establish seven endowed professorships on campus, as well as to create endowed scholarships within the Office of Institutional Diversity. The donation was the result of a conversation Evans had with an acquaintance who worked in the president’s office about the university’s diversity initiatives. After that conversation, Evans decided the donation would be “one of the better things to do.” The gift was also a statement that athletics and academics do indeed go hand in hand.

“We are fortunate enough to be generating a significant amount of revenue,” says Evans, who played football at UGA from 1988-1992. “The most important aspect of an institution of higher learning is the academic side. If we in the athletic association can give back and help to make the academic side better and stronger, this institution will continue to grow, and we can be a part of it.”

Evans sets high academic expectations for his student-athletes from their first day on campus. He personally sits down with every new athlete. “The thing that’s most important here, bar-none, is graduating from this institution,” he says.

UGA’s athletic program, like many others, has been hit with NCAA penalties over the years for a number of academic and athletic improprieties. In 2004, for example, the men’s basketball team was placed on probation for four years after an assistant coach was found to have engaged in multiple recruiting violations. In 1997, a Georgia booster’s financial contributions to targeted high school football players led to a two-year probation for the university. But Evans is confident that those days are behind them.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you win championships and do all these great things,” he says. “If you don’t do it with integrity, it doesn’t stand for anything.”

Evans credits UGA President Michael F. Adams for helping smooth the implementation of Evans’ initiatives. Adams is a member of various committees around the country that deal with policy issues involving college athletics, including the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. “That’s helpful because he can share information with me on what’s happening on different levels,” Evans says.

Says Adams: “Not only is [Evans] African-American, but the person running the day-to-day internal sports operation, Arthur Johnson, is African-American and so is the senior woman administrator [Carla Williams]. Damon ran the most financially successful athletic program in America last year. That put to rest any claim as to whether he was up to the job. In the past two-plus years, I think they’ve proven that African-Americans can manage, which is one of the raps that we used to deal with.”

Observers of minority hiring trends in collegiate and professional sports say Evans’ example could lead to more minorities holding top positions in athletic departments.

“My hope is that other major programs take note of Damon’s success,” says Peter Roby, director of the Center for Sport in Society at Northeastern University. “Despite his age, he is very well qualified. It’s clear he got that job because he’s qualified, not because he’s Black.”
While Evans realizes that his age and race may be an issue for some, but he prefers not to dwell on it.

“I don’t like to look at things from a race perspective, but I also know that they’re there,” he says. “I think it’s an issue because there was never a [Black athletic director in the SEC] before. There are probably issues there because there aren’t many African-American ADs in the country. What I want to be able to do is set an example for minorities, young people and just people in general who want to achieve things in life. My thing to everyone is, ‘Don’t let race and age dictate what you end up doing.’ You can surpass a lot of things when people tell you, ‘You can’t.’”

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